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煮干し(にぼし/niboshi) – dried baby sardines

煮干し(にぼし/niboshi) – dried baby sardines
niboshi & chirimen jako

niboshi & chirimen jako

Last 2 weeks, I have written about ingredients for Japanese stock – bonito flakes and kelp. This is the 3rd one in the series and today’s ingredient is 煮干し(にぼし/niboshi), also called 炒り子(いりこ/iriko) . They are tiny sardines which are dried after being boiled in brine. The stock made with niboshi is usually used in miso soup. People often soak them overnight and bring it close to boil but better to get the fish out before the water actually boils. Niboshi can also be cooked and eaten with rice and/or as snacks.


We also eat similar dried sardines called ごまめ/gomame but ごまめ/gomame are usually just dried without being boiled first. As farmers used to use gomame as a fertilizer, they are also called 田作り(たづくり/tadukuri/たつくり/tatsukuri)-  rice field maker. Gomame are often cooked with soy sauce and mirin as part of 御節料理(おせちりょうり/osechi_ryouri) – New Year’s  celebratory meal – to pray for a prosperous year.

Both niboshi and gomame are about 2 to 3 cm long after dried but Japanese people eat even smaller baby sardines. They are called 縮緬雑魚(ちりめんじゃこ/chirimen_jako) in Kansai and シラス干(ぼ)し/shirasu_boshi in Kanto. The tiny fish are once boiled in brine and get sun-dried within the same day. The name 縮緬雑魚(ちりめんじゃこ) comes from  the way tiny fish gets spread out to get dried in the sun. Kansai people thought it resembled the bumpiness of the 縮緬 (crepe) fabric and decided to call them that way. Some people may be wondering about the reading of 雑魚 by now. 雑魚 is usually read as ざこ/zako and it refers to “small fish” in general. Although apparently there are people who call those tiny dried fish ちりめんざこ/chirimen_zako, I have never heard it pronounced that way myself. People around me always call them ちりめんじゃこ/chirimen_jako or simply じゃこ/jako.

As all niboshi, gomame and chirimen_jako are eaten whole including bones and all, they used to be an indispensable source of calcium in the traditional Japanese diet because they didn’t have milk and/or dairy products then. Even now, when people drink milk and eat dairy products, apparently many Japanese people have trouble absorbing calcium from dairy products, thus these small fish are still a valuable source of calcium for Japanese people.

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