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The facility produces smoked, dried fish products for broth and other culinary applications.

STAFF PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Yamaki Co. President Yoshihiro Kido cuts the ribbon at Yamaki USA, as (from left) Jeff King, Forest Grove's economic development manager; Howard Sullivan, executive director of the Forest Grove/Cornelius Chamber of Commerce; and Jesse VanderZanden, Forest Grove's city manager, look on.When you think of tuna, you might think of white fish in a stubby can, or maybe seared ahi on a sandwich or salad.

Yamaki Co. Ltd. thinks of katsuo-kezuribushi — smoked and dried bonito that has been shaved into flakes thinner than paper. And while it may seem exotic to many American consumers, Yamaki believes strongly enough in a growing domestic market for the dried fish product that it officially opened its first stateside production facility in Forest Grove, at a ceremony attended by the city's mayor, city manager, Chamber of Commerce executive director and other local luminaries held Wednesday, Aug. 15.

Yamaki USA Inc. was founded earlier this year in Forest Grove as a wholly owned subsidiary of Yamaki Co., a Japanese company that has been operating since 1917. While Yamaki has been exporting its products to the United States for some time, this is the company's first foray into U.S. manufacturing of dried fish products.

"This 2018 is a rather important year for us as our 101st year, because we're starting our next 100 years," said Yamaki Co. President Yoshihiro Kido, speaking in Japanese through a translator.

Yamaki sees the United States as a major market for the company in the future, Kido indicated.

Kezuribushi, sold in plastic bags as a dry good in many Asian supermarkets and known by several different names, may seem like an unlikely addition to many Americans' palette — but the dried fish is actually used mainly for a broth that's already widely consumed, whether eaters know it or not.

STAFF PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - A worker at Forest Groves Yamaki USA handles a dried, smoked piece of tuna that will be processed into katsuo-kezuribushi and packaged for sale in the United States.

The fish broth, called dashi, is quick and easy to make, as demonstrated by Yamaki official Katsuro Kido. As the theme music of "Iron Chef America" played in the background at the Yamaki USA production facility, Katsuro Kido and an assistant heaped bonito shavings into a pot with boiling water, covered the pot, and then strained the contents just a couple of minutes later through a paper towel and sieve into a glass bowl.

Dashi is golden in color, as Katsuro Kido pointed out as he presented the finished broth for attendees to sample. It has a fishy, faintly smoky — but not overpowering — taste. It is a very common ingredient in Japanese cooking, including in approachable, "mainstream" dishes like miso soup, donburi and ramen.

Demand for dashi is increasing along with Americans' appetite for Japanese food, Yoshihiro Kido said.

"As you already know, Japanese cuisine is very popular in the U.S.," he remarked. Indeed, Forest Grove already boasts several restaurants with Japanese or Japanese-inspired menu items, such as teriyaki and yakisoba, as well as a sake brewery.

Attendees at Wednesday's ceremony watched a short video laying out the many steps of Yamaki's process for making kezuribushi, and then groups were taken on a tour of the modestly sized production facility.

At different stations in the facility, fish are soaked, smoked and sliced, among other steps. The specialized slicing machine shaves the dried fish into pieces barely two-hundredths of a millimeter thick, according to company officials.

Remarks were offered Wednesday as well by Howard Sullivan from the Forest Grove/Cornelius Chamber of Commerce — who described the Yamaki USA opening as part of an "extremely phenomenal" growth trend in Forest Grove's business community over the past several years — and Forest Grove city officials, including Mayor Pete Truax.

"Yamaki is a business that reminds us of Forest Grove's past, Forest Grove's present and Forest Grove's future," said Truax, who noted that Forest Grove's only sister city relationship is with the town of Nyuzen, Japan. He said that Forest Grove and Yamaki share a commitment to environmental sustainability as well.

Jeff King, Forest Grove's economic development manager, said he hopes Yamaki is a "major success" in Forest Grove. Yamaki officials indicated they plan to add workers and expand the production facility over the next few years as demand increases, which they project it will.

"There is a growing market here for your company, and I see that continuing," King said.

Yamaki USA is located at 2329 Yew St., alongside New Season Foods Inc.

STAFF PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Smoked bonito is the main flavoring ingredient in dashi, a fish broth ubiquitous in Japanese cooking. At Yamaki USA, these tough pieces of dried fish are sliced thinner than paper or ground into powder for ease of use.

By Mark Miller
Editor, Forest Grove News-Times
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