Denbu (mashed and seasoned fish with white flesh or the mixture of fish with white flesh and shrimp that has been boiled, parched, seasoned and colored with red food coloring) is a processed food made from fish or livestock meat. It is a type of tsukudani (a preserved food made by cooking fish, selfish, kelp, animal meat, vegetables, etc. in sweetened soy sauce). In Japan fish meat is often used to make denbu which is referred to as oboro at the Edomae-zushi (Tokyo-style sushi) restaurants and is also referred to as chikarani in some areas. In China and Taiwan, pork is often used to make denbu but chicken and beef is sometimes used as well.
Denbu in Japan
In Japan fish meat is often used to make Denbu. Boil the filleted fish, remove bones and skin, squeeze the fish fillets to remove water, dry in the dryer, break the fish meat into small pieces and crush in a mortar. Transfer to a pot, add sake, mirin (sweet rice wine for cooking) and sugar and parch the crushed fish meat until it is fairly dry. When fish with white flesh such as a sea bream is used, food coloring is sometimes added to color the denbu in pink. The pink denbu is referred to as sakura denbu (cherry blossom denbu) after that color. In Japan, denbu made from fish meat is used as an ingredient for chirashi zushi (literally meaning scattered sushi, a style of sushi where the topping is placed in a bowl over a bed of rice) and rolled sushi in addition to be sprinkled over rice.
Legend has it that, somewhere around Kyoto lived a woman of virtue whose husband had no appetite because of illness. The woman, according to the advice of Ubusunagami (a guardian deity of one's birthplace), served her husband a dish made from dried bonito powder seasoned with sake and soy sauce, which improved his appetite and he recovered from his illness. The woman tried that dish herself and also gave some to other people. It is said that this was the origin of denbu. If there is any credibility to this legend, it is likely that bonito was the origin of denbu.
Denbu Made from Meat in China
Because it is a food made by fluffing the fibers of meat which have been broken into threads, it is generally referred to as rou sing (dried meat threads) in Chinese. In Taiwanese (dialect), it is referred to as rou su (dried meat threads) or rou pu (dried meat threads). In rare cases, rou sing made from fish meat is available but that made from pork and beef is more common. In Taiwan, generally, the pork rou sing is colored light brown, whereas, the beef rou sing is colored dark brown making them readily distinguishable. There are chicken rou sing and vegetarian rou sing made from soybean products for vegetarians.
In China, rou sing is often eaten with rice porridge but is sometimes added to eggs when making an omelet. In Taiwan, people enjoy rou sing in various ways including stuffing in rice balls, adding to the batter of crepe-like breakfast food dan bing and using as a topping for rice porridge that they eat for breakfast. The pork rou sing and beef rou sing are regular ingredients for bun meals.