When a friend of mine dragged two other friends from the States to Osaka to eat at the first restaurant I apprenticed at in Japan, they were prepared to pay 10,000 yen for the pleasure of eating the omakase, a several-course menu selected by the chef. What they were not ready for was the main dish: a big, steamed fish head, the traditional kotsu mushi (literally, "steamed bones"). Eyes widened and chopsticks were timidly taken up to probe the foreign matter presented on beautiful Bizen-yaki ceramic-ware. Later, the plates mysteriously returned to the dish sink devoid of anything but the fish bones, the famous nanatsu dogu, the bones shaped like seven different farmers' tools found in the head of a tai.

After the meal, when questioned about their favorite course, all three praised the initially unfamiliar fish head. Beside the impeccable broth and the snow-white tender flesh of the wild sea bream from Akashi, what clinched the deal was the dipping sauce served alongside. Not the main component but surely the star of the arrangement was the ponzu sauce — the citrus-soy meld that has won over more than a few first-time washoku-ers.

Ponzu is a classic Japanese staple, but unfortunately fewer and fewer folks attempt to make this condiment at home. The availability of cheap mass-produced ponzu has surely contributed to this change. But the cost is far from prohibitive, and the process of putting the sauce together is actually very simple.