Tofu is soybean curd and considered to be one of the healthiest foods around. Its texture is soft like cottage cheese, and is made by curdling fresh hot soymilk with a coagulant. This curdling agent is nigari, a compound found in natural ocean water or calcium. The curdled soy milk is finally shaped in a mold. Perhaps most people have eaten tofu as part of a Chinese meal, but Japanese tofu is actually quite different. Kyo-tofu is the best of all Japanese tofus, so you should try it if you have a fondness for yogurt and cottage cheese.
There are many kinds of tofu in Japan, but the Japanese eat two main types of tofu. They are different from that sold in America, and are softer than the American variety. Compared with the tofu sold in China and America, the taste of Japanese tofu is maybe a little bland. If the Japanese names are translated directly into English, they become ‘Cotton tofu’ and ‘silken tofu’. Cotton tofu is softer than the soft tofu sold in America, whereas silken tofu is very close to American silken tofu in texture. However, Japanese silken tofu is quite different from its American counterpart in the process of production. American silken tofu is known as filled tofu in Japan. After chilling the soymilk and adding the curd, it is poured into a mold until filled, then heated twice in the filled mold. Japanese people eat these cotton and silken tofu fresh with soy sauce and chopped spring onion.
Japanese people say “Tofu is the meat of the field”. The nutritional value of tofu is as rich as that of meat, but it is not a fatty food and is important for people who care about their health. tofu contains no cholesterol, so if you are worried about something like arteriosclerosis, you had better shift from meat to tofu. What’s more, tofu contains the isoflavone of soy beans which women have been talking about a lot lately. Isoflavone is a property which is said to engender beautiful skin, and prevent or ease menopausal disorders. tofu is therefore, considered an ideal food for women.
Soy beans, from which tofu is made, are harvested in October and then dried, eventually appearing on the market in January. One of the best ways to eat tofu is ‘Hot’, and Japanese people love to eat it to keep warm on cold winter days and nights.
The best time of day to eat Tofu is probably lunch time. Tofu should be chilled for 1 hour, and then after 3 hours it becomes firm. Soy beans start to lose their pleasant smell after 8 hours, so the best time to eat Tofu is 4 hours after preparation. Most tofu producers start to make Tofu from 3 to 5 a.m. daily and the process takes about 3 to 5 hours to complete. This makes lunch time the best time to eat fresh tofu. Many famous tofu restaurants can be found near certain places of interest, like Nanzenji-temple, Kitano-shrine and Daitokuji Temple. So after visiting these places you should be able to find a tofu restaurant easily.
Tofu is famous all over Japan, but especially so in Kyoto, and there are some reasons for this. Firstly, Kyoto has a lot of good quality water, due to the large number of underground springs. This spring water is also soft water, and soft water is excellent for making tofu. Secondly, is that there are a lot of good quality soybeans grown in Kyoto.
Thirdly, is that there are a great many temples in Kyoto, and the priests of these temples are against the killing of animals, so they can’t eat meat or fish. Therefore, tofu is a good and important source of protein for them. The final reason is that there are lots of people who have passed the tofu making tradition down from generation to generation. Each tofu shop has a long history and the competition is fierce to keep up with other shops. For these four reasons, tofu has been, and will continue to be, a part of Kyoto life.
The birth place of tofu was China. The origins of it can be traced to a book which was written in China in the 16th century. In this book, there is a sentence which states that Tofu was started in Han (the old name for China).
After this, Tofu spread to other Asian countries from China, where the names for Tofu are very similar. For example, in China it called, of course “Tofu”, in Korea it is called “Tobu” or “Toubu”, “Toufoo” in Myanmar, “Toufu” in Malaysia and Vietnam, “Tobu” in North Korea, “Tofu” in Java, and “Tofu” in Japan. In Asian countries, tofu is used in many dishes, and is regarded as a very important and familiar food. For example, it is used in Chige in Korea, Mabodofu and spicy dishes in China, “Laksa” in Singapore, and so on.
In Kyoto, there are a lot of tofu shops, tofu restaurants, and tofu cafés. Some of them are the traditional type, and others are the modern. Here are some of the more important ones:
① Sagadoufu Morika…This is a very famous tofu shop established about 140 years ago. It is said that Morika was the originator of Kyo-tofu.
② Junsei…Junsei is famous for its Yudoufu. (Yudoufu is a dish, whereby tofu is immersed in a hot kelp soup.) Established about 40 years ago, this Japanese restaurant is housed in a building, which was originally erected as a school in 1839, and is now registered as a tangible cultural asset. Their dishes may be a little expensive, but they are so delicious!!
③ Toyoukeya Yamamoto & Toyouke Chaya…Toyoukeya Yamamoto is a famous tofu shop, which was established in 1898. In this shop, they sell not only tofu but also yuba and age. Toyouke Chaya, on the other hand, is a tofu restaurant. You can eat tofu dishes here only at lunchtime, but they are relatively inexpensive.
④ Yubanzai Komameya…In this restaurant, they serve very fine yuba dishes. Unlike other restaurant where yuba dishes are at the expensive end of the menu, this restaurant keeps the price at an affordable level.
⑤ Kyoutoufu Fujino & Konnamonjya…Kyoutoufu Fujino is both a tofu shop and a tofu restaurant, that sells not only traditional tofu but other varieties. For example, they have okara cookies, soymilk cookies, and many tofu-based desserts. The restaurant is open at lunchtime, to allow people to eat freshly-made Tofu. Konnamonjya is a Tofu shop, which sells Tofu, Age, soymilk doughnuts, soymilk ice-cream cones, soymilk cookies, and so on.
※Most restaurants provide chopsticks when serving tofu dishes. If you find it difficult to use them, ask the waitresses to bring you spoon
Toyouke Chaya, located next to Kitano Tenmanguu, has three amazing tofu courses available. The three of us all ordered the least expensive lunch set, the 梅 plum course, for about 2000 yen a piece. This course featured a number of small dishes of tofu and vegetable dishes as well and a bowl of white rice and houjicha ほうじ茶, roasted green tea. We ate ganmo がんも, deep-fried tofu with vegetables mixed in (top center); nerigoma hairi nama yuba sashimi 練ごま入り生湯葉刺身, thin strips of “raw” yuba (“tofu skin”) in sesame paste (bottom center); take no ko タケノコ, bamboo shoots (in the pink dish); miso with tofu (in the covered black bowl); and tofu mixed with sesame. I will never look at tofu the same way again.
The food is on the pricey side with a lunch set for 2000-3000 yen, but the quality of the food and the pleasant atmosphere are well worth the price.
とようけ茶屋 Toyouke Chaya
Closed on Thursdays unless Thursday is the 25th of the month (the day of the Tenmanguu flea market).
Price: for a yuba set, 2000-3000 yen. For a la carte or smaller meals, 700-1100 yen. I recommend the yuba set lunch.