Kyoto tofu
March 22, 2012 1:20 PM   Subscribe

Fresh tofu in Japan is far better than it is anywhere else, and the tofu in Kyoto is generally held to be the best in the country. This is generally attributed to the skill, refined court and/or temple-influenced culture and the quality of the local water. ... During my week in Kyoto, I was able to pursue one family business’s vision of what tofu should be from beginning to end.

The workshop where Okutan's tofu is made occupies a multi-chambered grotto beneath the dining rooms which has the chaste and contemplative atmosphere of a chapel. Apart from the plumbing and electrical fixtures, almost no alloyed metal or industrial materials have been used in the construction of the kitchen, or are used in the cooking process, as if they might profane the tofu with their modernity. Nearly all the accoutrements - even the sink - are handmade of cedar, and the stove is a slab of lava. In the kitchen's inner sanctum - the salt room - the regimen of purism is absolute. - Judith Thurman, "Night Kitchens"

This 40,000 word (!) global history of tofu is just a tiny part of the colossal amount of information collected at the SoyInfo Center.
posted by Trurl (30 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

 
Tofu is a lovely food, very versatile, and this is definitely making my mouth water even after the lunch hour. It's one of those foods that can be a perfect lunch to cool down on a hot day, or to warm you up on a cool evening. The biggest mistake with tofu for most people is attempting to cram it into a Western menu; you can better appreciate it by discovering Eastern tastes, where it is a staple in Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and Thai cuisine. It is not strictly vegetarian, it can be unhealthy and deep fried, and it's even a component of some tasty desserts.

And, man, some Japanese people often take their food seriously. Bless them. Kyoto is now one of my food destination spots.
posted by jabberjaw at 1:48 PM on March 22, 2012 [6 favorites]


I eat tofu by the pound. Literally. I'll take a 16-ounce block of tofu, put it on a plate, add shredded nori, bonito flakes and soy sauce, and call it lunch.

It's good.
posted by Faint of Butt at 2:05 PM on March 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


(Better with nori, bonito flakes, and either ponzu or tempura sauce, I find.)
posted by markkraft at 2:08 PM on March 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


The biggest mistake with tofu for most people is attempting to cram it into a Western menu;

Me! Me! I make that mistake all the time. I'm getting better, but it's going to take a lot of practice.
Yummy, yummy practice.
Tofu? I hardly know you!
posted by Floydd at 2:23 PM on March 22, 2012


I am a steady consumer of tofu. So versatile in both flavor and texture. I love spreading a little sauce of some kind or another (whatever's around, really) on two halves of an extra firm block and grilling outdoors like you would with a fish fillet. There's few forms of protein more satisfying to me, for some reason.
posted by item at 2:27 PM on March 22, 2012


The biggest mistake with tofu for most people is attempting to cram it into a Western menu

I made chigae for dinner last night, and I still can't forget what I read on the package of silken tofu I got from Safeway: "Soft Tofu is Very Delicious in Salads and Dressings." No wonder it's so misunderstood in the West. That said though, when I tried handmade Japanese tofu for the first time, I could see why people would want to turn it into ice cream.
posted by peripathetic at 2:29 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fresh tofu in Japan is far better than it is anywhere else, and the tofu in Kyoto is generally held to be the best in the country.

Good lord this is true! Thank you for posting! We just spent a couple of months in Japan, and the tofu was truly delicious, especially otokomae tofu from Kyoto (sold in most supermarkets where we lived).

In fact, there's a village over the mountains from where we live(d) that specializes in tofu. It all tastes so much better than the dreck sold in Canada, which is thickened, no doubt, using drywall paste.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:33 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


I hear that, KokuRyu. It took me a few tries to figure out why I loved hiyayakko so much in Japan but when I make it here it tastes like shit.
posted by Hoopo at 2:42 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


It all tastes so much better than the dreck sold in Canada, which is thickened, no doubt, using drywall paste.

Ironically Gypsum is a common coagulant in making tofu.
posted by JPD at 2:55 PM on March 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


All I gotta say is: chawanmushi.
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 3:02 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Our youngest son (3yo) loves tofu, and just gobbles it up, asking for more. It makes him fart like crazy, though.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:04 PM on March 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


All I gotta say is: chawanmushi.

no tofu in chawanmushi usually- it's eggs.
posted by JPD at 3:09 PM on March 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Apparently what I eat is a bastardized version of hiyayakko. I never knew what it was called.

And I never developed a taste for chawanmushi.
posted by Faint of Butt at 3:27 PM on March 22, 2012


It all tastes so much better than the dreck sold in Canada, which is thickened, no doubt, using drywall paste.

I've had nothing but Canadian tofu - I suspected that I was missing out before and this post has convinced me. However, La Soyarie is my favourite Canadian brand. I've only ever seen it in health food stores, it doesn't seem to be in any major grocery chains.
posted by sngbk at 3:30 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, this is one of those Japanese things that always makes me laugh. You can go anywhere in the country and ask what their regional specialty foods are, what they have that's better than everywhere else, and they all say exactly the same things: tofu, natto, and sake. They have the real thing, everyone else's is inferior. Only after you get past those do you get to the real regional specialties.

A real regional specialty is so specific that you can trace it back. For example, my favorite is hotaru ika, pictured here in the second link (and quite uselessly I might add since you can only see the phosphorescent glowing in semidarkness, and if it isn't still glowing, it's not fresh enough to eat). Anyway, if you know what hotaru ika is, you instantly know where it comes from (and it ain't Kyoto). But somehow I don't know if people instantly think Kyoto when they think about tofu.
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:37 PM on March 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


I wonder what the American answer would be? BBQ, pizza, and beer?

Thanks for the links, I'm fascinated by food and drink and enjoy reading about how they are made and the history involved, but often the most in-depth article Google can get you to is a Wikipedia article.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 3:42 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


But somehow I don't know if people instantly think Kyoto when they think about tofu.

I suppose it depends where you live in Japan, but Kyoto is pretty much synonymous with yudofu, but, given the Japanese penchant for ranking things, there's just no way that Kyoto, given its ancient heritage and status as the former Imperial capital is not going to be considered the best or the penultimate for a lot of things, such as food. Take kaiseki ryori for example.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:19 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


there's a village over the mountains from where we live(d) that specializes in tofu

Lucky! The town where I worked was famous for kamaboko. For those unfamiliar, it's like a blander gefilte fish.
posted by Hoopo at 4:35 PM on March 22, 2012


Tsuruga, where I lived, was actually famous for kamaboko - there's a big factory that you can actually tour. While I do love kamaboko (think: cooked fish paste) I was unable to eat it for many years because once, after eating a kamaboko sample (I never turn down free food, and it must have sat out for at least 12 hours) in a souvenir shop at a Japanese highway rest stop, I developed food poisoning that kept me off my feet for three or four days, and the mere thought of it was enough to make me want run for the toilet.

But I like it now.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:53 PM on March 22, 2012


One on my most favourite things to nom on is fresh piping hot 豆腐花 (dau fu fa, or tofu pudding) from a wooden bucket with really strong, proper ginger-and-cane-sugar syrup. Ugh - so good and melty and flavourful.

It's funny, though. When I was in the States I found some packaged tofu in a supermarket marketed as dessert - and they'd flavoured the stuff with mango and pear? or something and the result looked this sickly shade of orange, like a bled-out wobbly play-doh brick. It made me so very very sad.
posted by zennish at 6:34 PM on March 22, 2012


I have no clue how it holds up against Kyoto's finest, but San Jose Tofu Company is an awesome resource for those in the south bay area -- oh I miss the freshy.
posted by eddydamascene at 7:25 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wonder what the American answer would be? BBQ, pizza, and beer?

Here in San Francisco, perhaps burritos or dungeness crab. A little bit north and you hit California wine country. A bit further and you'll find some pretty good weed.
posted by ryanrs at 7:31 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Kaiseki ryori was one of the highlights of my honeymoon. Should have tried more tofu though. Strange that it wasn't on the menu at our Kyoto-style cooking class.
posted by univac at 8:56 PM on March 22, 2012


So what you're saying in this post is that there's a place in Japan that makes some Killer Tofu?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:11 PM on March 22, 2012


I eat tofu by the pound. Literally. I'll take a 16-ounce block of tofu, put it on a plate, add shredded nori, bonito flakes and soy sauce, and call it lunch.

It's good.



I was under the impression that eating like, 1lb of tofu daily is not exactly what I want to be doing as a dude, what with all the estrogen-like chems in soybeans.

Fallacy?!
posted by alex_skazat at 10:10 PM on March 22, 2012


WebMD: Myth #3: Soy foods contain estrogen and men who eat them may experience feminization or even impair their fertility.

Not true. Soy foods do not contain estrogen, although they do contain isoflavone phytochemicals that fall in the “phytoestrogen” or “plant” estrogen grouping. Clinical evidence indicates that soy foods do not feminize men, lower their testosterone levels or lower their sperm concentration. Soy foods may actually offer men specifically several health benefits. For example, evidence suggests soy foods may be protective against prostate cancer.

posted by furiousxgeorge at 10:30 PM on March 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


I love tofu deeply. I feel a longing when one speaks of fresh tofu handcrafted by artisans steeped in ancient traditions. But I still enjoy the plastic water-filled tubs that I am able to find.
posted by slogger at 7:37 AM on March 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have never had any Japanese tofu dish that can hold a candle to the MaPo DouFu I had in China, you know the country that actually invented it.
posted by BobbyDigital at 2:09 PM on March 23, 2012


I was in Kyoto for 6 weeks in 1990...and boy, was the food great! The tofu in the markets was fresh every day...they'd take what wasn't sold that day and make something fantastic out if it.
Best food time I ever had.
posted by eggtooth at 5:51 PM on March 23, 2012


sngbk: However, La Soyarie is my favourite Canadian brand. I've only ever seen it in health food stores, it doesn't seem to be in any major grocery chains.
Farm Boy has it--I just picked up a block of firm for $2.79 or somesuch. You might see it in Loblaws as well if you head into their hippiefood section. :o)
posted by Decimask at 4:39 PM on March 24, 2012


« Older The Loess Plateau in China’s Northwest is home to ...  |  Vernor Vinge is optimistic abo... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments