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CLOSE-UP JAPAN Vol. 29 No. 4 January 2016

Tofu Culture in Kyoto


Tofu, high in protein, is popular around the world; in Japan, Kyoto is known to be the best source for delicious tofu. Soybeans are farmed in this region, but the main reason is its water: tofu is made with soybeans, but is 90% water. Green and mountainous, the area around Kyoto is blessed with high quality soft water. Tofu was introduced to Japan from China in the seventh and eighth centuries, after Buddhism arrived from the continent; it was not until the fourteenth century, however, that tofu became more widely popular. Kyoto is known for its numerous temples, and tofu flourished as an essential ingredient in shojin-ryori vegetarian temple cuisine—thus a diverse and complex “tofu culture” evolved here.

Kyoto is famous for its delicious tofu

A tofu restaurant on the grounds of Nanzenji temple is famous for yu-dofu, made by placing kombu in a pot of water, and heating cut-up blocks of tofu in the pot. The warm tofu is then served in a soy sauce-based sauce with condiments such as Japanese long onion and katsuobushi shaved dried bonito. Niken-jaya, two tea houses in front of the gates of Yasaka shrine, were best known for tofu dengaku; one of them still serves visitors today, as it has for over 400 years. Tofu dengaku is prepared by slowly grilling skewered tofu coated with flavorful kinome miso—miso mixed with sansho mountain pepper sprouts—over a charcoal fi re. Kyoto also boasts many tofu stores, some established over a century ago, whose fresh hand-made tofu is popular among locals and tourists alike. Kyoto’s countless specialty tofu stores and restaurants have served generations of customers—all thanks to the peerless quality of its water.

abura-age, hirousu and atsu-age
Clockwise from top:
abura-age, hirousu and atsu-age.

Tofu may be classified into various types: firm momen, with its slightly rough texture; soft kinugoshi, which is “silky” and fine; and the processed types, such as yaki-dofu grilled tofu, deep-fried abura-age and atsu-age. Hirousu, also known as gan-modoki, is a kind of “tofu fritter” made by mixing tofu with several ingredients such as carrot, gingko nut and lily root, forming into balls, and deep-frying in oil.

Vol. 29

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