aboutWe are Akila and Patrick. Our minds (and waistlines) expand as we travel, cook, and eat our way around the world with our two dogs.
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powered by tofu
in kyoto

Tofu at Buddhist temple

Boiled tofu at the Ryoanji temple, Kyoto

It is a sad truth that when Americans think of tofu, we think of a bland spongy material tossed into dishes as a lame substitute for those who avoid flesh.  Patrick, a proud flesh eater, has always considered tofu pointless.  "It tastes like nothing," he would complain when I threw it into Thai curries to add a bit of protein.  And, though I am a vegetarian, I rarely used tofu as a meat substitute unless the dish specifically called for tofu. 

Boiled tofu

Boiled tofu at Tousuiro, Kyoto

But, now, we are proud tofu converts.  Here, in Kyoto, tofu is an art form, consumed in nearly every meal, with or without meat products, by itself or with accompaniments.  The flavor of the tofu rivets us, sustains us, and makes us demand more.  And, like Bubba who listed all of the ways to eat shrimp to an unsuspecting Forrest, these are the many ways we have eaten tofu in this fair city:

Boiled tofu Boiled tofu with soy sauce

Boiled tofu at Tousuiro, Kyoto

Boiled with soy sauce:  This simple preparation is my new favorite way to eat tofu.  I know that you are shaking your head and thinking that my tastebuds have disappeared, but the fresh tofu turns soft and silky in the pot of water without losing its medium consistency and structure.  When I place a piece in my mouth, the tofu melts into a pool of smooth liquid.  The flavor is creamy and slightly sweet with the contrasting hit of the salty soy sauce.

Cold tofu

Cold tofu with variety of other tofu dishes at Arashiyama restaurant, Kyoto

Cold with nori:  The cold tofu is typically a soft/silken tofu, refrigerated and served simply with shredded nori, vegetables, and soy sauce.  Unlike the boiled tofu that slides down the throat, the cold tofu reminded us of a refrigerated savory pudding with the flavor of mascarpone cheese.


Cold yuba at Tousuiro, Kyoto

Yuba:  We had never heard the word "yuba" before we reached Japan but soon discovered this delicacy in Kyoto.  Goodness, were we missing out.  Yuba is made by boiling soy milk until a skin forms on top of the milk, removing the skin, layering the skin on a pan, and continuing the process until thick layers of skin are fomed in the pan.  The end result has the flavor of excellent creamy tofu but with the consistency of wide noodles. 

Yuba sold in packages Yuba being made
Yuba being made Yuba sold in packages

Yuba being made and sold in packages

Though yuba is not technically tofu because tofu is made by adding coagulants to soy milk, yuba is often called "tofu skin" in restaurants.  We have tried yuba cold with slivers of onions, yuba in soy milk, fried yuba, and yuba in soups.  In every form, it is downright delicious.  Yuba makers, you need to open up shops in the United States.

Tempura tofu

Tempura plain tofu, edamame tofu, and tofu in spring roll wrapper

Tempura:  When lightly battered and fried, the firm tofu takes on a crusty exterior and tender interior, almost like lightly fried mozzarella.

Vegetable tofu Pumpkin tofu
Black bean tofu Hibiscus flower tempura

Vegetable tofu; pumpkin tofu; black bean tofu at Tousuiro; hibiscus tempura at Arashiyama restaurant

Flavored:  As far as we can tell, Japanese chefs will flavor tofu with pretty much anything.  We've had vegetable flecked tofu that reminded us of spicy vegetable cream cheese, a silky pumpkin tofu that made us long for Thanksgiving pies, and a gelatinous, earthy black bean tofu.  

Tofu flavored with rice

Mixed with rice

Mixed with rice and egg:  Though not a common dish, we have been offered creamy tofu with a raw egg to pour into hot rice.  The heat from the rice cooks the egg and the tofu, creating the consistency of a rice pudding. 

Fried tofu on a stick Fried tofu on a stick

Baked tofu (tofu dengaku)

Baked:  Firm tofu is stuck through with sticks, seasoned with a sauce, and then baked or grilled.  This crispy, flavorful preparation may be topped with miso paste, soy sauce, cheese, or custard sauces.  We have found this dish in most izakayas, Japanese neighborhood pub/restaurants that serve small plates of food, and it has quickly become one of our favorite ways to eat tofu.

So, where should you go to eat tofu in Kyoto?

Tofu meal

Nonomiya set lunch at Arashiyama tofu restaurant

Tofu restaurants.  It is impossible to walk down a Kyoto street without finding at least one tofu restaurant.  Lunch set meals run around 1800-2400 Y (approximately $20-28 USD) and dinner averages 3000-4000 Y (about $33-45 USD).  Tousuiro, in Gion, made the best tofu we have tried in all of Japan.  Most of the set menu included meat products but the waitress helped me create a smaller vegetarian menu. 

The beautiful Arashiyama neighborhood is filled with tofu and yuba restaurants.  We stopped in at a tofu restaurant directly opposite the Tenryuji Temple.  The restaurant provided an excellent value with a variety of tofu dishes at a reasonable 1800 Y per meal in a bright and airy space. 

Ryoanji temple dining Ryoanji garden for dining area
Kyo ryori meal at Ryoanji Boiled tofu at Ryoanji

Shojin ryori at Ryoanji Temple

Shojin ryori at a Buddhist temple.  Many Buddhist temples in Kyoto offer visitors the opportunity to try a meal traditionally prepared for Buddhist monks.  These meals, ranging from 1500-1800 Y (about $18-20 USD) are usually served in serene rooms overlooking the streams and fountains of a Zen garden.  We tried the shojin ryori meal at Ryoanji Temple in northern Kyoto and, though we were not blown away by the preparation (especially after the other two tofu restaurants), we thoroughly appreciated the calming ambience, a world away from the hectic crowds seeking out Ryoanji's famous Zen rock garden.

Wherever you find tofu in Japan, we hope that you will be as impressed as we have been and join our band of tofu converts.

06/11/2010 10:12
Wow, what beautifully presented food! And, with beautifully written descriptions to accompany the nice photographs! Well done! It looks like you are enjoying your Japan trip so far! I look forward to each of your posts.
Melissa's recent blog post: I like Schedules
06/11/2010 18:30
Lakshmi Sankar
Mouth-watering description of Tofu, Akila. Beautiful pictures, Patrick! Yuba reminds me of malai, that is made in North India. Have fun both of you! Love, Mom
06/12/2010 04:36
I used to think tofu was pointless until I tried some at a local Asian market. It's covered in a soy sauce and pepper/onion/scallion/garlic relish. I've been a believer since. Tofu is yumm-o.

Please excuse me as I need to go find something to eat now. You've made me hungry.
Jen's recent blog post: Weekend Update: 6/12/2010
06/13/2010 07:56
You make tofu sounds and look like an art form. I normally shy away from trying things with tofu, but this post would water any mouth. Gorgeous photos as well.
Suzy Guese's recent blog post: Just A Place To Rest My Head
06/13/2010 09:36
@Melissa Thanks so much! We are really enjoying Japan. It took us a little while to figure it out, but now, we really like it a lot.

Thanks Mom!

@Jen That is exactly what happened to Patrick. He tried tofu in Kyoto and was instantly converted. America doesn't know what it's missing.

@Suzy, Tofu is an art form here. They make beautiful flower shaped tofu rounds in striped colors, too. It's amazing how much effort they put into their tofu here. We can't help but love it!
Akila's recent blog post: powered by tofu
06/14/2010 14:06
Wow, these pictures are mouthwatering!
06/14/2010 23:21
Not a huge fan of tofu but I don't underestimate it. The cold tofu dish at Arashiyama restaurant looks amazing! I'd order that AND enjoy it.
Gourmantic's recent blog post: Vivid Sydney: The Rocks Fire Water Show
06/15/2010 10:54
The Japanese make food look so beautiful one is almost afraid to touch it. Awesome pictures, as usual :D Hoping to hear more stories about Japan. I really love that country! :D
Lilia Cornelio's recent blog post: Cape Bojeador Lighthouse
06/19/2010 04:02
Thanks Veggie Belly!

Gourmantic, I had underestimated everywhere else but in Japan, it is simply amazing.

Lillia, I know exactly what you mean. We wanted to whip out our camera at every meal because the food just looked so good.
Akila's recent blog post: why i decided to travel the world
01/26/2011 11:01
I'm a vegetarian and was really nervous about my trip to Japan. After I found your blog, I actually started to look forward to the food I was about to be treated to. And a treat it was! We followed some of your recommendations in Kyoto. The restaurant in Arashiyama was delicious and the buddhist restaurant in Ryonji was breathtaking. They really were the highlights of our trip.
01/26/2011 13:01
Nimisha, Thank you so much for this comment! You totally made my day. I am a firm supporter of vegetarians traveling in Japan because there is such incredible vegetarian food that is kind of thrust aside by the focus on seafood. I am so so glad that you enjoyed yourself in Kyoto! We can't wait to go back there.
Akila's recent blog post: meyer lemon budino
02/24/2011 20:15
So that's what it is called! We make stuff using yuba here in Toronto, they sell it in Chinese stores as sheets, though my mum commented that the quality of the yuba has gone down in recent years.
Q's recent blog post: Google Art Project
02/25/2011 10:59
Q - How awesome that you find it in Toronto! We've never seen it in the U.S., though Asian stores in California might sell it. We'll have to look for it.
08/11/2011 13:54
good post they definitely know how to prepare there tofu
08/13/2011 08:17
Akila's recent blog post: weekly photo: penguins at boulders
09/19/2011 10:45
I became a vegan recently and I'm still adjusting to the diet, and since I'm eating a lot of tofu to compensate for protein from other sources, it's great to see how much can be done with it...I'm definitely trying the soy sauce-boiled tofu dish!
11/06/2011 19:50
Great post with fantastic photos once again!

Tofu should be appreciated in its own right rather than only as a substitute for meat. I have to admit that I struggle to prepare silken tofu at home. It just seems to fall apart. Because of this I always order agedashi tofu at my local Japanese restaurant.
Bianca @ Day Jaunts's recent blog post: Geelong - The Geelong Cup 2011
11/10/2011 07:27
Bianca, if you find a good recipe, please let us know. We'd love to try it at home.
Patrick's recent blog post: an ode to cream tea
11/16/2011 01:04
Awesome delicious tofu I want make like this
11/17/2011 23:22
You always make me extra envious with your travels with these photos. Never thought that tofu can be so mouth watering!
12/12/2011 11:55
I recently just turned vegetarian and have been exploring the world of tofu! And its wonderful! It helps balance the diet especially in Spain where the variety of vegetarian food is very limited!
12/12/2011 13:28
Tofu definitely helps balance the diet. And, yes, Spain -- very hard for the vegetarian. I ate a lot of cheese, potatoes, and pimientos padrones. I usually keep a pack of firm tofu in my cabinet and toss it in with stir-fries or Thai curries to get some protein. (Tofu's also really good in Indian food, too!)
12/24/2011 06:57
Tofu's great if you know how cook it! Great ideas here.
Becky GlobalGrasshopper's recent blog post: In BIG pictures: Christmas around the world
11/09/2012 17:38
I'm vegan and I love tofu. These pics have made me hungry! For tofu and for at rip to Japan!

Thanks for including some vegan friendly posts on your blog :)

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