Tofu in Kyoto

Tofu was invented over 2,000 years ago in China. The story goes that an adventurous chef of the time decided to flavor some soymilk with a saltwater by-product called nigari. Rather than flavor the soymilk however, the nigari caused it to curdle. The story does not explain exactly why the chef put the curds into his mouth but the rest is tofu history!

Tofu, historically referred to as shirakabe or 'white wall,' was supposedly brought to Japan in the Nara period (late 700's) by a Japanese delegation that had ventured to China to study Buddhism but instead came home with a shipload of hearty Chinese recipes. Tofu's earliest appearances in Japanese history were as Buddhist offerings but tofu was soon discovered to be a valuable source of protein for the vegetarian clergy. Buddhism's home in Japan transferred from Nara to Kyoto and tofu came with it. The nobility adopted the Buddhist vegetarian diet and, tofu consumption soon spread throughout the capital.

By the end of the Edo period, tofu had gone nationwide with each territory in Japan adding its own slight variations. Even now, however, Kyoto takes pride in producing the highest quality tofu in Japan, which is where Tosuiro steps in.

According to Nagashi Yoshida, who has managed Tosuiro since it opened in Kyoto ten years ago, tofu's taste comes down to the quality of the water and the soybeans. "Kyoto has a very clean water supply so the beans are very high quality. We use a large amount of these beans to make our tofu." Apparently much of the tofu that we see in the supermarket does not use such a high concentration of high quality beans nor is it allowed to firm without being pressurized, unlike the delicious oboro-style tofu that is famous throughout Kyoto.

Mr. Yoshida's explanations didn't seem to tell the whole story of why his restaurant's tofu was so rich, creamy, and flavorful but finally he admitted that he had been working with soybeans since he was a young child. The difference in Tosuiro's tofu is that it carries the flavor of lifelong experience.

The minute the kimono-clad waitress gently stepped into Tosuiro's simple Japanese style dining room we knew we were in for something different. "Tonight you will be eating tofu." She announced. "Boiled tofu, fried tofu, baked tofu, chilled tofu, tofu in water, tofu with rice, tofu with vegetables, and tofu with fish. You will have tofu for an appetizer, you will have tofu in the salad, you will have tofu in the main course, you will have tofu as desert, and you will even have tofu in your cocktails. You are in a tofu restaurant, if you need anything else, please feel free to ask, but I'll probably just bring you more tofu instead. Thank you."

The tofu came in a steady stream, just as the waitress promised. They brought boiled tofu, baked tofu, fried tofu, in combination with fish, vegetables, and even solid gold flakes! All of it was so much better than any tofu I had ever had before and each tofu varied in creaminess, texture, and flavor. Some of the bolder members of our party tried the tofu cocktail, which, as you may have cleverly predicted, tasted like soymilk and shochu. None of the featured menu items measured up, however, to the never-ending supply of pure goodness that boiled away in the oborodofu pot in the center of the table. The flavor was so bold and creamy yet the tofu itself was as light as air.

Fortunately the waitress was happy to bring in extra servings, because the wonderful flavor kept us all coming back for more, I lost count after I slurped back my seventh serving! The final blow was a small dish of tofu sorbet, which was somehow lighter than ice cream but just as creamy, the last nail in the tofu coffin. I, who had thought that a tofu 'dinner' was actually just a healthy appetizer prelude to a meal at McDonald's, had unbelievably stuffed myself purely on tofu!

Tousuiro information

web: http://www.arkworld.co.jp/brs1206/tousuiro/main.html

Details: http://www.arkworld.co.jp/brs1206/tousuiro/taim.html

Tel: 075-251-1600

Reservations highly recommended.

Sets 3,500 or 5,000 yen per person.

Copyright (c) Matt Cox
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