Kyoto has the best tofu in Japan. No joke. There are still plenty of mom and pop mise that make it each day and even more resutoran that feature tofu. I’m guessing it would take over a year to try them all out. Maybe five years. I’m surprised that nobody has written an in-depth book on Kyoto tofu. It could probably be an hyakkajiten.
For summer, the obvious choice is a dish called hiyayakko. It is simply cold tofu (a soft kind) garnished with green onion, katsuoboshi, perhaps a bit of shōga and eaten with soy sauce. There are a lot of variations with the point being that cold tofu is simply so refreshing on a hot day. Needless to say, the quality of the tofu counts big time here!
One summer day when I was riding my jitensha down some side streets in Kyoto, I noticed something curious at a small tofu shop. It was obviously tofu, but in a shape I’d never seen before. (Wikipedia calls it “dome-shaped.”) The top of it was dusted with some green flakes of aonori. I wondered what it was and asked the shopkeeper who told me it was called karashidōfu or mustard tofu. He also told me how to eat it.
You take your ohashi and gently cut it in half. That exposes the dollop of mustard inside of the tofu. Next you add soy sauce and swirl the mustard into it. And eat! So refreshing!
I wondered about the yurai, but I didn’t find much information from Ms. Google. It may have originated in Gifu Prefecture about seventy years ago. So it isn’t all that old. But if you should ever be in Kyoto during the summer it is worth looking out for.
And of course, here is where I get to gripe about modern times. I bet you can find it in a sūpā and I bet you can find it in many other cites in Japan. I hope you don’t find it in the winter. But we humans are now so intent upon getting what we want when we want it and where we want it. Kind of takes the “special” out of it.
I have not seen this kind of tofu in America. Yet. Have you?
- mise – 店 shop or store
- resutoran – レストラン restaurant
- hyakkajiten – 百科事典 encyclopedia. Literally “100 category dictionary”
- hiyayakko – 冷奴 cold tofu dish
- katsuoboshi – 鰹節 bonito flakes. Used in so many dishes and also to make dashi.
- shōga – 生姜 ginger. Please note that you can’t use this for the pickled ginger served with sushi. Sushi has its own vocabulary for things.
- jitensha – 自転車 bicycle
- aonori – 青のり green seaweed flakes. Often used on okonomiyaki. What does it taste like? Nothing really. But it looks pretty.
- karashidōfu – 辛子どうふ mustard tofu. A speciality food of Kyoto in the summer months
- ohashi – お箸 chopsticks
- yurai – 由来 origin, roots
- sūpā – スーパー supermarket