I imagine that many people would comment about my love to tofu that it is strange that somebody may love something so uninteresting, bland, almost tasteless and flavorless. Yes, tofu is a kind of white pudding that is neither sweet nor salty, neither sour nor bitter, and the umami taste is perhaps only in the heavily fermented tofu called furu, but that is a Chinese specialty (see blog …), not the plain Japanese wabi sabi tofu. Tofu tofu. The truth is that if you find your way to Japanese tofu, you will develop a lifelong liking for it. I know what I’m talking about, because even I used to make snide remarks about tofu, saying that I didn’t understand what the Japanese saw in tofu, and today I look at tofu with awe and my heart knows that good silk tofu is a kind of key to Japanese culture.
Tofu. Yudoufu. It’s a dish that has a big buzz in Japan, especially in Kyoto, and yet it’s translated as just cooked tofu and it’s actually cooked tofu. That’s all it is. Just a cube of tasteless soy pudding in unflavored water. You may put your pieces of tofu in a bowl with some sauce before you eat it, but it’s the quality of the tofu itself that matters most. That’s what you enjoy. The depth of it. Yes, go for the depth and you will become a tofu lover! I became one and I’m glad I did. Tofu is my love, especially the silk one. Soft. Sparkling white. Delicious, though almost tasteless. Almost.
The quality of the tofu is directly proportional to the primary raw material and the process of preparation in the given production place – it simply matters what soybeans they use and how carefully they process it. How honestly. And it also depends on how quickly you get the tofu to your table from where it was made. It used to be common for the owners of a local tofu factories to deliver their tofu to the neighborhood people delivering it on carts or bicycles. They would shout loudly that they were on their way and housewives would run out of their houses to buy a cube or two. And then they served them for dinner. No storage. Because they knew that tomorrow the delivery man would come again. That is, until lifestyles would not change in the region. And it has changed in much of Japan. I was blessed to be in Japan in time to experience the tofu delivered right to my place and I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to learn how good tofu tastes and looks like. Nowadays, most of the time I have to rely on some good manufacturer to have great production and packaging technology, and also effective distribution.
But back to yudoufu, because it’s related to my humorous story dated the time I first travelled to Japan and enthusiastically tasted one unfamiliar dish after another. I was excited until it came to my mind out of the blue that most of all food I would like to have a Czech meatball, nicely oily and hot. I was ashamed, so I didn’t mention it and even agreed to go to a famous yudoufu restaurant that day. It was in Kyoto and the restaurant was located on a small decorative island in the middle of a lake near famous temple gardens. The picture was beautiful. Romantic. My friend, who later became my husband, was extremely keen to provide me with this miracle of the gifts of the Japanese gastronomy, even though he knew it would cost him quite a bit of money. The restaurant was really famous. And they only served tofu, nothing else. Nothing else could match the yudoufu. According to the natives, of course.
The extraordinary and seriousness of being there and eating yudoufu was something I couldn’t understand at the time. I am ashamed of it today, but at the time I just couldn’t understand the yudoufu with my experience. To grasp it. Accept it. Enjoy. Love it. It was just the weird pudding with no taste. On the top of all it was not possible to eat it with chopsticks, I mean, I couldn’t. It was necessary to use a kind of a mesh scoop, which I didn’t find very aesthetic. I couldn’t think of anything better than telling a few inane remarks and our first partner quarrel was on the table. It’s amazing how much of a transformation has taken place in me over the years. I am now a true lover of tofu and seek out quality tofu wherever I am, and when I succeed and find, I am overwhelmingly happy. It’s funny that when I moved to the Czech Republic years ago, I thought about eating tofu and packed ten of those mesh scoops assuming we would absolutely need them in our household. Serving also our Czech guests. Well… I keep them in a drawer and I hardly ever use them.
I also have a home-made tofu machine at Miyabi, but that’s sitting unused too. It’s too complicated to make tofu. I was ecstatic thing for me when one enthusiastic lady wanted to make really good tofu in the Czech Republic and brought the equipment from Japan, but she ended up not being able to keep the production going. Financially impossible. Tofu just isn’t appreciated by enough many people. I mean the good quality very fine texture tofu. It’s called silk, and it’s like silk. That’s how I see it. It’s a joy to touch. With tang, of course. Believe me, it’s an experience! Joy! There’s also tofu called cotton tofu, which I’m sure you know and eat. It’s not the same soft and silky, of course. It’s rougher. Harder. It’s used a lot also in Chinese and Vietnamese cuisine, and you can buy as much of such tofu as you want in various qualities at SAPA stores. With this tofu you can make your tofu steak in a pan at home. In Miyabi, this cotton tofu is very popular, and not only with vegetarians. We offer it as agedoufu or teriyaki toufu. We also buy from SAPA, but when we need silk tofu, like now in summer for chilled hiyayakko, we have to go to the Japanese suppliers and choose the best available on the market. If it’s tofu that lasts OK for months, it’s probably not the tastiest tofu. Tofu is simply a fragile and vulnerable ingredient. But it’s a great material!
Hiyayakko! How beautiful it sounds! Hiya means chilled. It’s summer! And yakko? It means to chop as only a samurai can. Yes, that’s what a hiyayakko is – it’s a cube of tofu cut into smaller cubes. This dish is a must in the hot summer! At Miyabi, you can have hiyayakko as a small dish – chiisai osara. We offer a classic variation with grated ginger and soy sauce, sometimes adding katsuobushi shavings, or in my adaptation with an onion olive oil dressing.
Try to fall in love with tofu. It’s hard to do it over cotton tofu, but over the silk one … I’d give it a shot. And maybe then you’ll understand why tofu is my love. Because Japan is my love.