April 16, 2004
by MORIYA Tomomi
In winter, many Japanese prefer to eat something hot. From very ancient times in Kyoto in this season people have eaten “Yu-dōfu” which is tōfu poached in a pot, and still now many Japanese love to eat it. Recently tōfu is in the spotlight all over the world because it is very tasty and healthy, so people often tend to eat tōfu. The reason why Kyoto is famous for its tōfu is because Kyoto has very clear water which is needed in making good tōfu. Still now there are many tōfu shops and restaurants in Kyoto.
As I said before, in winter Kyoto is a very cold place because the city is surrounded by mountains, so people love to eat “yu-dōfu” very much. However, the origin of tōfu is in China. In the Nara period, priests brought back information about tōfu when they returned from China, and the oldest records connected to tōfu are kept in Kasuga-taisha in Nara. Around the Edo period, Japanese began to eat it in their daily lives. Kyoto is famous for its tōfu because, as I said before, there are very clear rivers in Kyoto, and the water is very good for making tōfu. I think that tōfu made in Kyoto is very soft.
In each season we have many ways of cooking tōfu, for example, in summer “hiya-yakko” which is chilled tōfu, and in winter “yu-dōfu.” Now soy milk is also very popular, and we can enjoy hot soy milk with tōfu, called “tounyu-nabe.” This year that dish is very popular in Japan. At Arashiyama and at Nanzenji, we can find some tōfu restaurants or shops.
Especially I recommend tōfu soft cream. It is tasty and unusual because the taste is only of tōfu but is very cool and sweet, and also it is not as soft as ordinary soft cream. It is more like a mousse. Tōfu soft cream is a new invention, and one shop owner in Arashiyama recommends it very highly because it is both tasty and healthy. Another interesting new tōfu dish which I recommend is tōfu doughnuts. It also tastes like tōfu but is quite sweet. You can find the shop in Nishiki-ichiba near Shijyo-Karasuma. At the shop, we can try a variety of tōfu dishes, for example tōfu puddings or drinks. Please try them.
Nowadays it is said that Japanese people need to return to their traditional food customs. Especially tōfu is very healthy, and it contains much nutrition like textured vegetable protein, so people should try to adopt it into their diets. Also it is said that tōfu can help prevent intestinal cancer and especially it has isoflavone which is similar to women’s hormones, and also it helps to reduce cholesterol. In addition, researchers in Okinawa have noted that eating tōfu may help increase longevity. So people recognize tōfu as a macrobiotic food in Japan. Thus, tōfu is not only a traditional food, but also very a healthy food. Many foreign people are also trying to adopt slow food, and they have noticed the positive effects of Japanese food, especially tōfu. I think that tōfu does not have such a strong taste, but it asserts its existence, so I am sure that tōfu can match any dish from all over the world. First, however, please try to eat Japanese tōfu in Kyoto and appreciate Japanese food culture.
In conclusion, Tōfu is just one example of Japanese food, but it tells us what Japan is, especially what Kyoto is. What I want to say is that tōfu has a very long history, but it has been changing just like Kyoto. To eat tōfu in Kyoto is the best way of understanding Kyoto and Japanese food culture. Also, you will know how important the role of water in Kyoto is. I think that now is the best time for you to have “yu-dōfu.”