Do you enjoy homemade, high quality tofu? Or perhaps you’re a curious foodie that is always up for a unique dining experience? Whatever the motivation may be, Tousuiro is worth checking out. Tousuiro’s speciality is homemade tofu. All dishes, even the final dessert course, incorporate tofu in some form. The restaurant’s two locations in Kyoto (in Gion and Kiyamachi) serve “pre fixe” menus, starting at $22 USD. We lucked out and were able to secure two seats for lunch without a reservation, but reservations are highly recommended, especially for dinner.
You will be asked to remove your shoes upon arrival, which is the standard protocol in most traditional Japanese restaurants as well as in temples and private homes. This practice is rooted in Japanese tradition from as far back as the Heian period (794 -1192); however, today, many Japanese would say that shoes continue to be removed before entering many indoor spaces as a way to maintain cleanliness. Also, since it’s customary to sit on tatami mats once inside a home, many wish to keep these sitting areas as clean as possible. Tatami mats are more fragile than hardwood or carpeted floors making them more prone to wear and tear from shoes.
After being seated at the counter with an excellent view of the head chef in action, we chose the “Machiya-Zen” menu for $22 USD. This menu is only offered at lunchtime and includes six small courses. We left feeling perfectly satisfied. As the Japanese like you say, “hara hachi bu,” (腹八分) which means, “eating until you are 80% full.”
Back in the states, my husband and I eat tofu about once a week at most. Usually we’ll incorporate tofu into a curry, soup or stew. Sometimes we’ll crumble it onto our salads or add it to a stir-fry or pasta dish. Every now and again, it will land in a green smoothie. We always go for organic (non-GMO) tofu, as the majority of soybeans these days are unfortunately genetically modified. Organic, unprocessed tofu should consist of soybeans and water, nothing else — no stabilizers, added flavor or preservatives. When eating tofu at home, I usually find that it tastes “just okay” when served on its own. It’s rare that I try to bring out the actual flavor of the tofu. Instead, I usually look for ways to mask the typical flavor of packaged tofu.
Take one bite of Tousuiro’s homemade tofu, and your impressions of tofu will likely change for the better. The first course of chilled yuba (bean curd skin) is created by boiling soy milk and then removing the film or skin that forms on the surface. This process is repeated until there is no milk remaining. Throughout Japan, most yuba is found in a dried-from, requiring a quick rehydration using a wet towel. Tousuiro’s freshly made chilled yuba was served on a shiso leaf over crushed ice with a touch of grated radish and pickled ginger.
The chilled yuba was served alongside gomadofu, a combination of sesame paste and tofu. Generally, a thickening agent, such as kuzu (Japanese arrowroot) is added to help the gomadofu thicken and maintain its shape. The gomadofu had a slight nutty flavor from the sesame paste, but the presence of sesame didn’t overpower the dish.
When you arrive, the chef will set up a single burner hot pot for your table. He’ll then proceed to add fresh, soft tofu and hot dashi. This cooking method is known as yudofu, which translates to “hot water tofu.” The tofu is heated in the dashi for about 10-15 minutes while you’re enjoying your first two courses. When it’s fully heated, you can serve yourself from your personal hot pot. Each bowl of yudofu was topped with chopped green onion.
The next course consisted of two small pieces of tempura-fried vegetables and a small piece of nori-wrapped tempura-fried tofu.
The main course of tofu dengaku was enjoyed alongside the yudofu.
Dengaku means that the tofu is grilled over an open flame. In addition to being grilled, this particular tofu dengaku was topped with white and red miso paste.
Miso, or fermented soybeans, come in multiple varieties. Lighter miso is less fermented and has a milder flavor compared to darker miso, which is more fermented and has a stronger flavor. This dish was the highlight of the six courses. The tofu was firm without being dried out, and the light and dark miso pastes were silky smooth in texture, but more importantly, their flavor was delicately balanced, providing the perfect umami taste.
Our meal concluded with a small scoop of homemade tofu-flavored, soy milk-based ice cream. It had the taste of fresh tofu without making us feel like we were eating actual tofu. Like most Japanese desserts, this ice cream was just slightly sweet, allowing for a more refined tofu flavor to emerge.