April 27, 2005

tofu a la mode?

One of the things I missed so bad while in Hawaii was tofu. Of course tofu isn't a hard-to-get item at all in Hawaii, but I am talking about the kinds we have in Japan, the ones I have been familiar with. Japanese tofu - both momen and kinu-goshi - is way softer and smoother than firm and silken tofu, respectively, that I found in Hawaii. In fact, Hawaii's firm tofu tends to be really firm, so much so I'd only use it in stir-fries or curries. Even silken tofu wasn't soft enough for me to want to have it uncooked.

Away from home, Hiya-yakko, or chilled tofu, was thus something I would pine after. Here good tofu is abundant and hiya-yakko is not a big deal, but when I have really good tofu, that's how I want to taste it - like I did the other day.

This silken tofu from Fujino was one of my acquisitions from my latest trip to Kyoto, where the tofu shop is located at.

My favorite way to taste good silky tofu (such as oboro-dofu, which is even softer and more delicate than silken tofu) is: first, I'd eat it as is, without any sauce or seasoning, nothing. Good tofu are mellow and sweet, delicious itself and doesn't need a help of seasonings. Next I'd sprinkle a pinch of good sea salt - not much, just a bit, enough to bring out the flavor of the natural sweetness of tofu. Then I'd finally reach for soy sauce and maybe some garnish, such as katsuo-bushi or dried bonito shaves (oh, I didn't mean you, Anthony!), spring onions, sesame seeds, grated ginger roots, and/or shiso. Very simple.

But sometimes I do feel like something more colorful and rich, and that's when I help myself with "special" hiya-yakko. By "special", I mean I put a heap of garnish and condiments like this.

That day I got some shiso leaves, myoga (what is myoga? ask Santos, she obviously knows about it way better than I do), young ginger, red pepper, Japanese negi (not very far from spring onions - not shown in the picture), and sesame seeds. I would have liked some dried shrimps, too, which I couldn't find in my neighborhood on that day.

Basically, all I needed to do was slicing up the herbs, vegetables, and spices and mounted everything on blocks of tofu. As a rule of thumb, the more garnish, the better.

Now I can simply drizzle soy sauce over it and serve, but I like to take an extra step by heating some sesame oil in a skillet and pour it over the tofu, then soy sauce. Warmed sesame oil not just renders its wonderful flavor even more, but brings out garnishes' flavors as well by slightly cooking them, making a nice contrast between chilled tofu and a bit warm garnishes. I can see myself having countless servings of tofu like this over the coming several hot months, until when I start missing yu-dofu or warmed tofu in the late autumn.

Private correspondence #1: Anthony - Don't forget ginger for your hiya-yakko (especially when you actually eat it). ;)

#2: Santos - it's getting hotter here, too, so I guess it's about time that I eat what she who eats what she who eats ate is eating, again
. :)


Anonymous said...


I have to admit, the times I've tried tofu, firm or otherwise, it hasn't done much for me. However, your pictures are absolutely devine, and I love the obvious color and textural contrasts you illustrate in this dish. Makes me want to give it another whirl... 'cept are there any places you've found in the US that offer the variety of tofu you're describing?


Posted by Journey Girl

Anonymous said...

your blog is one out of what I like the most.
Almost every day, I pass your blog.
Especially, you take picture the best, food pictures looks very tasty, yummy.
Don't forget there is anybody like me who reads your posts.
I'll write more often.

Have a nice day ! 

Posted by olipo

Anonymous said...

I went to Japan being non-plussed about tofu and left loving it and now I miss it. Can't get any really good tofu here, it is as you said too firm. I did attempt to make some from scratch with mixed results and it is a large amount of work. My absolute fave is when the tofu is coagulated in front of you in a nabe pot (can't remember what it's called). 

Posted by anthony

Anonymous said...

is it possible that a la mode is an understatement? oh my goodness, that looks wonderful! i've never had hiya-yakko with sesame and chilis, i don't know why not. luckily it's lunch time, as you've made me so hungry :-) 

Posted by santos.

Anonymous said...

As a vegetarian, I wish I could exploit more the vertues of tofu, this wonderful source of proteins but I couldn't find any receipe (until now) in which tofu is really the star. In fact, western vegetarian receipes allways try to conceal tofu and it's taste and are rather time consuming. I'll try this receipe (I've found some silk tofu at my organic grocery store). 'Contrast' might be the key word. Do you know some websites (in english) where I could find japanese tofu receipes? By the way, I've loved your photos of your trip to Kyoto. What a day it must have been! 

Posted by estelle

Anonymous said...

Hi Chika,

I have to agree about the tofu. The kind you can get in Japan is so much better. We're lucky that we can get tofu, although I really wish for the extra soft ones that have the smooth and creamy texture.

I've never had hiya-yakko with sesame oil though. Thanks for the idea. I normally prefer it with just katsuo-bushi and shoyu, maybe a little chopped green onion and some shichimi togarashi sprinkled on top. 

Posted by Reid

Anonymous said...

Hi Chika,

That's really interesting use of the ginger flower.... I've only seen it used on a local salad called rojak. You cut just little shavings off it but it adds a real delicate but unmistakable taste to it.

Had no idea that too much was carcinogenic though!! 

Posted by Ling

Anonymous said...

Wow, this looks delicious! I think I'm missing something, though - is the tofu basically just coming straight from the refrigerator? Or is it first cooked, then chilled? I'm curious about seeing if the tofu the Japanese market across the street would work well with this. 

Posted by Lynne

Anonymous said...

Hi Chika

I just stumbled across your site - love it! I lived in 飯山in northern Nagano-ken for a couple of years - your O-Shogatsu post made me feel very 懐かしい!
I also miss proper Japanese tofu - here in New Zealand there is lots of tofu available at the Chinese grocery stores, but nothing that you'd want to make hiyayakko with! I miss ごま豆腐too!
Take care and keep up the great posts! 

Posted by Nico

Anonymous said...

Your lightly seasoned tofu look delicious. A healthy and light part of the meal - I love it!! My family uses a Chinese brand of tofu here in Canada, and it's vacuum packed so it keeps longer. It's a little ball of tofu in a vacuum pack and it is really silky, but I don't think it can compare with yours. I'd love to eat plain tofu again and experience that 'refreshing' and 'tofu-ness' in taste, but unfortunately only had it a few times at restaurants. I can't find a good brand in the asian supermarkets near my house.  

Posted by Tea

Anonymous said...

Hi there,

Sarah - sadly, in Hawaii or anywhere I didnt't get to find any tofu that was comparable to what we have here, in my opinion. But if you have a Chinese market near you, I imagine they might have something close... hopefully decent enough.

olipo - thank you so much for your coming back, and tolerating my sporadic blogging habit. I do want to post something on a more regular basis, I know I tend to put my Japanese blog before this...

anthony - that's impressive, you made your own tofu from scratch... that may be what you should do, only if you can get fresh, pure, raw (not ultrapasteurized) soy milk.
I thought your new fav is shoganai-dofu  ... :)

santos - yeah it's quite heaping up! :) sesame seeds are absolutely great on tofu, though I like them pretty much with anything :P

estelle - yes I have noticed that some people tend to use tofu as mere a replacement of meet in many dishes, and that's ont how we do it. Even silken tofu may not be as soft as you want it to be in the US, but if that's the case you can just cut the tofu into smaller blocks and have a loads of greens and herbs to make it a tofu salad.
I wish I could suggest a link or two to some websites that have recipes of tofu dishes, but I have never sought after such sites... I have a Japanese cookbook (written in English) that has quite interesting fusion including ones with tofu, so maybe I can share some of the recipes with you (but I don't have that book with me right now, sorry - will get back to you when I do).

Reid - o you are such an authentic tofu-eater! :) you know what is the simplest and best. Sesame oil goes beatifully over tofu, and you don't always have to heat it; just a drizzle straight out of the bottle is fine, too.

Ling - interesting, too, to us myoga is a relatively new ingredient in salad than a garnish!

Lynne - yes for hiya-yakko you never cook tofu, just take your tofu out of the frige, lightly rinse it, and serve it. I can't guarantee the tofu your local Japanese market has is the same as what we have here, but you can try and see what it's like!

Nico - it shoud be getting warmer up there in Nagano right this time! It's a real shame that it is so hard to find a real Japanese tofu overseas :(

Tea - yeah Chinese people cook and eat tofu a lot, too, and they are great in Chinese cuisine - not in Japanese ones, sadly. I much much prefer regular tofu to vacuum-packed one, as the latter sometimes tastes a bit of ultrapasteurized soy milk...  

Posted by chika

Anonymous said...

hola chica

your tofu looks good enough to eat!
my idea is to go to the okura supermarket and get some silken tofu. what else is best for me to bring home to accompany the tofu or stock up and suprise my veggie other half in starting our japanese homecooking palete?

regards Milton 

Posted by milton

Anonymous said...

pl send me how to make teppanyaki sauce 

Posted by zarook