Water lies at the heart of any tofu dish
Pure white, fresh, a melt-in-your-mouth softness, and the clean taste of soy on the palate. Tofu is made by soaking, grinding, boiling and straining soybeans and then allowing the “tonyu” (soy milk) to set. More than 80% of tofu is water, and accordingly the quality of the water really affects the taste of the tofu; it can be truly claimed tofu is the product of a Japanese climate rich in water.
It is strange to think that only a few centuries ago tofu was reserved for those of high rank and was thought of as a luxury; it was not until the Edo period (1603 – 1867) when it spread as a food for the common people. Of course nowadays tofu is known to be a low calorie, mineral rich, high protein food source and is popular as a health food.
Tokyo Shiba Tofuya-Ukai located at Shiba-Koen, Tokyo is a restaurant serving tofu in the “kaiseki ryori” style (an elegant Japanese meal served as a succession of delicate dishes). The style of cooking and presentation are a legacy of the Edo period, and fittingly the restaurant is located in a tasteful Japanese-style house with a rather unusual history. The fabric of the building is an authentic sake brewery, some 200 or so years old, which was dismantled and reassembled on the present site. You can rest assured that not only the tofu dishes, but the very walls of this old building are all imbued with the authentic spirit of old Japan.
Tokyo Shiba Tofuya-Ukai
4-4-13 Shiba-Koen, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Opening hours: 11:00 − 22:00 / Lunch 11:00 − 15:00
Access: 5 min walk from Toei Oedo Line Akabanebashi Station (Akabanebashiguchi Exit)
7 min walk from Toei Mita Line Shibakoen Station (Exit A4).
Shojin ryori meaning the feeling of traditional Japanese culture
“Shojin” is a Buddhist term, and refers to the practice of focusing one’s attention on one thing. “Shojin ryori” is a style of cooking that originated from preparing meals for trainee monks in Buddhist temples, and gradually it spread among the common people. It is essentially a healthy vegetarian cuisine and uses no meat, fish and seafood, eggs, or dairy products, and makes the very most of seasonal vegetables and fruits, with moderate use of condiments, and has a focus on not wasting any part of an ingredient. This provides the chef with the challenge of bringing out the best flavors of each simple and nutritious vegetable for you to enjoy.
Shojin ryori dishes at first sight appear to be very plain with no pretentions, but they can be said to lie at the very root of washoku; every ingredient has been carefully selected, it will be seasonal and meticulously prepared, perfectly cooked and elegantly presented.
Tenryuji Temple is a World Heritage site in Kyoto and offers authentic shojin ryori.
68 Susukinobaba-cho, Tenryuji, Saga, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto
Opening hours: 08:30 − 17:30 (17:00 from October 21 to March 20)
Entrance Fee: Adults and high school students: 500 yen
Junior high and elementary school students: 300 yen
Access: Short walk from Keifuku Arashiyama Station
13 min walk from JR Saga Arashiyama Station
15 min walk from Hankyu Arashiyama Station
You can also enjoy authentic shojin ryori in the elegant atmosphere of the Kamakura Hachinoki Kita-Kamakura Restaurant located in Kamakura, an old Japanese city.
Kamakura Hachinoki Kita-Kamakura Restaurant
350 Yamanouchi Kamakura-shi, Kanagawa
Opening hours: Lunch Monday – Friday 11:30 − 14:30, Saturday, Sunday and holiday 11:00 − 15:00, Dinner 17:00 − 19:00 *Reservations only for dinner and bookings must be made by the day before (Reservations: 0467-23-3723)
Access: 5 min walk from Kita-Kamakura Station. Near Tokeiji Temple and Jochiji Temple
Tofu, an essential ingredient of shojin ryori
Since shojin ryori does not use meat and fish, soybean foods rich in protein, particularly tofu were enthusiastically adopted by the earliest chefs. In fact, tofu was indispensable in this style of cuisine, as is shown by the Shojin Ryori Cookbook, published in 1819, where about 90% of the menus include tofu. Also mentioned frequently is “yuba” a delicacy made by gently skimming the thin skin forming on the top of cooling “tonyu” (soy milk), the main ingredient of tofu.
Nabe ryori (one-pot meal) that warms your heart and body
A traditional and popular form of Japanese food culture is the cooking of ingredients at the dining table. Guests gather together and with chopsticks select their favorite morsels from the simmering broth. The sharing of food and cooking makes for a convivial atmosphere and a much cherished feeling of togetherness. Particularly in the cold season of winter, eating meat and vegetables simmered in broth, warms you through and through. We now introduce a medley of typical nabe ryori.
Chankonabe or a meal fit for a sumo wrestler
“Chanko” generally refers to meals prepared for sumo wrestlers, and “nabe” means a hot-pot dish. Usually the base of the dish is a hearty broth or chicken stock with plenty of meat or fish and vegetables; with so many ingredients to choose from the dish is very tasty and highly nutritious. From olden times the essential ingredient has always been meat balls, which are prepared by adding finely-chopped spring onions to minced meat and rolling into a ball. In sumo wrestling, when a wrestler wins a bout, a white circle is drawn by their name. It is said a meat ball reminds the wrestler of the winning circle and that is why the ingredient is so popular in chankonabe.
Chanko restaurants are usually located in the districts around the stadiums where the sumo tournaments are held; in Tokyo they are found mainly around the Ryogoku Kokugikan sumo stadium.
Kapou Yoshiba is one of those places with a great feel. It boasts a genuine sumo ring and not only are the chankonabe or a-la-carte dishes sumptuous and hearty, you can also enjoy “sumo jinku”* sung by retired wrestlers.
*Folk songs performed during sumo tournaments
2-14-5 Yokoami, Sumida-ku, Tokyo
Opening hours: 11:30 − 13:30, 17:00 − 22:00
*Sumo jinku performance by retired wrestlers: from 19:30 on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday
Closed: Sunday and national holidays
Access: 10 min walk from JR Ryogoku Station (West Exit)
6 min walk from Toei Oedo Line Ryogoku Station
Sumo wrestling and chanko
The world of sumo has many unique terms and “chanko” is a classic example; as with all good stories there are two main versions. One view maintains the word’s origin comes from the Edo period when a wrestler appearing in a tournament in Nagasaki added a local pot dish known as “chan quo” to his training regime. The dish had originally come from China, and the word chanko is a corruption of this Chinese word. The other story has its roots in the word for a sumo stable master being replaced with “chan” meaning father, and the word for apprentices being replaced with “ko” meaning child, and so the communal dish “chanko” symbolizes the shared endeavor of a master and his apprentices.
Sukiyaki is a hot-pot dish in which thin-sliced beef and vegetables are simmered in a shallow iron pan. In the Kanto Region, a seasoning “warishita” (a blend of soy sauce, sugar and broth) is used to simmer meat and vegetables together. In the Kansai Region, beef is heated first and then seasoned with soy sauce and sugar, before adding the vegetables. Both styles also involve the tradition of dipping the cooked morsels in beaten raw egg, which allows you to savor the mellow flavors. You can fully appreciate the rich and varied taste of the many vegetables, mushrooms, and tofu that have absorbed the umami (flavor) of the beef. In the Oumi-Genji restaurant located in Shinjuku you can enjoy hearty Kansai-style sukiyaki even in the heart of Tokyo.
Derm building 1F, 2-39-8 Kabukicho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
Opening hours: 17:00 − 22:00 (last order 21:30) *17:00 − 23:00 (last order 22:30) in December
Access: 2 min walk from Seibu Shinjuku Line Shinjuku Station (North Exit)
8 min walk from JR Shinjuku Station (East Exit)
7 min walk from Metro Shinjuku Station (Exit B13)
6 min walk from Metro Fukutoshin Line Higashi-Shinjuku Station (Exit B2)
5 min walk from Toei Oedo Line Higashi-Shinjuku Station (Exit 1A)
Shabu-shabu is a quick dish in which thin slices of meat are dipped just a few times into a simmering pot of broth made with plenty of vegetables; this style of table cooking allows you to enjoy the freshly cooked delicate taste of the ingredients, and this is what makes shabu-shabu so popular. Quickly dipping the thin slivers of meat into the simmering broth draws off any extra fat, leaving you with a lighter, healthier, and tastier morsel. To complement the ingredients, there are two basic dipping sauces: “ponzu” (a citrus sauce with vinegar and soy sauce) and “gomadare” (a sesame creamy sauce). By adding seasonings such as “momiji oroshi” (mixed and grated daikon and chili pepper) or chopped spring onions to the dips, you can enjoy a variety of piquant tastes and aromas.
In the Kissho Ginza Honten restaurant located in Ginza, Tokyo, you can enjoy shabu-shabu with authentic Japanese home-grown beef.
Kissho Ginza Honten
ROYAL CRYSTAL GINZA 4F, 5-4-6 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Opening hours: Monday to Friday 11:30 − 15:30, 17:00 − 23:00
Saturday, Sunday, and national holidays 11:30 − 22:00
Closed: Year-end and New Year holidays
Access: 1 min walk from Tokyo Metro Ginza Line Ginza Station (Exit B6)
7 min walk from Tokyo Metro Yurakucho Line Ginza-itchome Station (Exit 5)
6 min walk from JR Yamanote Line Yurakucho Station (Central Exit)
A-la-carte in Izakaya taverns: Enjoy what the locals eat
If you want to find great value washoku and a relaxing drink, we recommend izakaya style taverns. You can enjoy a wide variety of easy a-la-carte dishes called “koryori” such as “yakitori” (grilled chicken on a skewer) or “sashimi” (slices of fresh raw fish that are eaten by dipping into wasabi and soy sauce). Izakaya are comfortable and casual places very popular among Japanese who often drop in for a bite on the way home from work.
Useful search tool “Japan Restaurant Search”
If you need a little guidance to make up your mind where to dine, why not try the Japan Restaurant Search in the JNTO Website. You can search for the finest restaurants nationwide, by area, cuisine type or budget.