The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G.K. Chesterton

Saturday, 18 November 2006

Yudofu Sagano (Arashiyama, Kyoto)

After our trip to the monkey park in Arashiyama, we went in search of our dinner. I'd wanted to try shojin ryori, a vegan cuisine rooted in Zen philosophies and served in Buddhist temples. Alas, the only place recommended by the Lonely Planet Guide for shojin ryori in Arashiyama served only during lunchtime. In fact, we found that most eating places in Arashiyama shut early in the day around 5pm to 6pm, which contributed to the fact that the streets were so dead by nightfall. We settled for another recommendation by the Guide, a restaurant called Yudofu Sagano (also shuts early-ish at 7pm) specialising in yudofu (a tofu hotpot). At 3800 yen per person (around AU$42), we thought it was pretty pricey, but I do not regret our choice.

To tell you the truth, I was a little bit iffy about eating so much tofu for dinner (I grew up despising tofu, mainly because it was too tasteless for my kiddy-tastebuds back then) but I had nothing to worry about. Kyoto is the place in Japan to eat tofu, and I have discovered that there are many different types of tofu, many ways of preparing and serving them, and that the ones you get in supermarkets (even the expensive ones) pales in comparison to the ones we've eaten in Kyoto. Our most exciting discovery was of the existence of goma dofu (sesame tofu - goma is Japanese for sesame). It is truly a delight eating goma dofu.

Back to the restaurant. It is located in the side streets so it wasn't super easy to find. Plus having to search for kanji characters in the dark is quite challenging. At the restaurant, we were greeted warmly by people who did not speak much English, however their service was friendly and faultless. It helped that our dinner was already decided and we didn't have to look at a Japanese menu. The restaurant itself was nice complete with a traditional Japanese garden. We were brought to a Japanese room which was nice and warm in comparison to the chilly night air outside. And the food were beautifully presented with an impeccable taste to match.

First, we enjoyed the yudofu with a series of side dishes that included goma dofu and sashimi konnyaku. Kinu tofu (silken tofu) was boiled in some dashi in the pot, and it was so smooth, silky and quite delicious. And how to describe the deliciousness of goma dofu? I probably enjoyed goma dofu more for its exquisite texture than for the taste. Apparently, there is no soybean in goma dofu, like how there is no soybean in tamago dofu (egg tofu). Sashimi konnyaku is a specially-prepared konnyaku meant for eating sashimi-style. It was my first time having sashimi konnyaku and I found it pretty tasty and a lot softer (more palatable?) than the usual konnyaku, and the sweet sauce served with it went well with konnyaku.

First course. Big hot pot of kinu tofu with some small condiments and shoyu to eat with the tofu, and the row of dishes at the bottom (left to right) consisted of a sort of tofu dumpling made from momen tofu (literally 'cotton' (i.e. firm) tofu), goma dofu, sashimi konnyaku and a whole poached egg:

Next was a serve of tempura vegetables with rice. I'm not a big fan of battered and greasy fried foods (in fact I would refuse to eat them), but the tempura I've eaten in Japan have been very lightly battered and not very greasy at all. Dare I say that I enjoyed these tempura?

Tempura with rice:

To finish off the meal, we were served a delicately-sweetened chilled tofu-like dessert which I enjoyed a lot.


I have never had so much tofu in one sitting before, but everything was very well prepared that I never once related to my childhood dread of having to swallow tofu. It was so good, in fact, that I'm tempted to think that, contrary to all the stories I've heard, it really can't be all that bad being a vegetarian in Japan (at least not in Kyoto!). I'm glad I don't have to face the difficulty of being a vegetarian (or vegan!) in Japan :P