This is ten courses of tofu. Without jisho.org(*), I can’t read half of it, the hostess speaks only a minimal amount of English to me and mostly just smiles, my company simply tells me that this is the menu. There’s little necessity to go further anyway, they probably think, the joy is in eating the courses and not in knowing what it is, since I’m just a foreigner who most likely eats here only once.
And they’re right… This stylish restaurant, Sasa no Yuki, is not quite for a student’s everyday dining, the cheapest lunch course (Uguisugozen, 6 dishes) is 2200 yen (~$22). But I keep the slip of paper, and I will remember what everything is called!
First 2 courses: ike mori namasu (生盛膾) – vegetable (and jelly) assortment with a tofu dipping sauce, and sasanoyuki (笹乃雪) – a block of cold white tofu. Don’t underestimate the tofu block, it’s uncooked, extremely pure and actually tastes like soybean.
Third and fourth courses: ankake tofu (あんかけ豆富)* – tofu in a slightly sweetened soy-flavored sauce with a dash of mustard, and goma tofu (胡麻豆富) – tofu made with sesame and arrowroot.
Ankake tofu is said to be Sasa no Yuki’s signature dish, originated more than 300 years ago. Unfortunately, it is also my least favorite.
Fifth course: agemono (揚げ物), which means fried food in general. In this case, it’s deep-fried tofu and a ball of deep-fried rice cracker or something. A satisfying contrast after all the cold, homogenous blocks.
Seventh course: unsui (雲水)** – a noodle soup, but entangled in the noodle are yuba strips, and the broth is lightly seasoned soy milk. It’s served warm. Extremely satisfying, light but flavorful, full of varieties but harmonious. This soup costs 700 yen by itself. Highly recommended.
The 10-course meal, otonashigozen, costs 5000 yen. It is perfect for the hot, wet Tokyo summer. It makes you feel light and clean. It’s a lesson about the aesthetics of simple things. It also teaches you that this comforting life is ephemeral, because moments later, you will exit the restaurant into the pouring rain. Everything is fleeting, including your dry, happy self.
Address: Sasa no Yuki – somewhere near Uguisudani station, Tokyo.
This restaurant is featured everywhere on the internet, you wouldn’t have any problem finding it. Japan Times has an in-depth review about the restaurant (which started in the Edo period!):
“If you really want to know the taste of tofu, put a piece on freshly cooked rice and eat it. Then you can tell,” says Okumura [Sasa no Yuki’s president and tofu master], who usually enjoys tofu with no toppings while drinking wine or beer. “The taste of soy protein is strong enough to blend beautifully with a simple bowl of rice.”
Okumura also observed, it has become a rather luxurious experience these days — because there is so little tofu fit to be eaten this way.
Though so simple in principle — relying merely on high-quality soy beans, good water in which to soak and boil them, and nigari (bittern) to cause coagulation — tofu has now mostly fallen foul of profit-oriented mass production to the point that many people may never have tasted the authentic stuff, Okumura says. “Nowadays, we are one of only a few shops still making tofu in the traditional way.”
A Japanese friend of mine once lamented the exact same thing while eating tofu straight from its plastic-film-covered white plastic minitub, which he bought from a nearby market.
Guest post by C. from Katsushika.
(*) Even with a dictionary, Sasa no Yuki’s menu is difficult to read. They use different writings for some of the words, such as 豆富 instead of 豆腐 for tofu, and 湯波 instead of 湯葉 for yuba.
(**) “Unsui” is cloud (un) and water (sui), which also means a wandering monk.