Good Eats: Okutan (Kyoto)

Japan is a seafood nation and rightly so. Being made up of over 4000 islands, we kinda have a lot of water here. But Kyoto is a landlocked city and for centuries, the transport of truly fresh fish from Japan’s coasts through the country’s mountainous interior was impossible.

As a result, Kyoto was forced to get creative – enter the versatile soybean. A whole cuisine developed around the presentation of tofu. Tofu, I hear you all saying? That tasteless, flabby mass that’s been showing up more and more in Western grocery stores? Yes, tofu. But not as you know it.

A block of sesame-flavored tofu

On my last trip to Kyoto, I arranged for a full-course tofu lunch at Nanzen-ji Temple’s Okutan restaurant in a 350 year old subtemple overlooking a beautiful garden. When I arrived with my friend, the place was empty but within half an hour, all of the tables were taken. Reservations are key!

We ordered the yudofu set, which began with a brick of cold sesame tofu. It was good but wasn’t my favorite and, looking back, I shouldn’t have finished it all as it filled me up. Next up was my favorite course – skewers of grilled tofu with miso-ponzu paste slathered on top. If I haven’t made it clear in this blog before, I. Love. Miso. So delicious. This I could have had more of.

Skewers of tofu in an amazing miso-ponzu sauce

Our main course was yudofu, which is tofu simmered in a pot of hot water and flavored with a light soy sauce (I think – sorry, I’m no professional food blogger) and green onions. It was accompanied by veggie tempura, which I could barely finish by the time I got to it. Typically, the rice came last and was left virutally untouched by me, a rarity. I couldn’t believe how full I was. For those who think tofu is for vegetarians with no sense of taste, think again.

A view of the garden from my table

While the restaurant’s English website no longer seems to function, you can get some more information here.

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