The seaside city of Karatsu in northern Saga prefecture might not seem like the place to come on a tofu pilgrimage but if you love soy in all its incarnations, you shouldn’t miss a meal at 200-year-old Kawashima Tofu.
Chef Kawashima keeps baker’s hours, in the kitchen by 3am every morning to start boiling and straining the day’s tofu. The milk byproduct ends up as course one in the menu, served warm and rich but not overly gooey. It’s followed by gomadofu (sesme tofu) and a salad of crumbled tofu and wilted greens. The main course is next and it’s impressive – a large basket (called a zaru) of fresh tofu that Kawashima-san will counsel you to eat plain first, before adding a second helping with olive oil, salt and pepper. Tofu has never tasted more like straight up mozzarella cheese than at that moment.
The set continues with barley and tofu, agedashi (fried) tofu, a huge bowl of miso soup and the standard plate of pickles. The tonyu (soy milk) makes a repeat appearance at the end, this time sweetened with sugar and drizzled with blueberry sauce.
Kawashima-san is adamant about sourcing his soybeans from Saga Prefecture and the pottery he serves it on is Karatsu-yaki, created by artisans in the city itself.
There are set meal times at the restaurant – breakfast is served at 8am and 10am, lunch occurs at noon. Reservations are a must and the restaurant only has ten seats, all of them at an L-shaped bar that allows you to see the chef at work.
Should you want to take some of Kawashima-san’s tofu home with you, he and his wife run a small shop at the front of the premises where his soy products are very reasonably priced.