Tofu is one of the speciality foods of Kyoto, and there is no better place to experience tofu in its many forms than Shoraian Tofu Restaurant in the parkland near the famous Arayshiyama Bamboo Grove.
I love tofu as much as the next person. Well, actually, I probably love it more than the next person…as tofu is one of those food stuffs that divides people into two camps: raving fans and urghhh-NO-I-cannot-stand-tofu types. But even as a fan, I was skeptical about a restaurant specialising in tofu. How on earth could tofu constitute 9 out of the 11 courses in a set menu?
However, I was very happily convinced of the versatility of tofu while dining at Shoraian Tofu Restaurant.
But, to start at the beginning…
Shoraian is located above Togetsu-kyo Bridge in Arashiyama, an open parkland area in Western Kyoto possibly best known for its towering bamboo forest. The parkland is a beautiful place to wander around, with deciduous trees in autumn, and cherry blossom in spring. In summer (when we were there) it was glorious verdant shades of green.
The restaurant is located in a house which formerly served as Fumimaro Konoe’s holiday cottage. Prince Fumimaro Konoe was the 34th, 38th and 39th Prime Minister of Japan including in the lead-up to Japan entering World War II.
You can’t get to Shoraian by car, as it is on the edge of a hillside, in the middle of the parkland, overlooking the Oi River. So what you need to do is take the train or a taxi to Arashiyama and walk for about 20 minutes along the winding park paths. Or you can start from Togetsu-kyo bridge and walk along the river, then climb some steps to find the restaurant. Either way, it’s not entirely obvious where you’re heading to, so you need to do a bit of pre-planning and Google-mapping.
We came from the river, and after climbing the steps we were only sure we’d found the right place by matching the photo on the booking confirmation with what we could see in front of us.
Once inside, we were shown to our spectacular tatami-matted private room overlooking the Oi River. I must have been so totally gobsmacked by the view that I forgot to take any photos of it. You’ll have to make do with a photo of the window with glimpses of the aqua-greeny water of the river through the trees.
At lunchtime there is a choice of three set-menus: the Shoyo (3,800 JPY) which includes an appetizer, an assorted specialties plate, a tofu hot pot, agedashi (lightly fried) tofu, rice, miso and pickles, chirimen sansho (whitebaits with pepper) and dessert; the Shorai (4,600 JPY) which is all of the above, plus an additional special item and a Kyo-ryori seasonal selection; or the Shofu (5,800 JPY) which includes everything from the Shorai plus a toyuba tempura, tofu gratin with namafu (a wheat gluten mochi), unlimited yudofu (tofu in a hotpot) and a mini-steak of wagyu beef.
We went the whole hog and had pre-ordered the Shofu menu. It’s highly recommended that you book in advance for lunch, and essential for dinner.
Tofu, also known as bean curd, is made by coagulating soy milk before pressing the curds into blocks. Although it originated in China, it has been an important part of Japanese cuisine since the the 8th century. It’s thought that its popularity spread with Buddhism, as it was eaten by vegetarian Buddhists as an alternative source of protein.
In Kyoto, tofu artisans use centuries-old techniques to create silky-soft, flavoursome blocks of tofu which are nothing like the rubbery, bland blocks many people think of when they hear the word “tofu”.
I wouldn’t have thought that tofu could be prepared in so many ways, and have such different properties. Over the duration of the eleven course lunch, we ate tofu boiled in a hot pot, in a savoury mousse, in a gratin, crispy-fried with tempura, as a milk-skin layered into a block, and even as an icecream for dessert.
The owner of Shoraian is the master Zen calligrapher, Fuyoh Kobayashi and her works are on display in the premises. Plus, the special seasonal dish was plated up together with one of her works on a postcard to reflect the season. Quite obviously, we were there in the rainy season…
The tofu menu at Shorian was a feast for the stomach, the eyes and the soul. Sitting high above the Oi River as each beautifully presented dish was placed in front of us, was truly a memorable moment.
The detailsShoraian Restaurant, Kyoto
Address: Inside of government land, Sagakamenocho, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto
Japanese address: 京都府京都市右京区嵯峨亀ノ尾町官有地内
Open: Mon -Thu 11:00 to 17:00, Fri – Sun & National holidays 11:00 to 20:00
Phone for reservations: 075−861−0123 (advance reservations are strongly recommended)
Tofu. Which camp do you fall into?
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