Rosanjin Kitaoji, a master of gourmet food, asks in his Tales of Delicious Tofu, “Where can I find delicious tofu? Because of the abundance of good water, good tofu can be produced only in places famous for their water quality.” However, as Hiroshi Fukuda, who conducted a survey of the culinary culture of tofu throughout Asia, wrote in his book, “In Japan, there’s a tendency to look only for clean water and to be satisfied with the tofu as long as it’s eaten raw.”
As someone with a passion for delicious food, I went to Kyoto and tried tofu.
Certainly, the tofu I bought at a famous tofu shop in Kyoto was by far the most delicious I’ve ever tasted, even though I had great difficulty opening the tight-fitting package when I tried to eat the tofu in my hotel room!
Because of its simplicity, tofu can be eaten with soy sauce. Even so, because there are various kinds of tofu and soy sauce, many amazing variations are possible—just like the music of Bach. By the way, at Nishiki Market in Kyoto, special soy sauces for cold and boiled tofu are sold. (In contrast, it seems that in China, raw tofu should be eaten with salt rather than soy sauce.)
Regarding the origin of tofu, it’s now believed to have been invented in China in the ninth or tenth century. The most famous reference to tofu in Japan appears in the twelfth century, when the Chinese characters “唐符” were written in an offering book at Kasuga Taisha shrine in Nara. I came across Kasuga Taisha when researching karinto, and I’m really curious to know if it’s a shrine with many stories about food; however, I digress.
Although it’s uncertain, there being various theories about it, the person said to have invented tofu in China is Liu An, the grandson of Liu Bang, who was King of Huainan. This theory has become prevalent because in Honzo Koumoku, which was compiled in the tenth century by Li Shizhen, it’s stated that “the law of tofu began with Liu An, the King of Huainan in the Han Dynasty.”
Tofu is very easy to make.
First soybeans are soaked in water and mashed in a process called namago. The mash is then boiled and separated into soy milk and bean curd. Finally the soy milk is boiled and bittern is added to it while it cools and hardens. The bittern has the effect of coagulating tofu proteins, but gypsum and vinegar can also be used, although the taste will be different. Shimadofu, which is a kind of tofu made in Okinawa, sometimes uses seawater as a coagulant.
In the process, yuba appears on the surface when the soy milk is boiled. Tofu is made by hardening the protein in soybeans with a coagulant, but yuba is made by hardening the protein by heat.
After making tofu, okara is left over. And since, in
researching this article, I intended to eat okara, I bought some
Natural Dashi Gomoku Unohana (medium size), sold at a local supermarket for 198 yen, and tried it.
Eating it for the first time in decades brought back the feelings I used to have when eating it. I wonder if those feelings will remain.
On the other hand, I noticed some new aspects that I didn’t remember from the past, such as an unexpected bitterness.
There are several reasons why it’s been so long since I ate this much okara, but the first thing that comes to mind is probably the difficulty of cooking it.
Nowadays, if you feel like using it as an ingredient, you’ll find a lot of recipes on the Internet that include okara, However, ordinary people who aren’t interested in superfoods, health foods, or diets probably see okara as the kind of obanzai, or side dish, that they eat at their grandparents’ house in the countryside.
If you buy ready-made side dishes, you don’t have to worry about these things, although the seasoning may be too strong or too sweet.
On the other hand, if you mix and stir-fry okara with dashi, hijiki, and carrots, you can make it to your own taste. But if you ask me, I don’t really want to eat something I have to go to so much trouble cooking. It’s a hassle. To me, that’s the problem with okara.
Okara, as its name suggests, is usually considered to be the soybean lees that are left behind after making tofu. In fact, that’s all it really is.
Okara doesn’t seem to have many good points, but the nutrients in it are actually almost the same as those in tofu. In addition, dried okara has more dietary fiber than tofu, so it’s actually very nutritious. Even though Mr. O’Kara seems dull, he’s really a good-looking guy with a lot of smarts. When I talked to him, I discovered Mr. O’Kara is a successful lawyer, though I don’t know why he chose that profession.
I think I hear you say, “It’s a bit hard to understand why the soy milk is still rich in nutrients.” But
that’s just cognitive bias
due to the knowledge that soaking things like tea or katsuobushi, (dried bonito flakes) in hot water usually extracts their nutrients. (Strictly speaking, this is a comparison of the nutritional content of the same weight of tofu and okara.)
Okara used to be used as fodder for pigs but became a contemptible thing that was treated as industrial waste. However, it’s now considered a health food, and many recipe books that include it as an ingredient have been published. I tried looking for them at a local library since okara appears to be a very popular diet ingredient along with oatmeal, but all the recipe books had been borrowed.
Incidentally, it seems that the reason pigs are fed okara is that it improves the quality of the pork.
I’ve read that a Scotsman once exclaimed, “So England is made up of horses, and Scotland is made up of people.” In
looking into this strange claim, I discovered that the intestines of horses are long and are populated with microorganisms that convert insoluble dietary fiber into energy. Accordingly, horses can digest oatmeal, whereas humans, lacking such long intestines and the microorganisms they contain, cannot. That’s why some people—myself included—don’t like oatmeal. It’s worth noting that,
in terms of their intestines, pigs are closer to humans.
Talking of pigs, people in Okinawa say that they eat the entire pig except for the squeal, whereas people elsewhere in Japan eat soybeans without leaving anything behind. Also, culturally speaking, eating tofu is widespread throughout Asia and seems to coincide with the eating of glutinous rice.
It’s just occurred to me that I ate douhua in Taiwan a while back, and recently it’s become available in Japan. However, I feel that the taste of the Japanese variety is a bit different from that of the Taiwanese one.
To borrow the words of Kitaoji-san, the difference lies in the fact that “tofu is umami!”
Since a beautiful happiness fills your mouth the moment you start eating, this delicious impact is easy to understand. And while a dish that directly stimulates the taste buds and never disappoints our dopamine-filled brains is certainly good, I initially feel unsatisfied. But the more I eat, the more I chew,
experiencing a kind of deliciousness that gradually develops and slowly seeps into one’s mouth and body. When exposed to such a delicacy, it’s easy to end up having eaten it all before you know it.
I feel this is certainly what I experienced in Taiwan and Kyoto.