Aside from graceful geisha and ancient temples, Kyoto is also known for her sublime food culture. Elegant kaiseki meals, traditional sweets, and vegetarian fare are just some of the must-dos on every foodie’s list when visiting the former capital of Japan.
Yudofu 湯豆腐 is one such dish that is eaten most commonly around autumn and winter, when the cold temperatures call for comforting, wholesome food that warm from within. While there are countless places where one can sample this time honoured dish in Kyoto, I found myself stumbling upon Nanzenji Junsei 南禅寺 順正, a tofu specialist.
Situated a stone’s throw away from Nanzenji Temple in Sakyo Ward, Nanzenji Junsei is a traditional tofu restaurant housed in a former medical school from the Edo era. Enter and be whisked away into a historic setting comprising multiple dining halls around an immaculately kept garden.
Nanzenji Junsei’s menu is divided into two sections: yudofu and kaiseki. From the yudofu menu, diners can choose from three types of tofu for their hot pot:
- Yudofu, a simple dish comprising of blocks of tofu simmered in a pot of water and kelp.
- Yuba, a thin beancurd skin that forms at the top of fresh soy milk.
- Otemae tofu, a do-it-yourself dish where diners create their own tofu by adding nigari to soy milk. This is only available for groups of two or more.
Not wanting to indulge too much at the start of my trip, I went with the Yudofu Hana Set Meal (¥3,000); an additional sashimi set will set you back by another ¥1,000.
Though yudofu is fairly subtle in taste, to the point of being labelled “bland” by those used to richer flavours, it is also very substantial in serving. While I ordered the set for one, I found myself struggling to finish it on top of the other dishes! It’s also best to savour the natural taste of the tofu, before adding other flavourings which may detract from its intended flavour.
The Hana Set also includes Sesame Tofu and Dengaku (grilled tofu with sweet miso paste). While my tastebuds took easily to the Sesame Tofu, I found the latter to be more of an acquired taste. Not pictured is the Soy Milk which can be consumed like a drink.
The subtlety of the tofu is complimented by other elements like the Simmered Dish, which displays Nanzenji Junsei’s keen attention to detail. The colours are also pretty apt for the autumn season!
The Vegetable Tempura features cuts of lotus root, pumpkin, and other greens that are expertly fried to yield robust flavours. As someone who has encountered one too many tempura dishes literally dripping with oil, this was a refreshing change.
Last but not least, Rice and Pickled Vegetables complete the meal. Don’t forget to take a stroll around Nanzenji Junsei’s gardens, too! I would have lingered around longer if it wasn’t for the freezing temperature.
Overall, Nanzenji Junsei is a good place to get acquainted with Kyoto’s yudofu and vegetarian cuisine. While reservations are recommended, it is possible to walk in.
Address: 60 Nanzenji Kusagawacho, Sakyo, Kyoto 606-8437, Kyoto Prefecture
Nearest Station: Keage Station
Opening Hours: 11am – 9.30pm (last order 8pm)
Contact: +65 075 761 2311