Months before the trip to Kyoto, I had been dabbling in making Tofu. This, for me, was not an easy task! Although it uses simple ingredients, the process was proving to be quite a challenge! Hearing that I would be taking a Tofu making class in northern Kyoto, I was ecstatic! I was looking forward to learning new techniques, especially for something I, personally, had tried and couldn’t quite figure out. Pulling up to an unmarked building, as many of the buildings were in northern Japan, walking into what seemed to be a little “Community Center”. The first floor had all sorts of pickles and various kitchen utensils. I immediately learned this was not simply “just a class”. This so-called “class” was going to be an experience of the Japanese Tofu making history and culture! I was hooked. The teacher was introduced. Leading me upstairs, I walked past some of the most beautiful Japanese embroidery I had ever seen! This artwork literally took my breath away! The video I’m sharing, gives just a glimpse as to how these textiles are made. Japanese embroidery is a painstakingly, patient process. I learned all these textiles were done by hand. These were GIANT pieces! They must have had fifty pieces all ranging in size. Each one more beautiful than the last! The picture I chose is my favorite– the peacock. I felt this particular piece was the most visually dramatic. I’m sure that you will agree as to the beauty of this handmade piece.
Walking past all those dramatic works of art, I was hoping to be able to work a little “handmade art” of my own in the Tofu making class. Expecting to be led into a sort of kitchen or classroom, I was ushered into a small room. Upon entering, I nervously took in my surroundings and noticed it was fully stocked with everything the class would need. It was very exciting to see Soy mash, beautiful wooden Tofu molds, pots, burners and utensils, all placed neatly with purpose. There were three stations set up. My classmates Nez, Junko and I each chose a station. The Tofu making lesson–ahem– competition was on! Although the word competition was never communicated however. The friendly competition began with the art of straining the Soybean mash. The strained liquid then becomes the soy milk and the leftover mash is, in my opinion, the best part once cooked, called Okara. Sadly, the teacher would not allow us to take home this Okara. The next step was the slow heating of the liquid Soy milk. Naturally, when heating milk of any kind, a skin forms on the top. Taking this skin off is what is known as Yuba or fresh Tofu skin. This was my first taste of Yuba. I have to say, I enjoyed it! The Yuba was firm yet very thin, with the added flavor of Soy. The freshest I had ever tasted! Heating began again, adding coagulant to the milk, continuing to stir, then removing pot from heat. Cover it. At this point it seemed my Tofu was the most firm. I was quite proud of my abilities! Next, like making fresh cheese, we were told to scoop the Tofu curds into a mold lined with cloth. Carefully keeping the largest curd(s) together. Then, we each chose to differ the pressure–medium, soft and firm in forming. Pressing the Tofu into the mold, wrapping the Tofu as a gift since the mold is lined with cloth. Once cooled, the unveiling of Tofu begins! Delicately remove the Tofu from the mold, place it in water. Tofu is still wrapped like a little gift. My classmate and competitor, Junko, revealed her artwork of Tofu first. Hers was thin, firm and most importantly, stayed together well. Second competitor, Nez, his piece had an exemplary thickness and also stayed together. Both of these beautiful Tofu passed the cut test too. Lastly, there was mine–the unveiling was about to begin. My adrenaline was pumped! I was in Japan! I was learning to make Tofu! Being the only American in the group and being a bit competitive, mine was truly an embarrassing display of Tofu. Mine looked firm and strong in the pot, however, it did not stay together once unwrapped. Like any competitor in a competition, I was left feeling a bit dejected. Plating the Tofu and tasting each one’s creations happened next. I have to say, I never tasted such fresh Tofu! Creamy, well textured, no coagulant taste– all I tasted was just, Soy! I learned that making and forming the Tofu is an art all its own! Getting it to taste like this– truly a masterpiece! In the end, there was no shaming of this poor American! Friendly competition can bring people together making friends hungry. The class ended with a nine compartment Bento box.