Best You've Ever Tried! Learn How to Make Delicious Fresh Tofu From an Expert in Tokyo
[Readers' Discount Included!] You always hear the same thing: Tofu tastes bland and boring. But actually, the tofu that you get in non-Japanese supermarkets is watered down, so it pales in comparison to proper, freshly made tofu. This time, we’re covering tofu-making classes at one of the most famous tofu stores in Japan. Learn the tricks of the trade and savor tofu like you never have before!
Apr 17 2018 (Apr 16 2019)
*This article was written in collaboration with WOW! JAPAN Experience+.
What is Tofu?
Also known as bean curd, it is a popular ingredient in East and Southeast Asia that's derived from soy beans. Eaten by itself or cooked with other ingredients, it is rich in protein, amino acids, and a whole host of other nutrients. Many believe that there's only one variety of tofu, when in reality, there's a wide variety of tofu that each taste and look different!
Tofu can be used in many different dishes. Here are just a few of the many Japanese dishes in which this ingredient is used:
If you've ever eaten at a Japanese restaurant, you would've had this. Miso soup is the representative soup of Japan, and tofu is a classic ingredient that's almost always included in it.
One of Japan's most popular hot pot dishes. Tofu is almost always added to it, along with other great ingredients like beef, green onions, and cabbage.
Let's Make Tofu!
Q: Thank you for letting us interview you today. Why did you join this class?
A: Tofu from my country tastes horrible, but I heard that Japanese tofu is actually really good. I signed up to see if this rumor was real. Also, I wanted to try different types of tofu, and there's no better place than an actual tofu shop!
Q: How nervous are you?
A: Extremely nervous. But my TOMO is with me and he's already taught me how to tie my hairband, so hopefully everything will go smoothly...
What's a TOMO?
TOMO refers to the interpreter that will be by your side through every step of the process. If you can't communicate in Japanese, they will handle that for you. Vice versa if the instructor can't speak English.
However, they play a bigger role than just acting as an interpreter. "Tomo" in Japanese generally carries two meanings:
- "Tomodachi" (友達) -- To be a friend.
- "O-tomo ni suru" (お供にする) -- To accompany someone.
All TOMOs live up to both meanings. They're experienced in whatever you sign up to do, so they'll teach you tips, tricks, and additional facts on the culture and history behind the activity. TOMOs will also cheer you on, get everyone excited, and make your experience a million times better.
Mix, Mix, Mix!
Q: Everyone thinks that any Japanese person can make tofu, but actually, most can't. What was your experience like?
A: Well, I had no idea where to even begin! Turns out that it's a rather methodical process. You start by adding in beans and water, blending them all together.
A: I can understand a little bit of Japanese, but they use a lot of complicated terminology that normal people wouldn't know. I was really confused, but my TOMO helped me through everything and I managed to do the first step without much difficulty!
The Secret Behind Cooking Tofu: Goldilocks Temperature
Q: Wait. You actually have to cook it?
A: I was surprised by that too! What's more, the temperature has to constantly be checked to make sure that it doesn't get too hot or too cold. My TOMO helped out with that aspect.
A: It gets really frothy, but all of that has to be removed. It has a really strong, but not altogether unpleasant, smell when boiling.
The Right Way to Strain Anything
Q: Is the last step freezing the mixture?
A: Nope! Apparently you have to strain it, since there's still solid chunks in it. They're not visible when it's boiling, but after the mixture cools down, you'll see those chunks.
A: Again, this is where my TOMO really helped me. I was apparently straining it the "wrong" way, which was hurting my hands. Together with the instructor, he taught me the right way to strain it. The liquid, by the way, is really good for your hands... makes them really soft!
A: You know how people say that Japanese people waste nothing? Well, it's true. The solid chunks of tofu, known as "okara", can actually be used in dishes like salads! I loved every bite of it!
Cooking Can Be Tedious
Q: Surely you can freeze everything now?
A: Nope! You have to cook and strain the mixture again. It sounds tedious, but chatting with the teacher through my TOMO while doing this was a great experience. It was just chit-chat, but I really got a good look into my instructor and the whole tofu industry.
You Add What Now?!
Q: I heard you have to add magnesium chloride. Why would you add such a thing?
A: In Japanese, it's called "nigari", and it's what solidifies the tofu. There's a certain technique to mixing it in, so I had to concentrate a fair bit, but the support of my TOMO and the instructor kept me going.
A: You'll know if you've done it right when a thin layer of tofu skin, known as "yuba", forms on the surface.
A: I won't lie. It was absolutely delicious and well worth the patience!
Every Good Dish Needs Time
A: It takes a while for the tofu to set, so while waiting, we chatted with the instructor and learned more about his and the store's background. Even though my Japanese wasn't great, it was a really fun and informative conversation!
A: They say waiting's boring, but my TOMO was really funny. He shared about his intense love for tofu and gave me a list of restaurants that specialize in tofu dishes! I might go visit one someday...
Bask in the Fruits of Your Labor
Q: In the end, what did you get to try?
A: Well, let's see... there was the strained tofu milk. It had a strong soy taste and felt really creamy on the tongue, but it was pretty good!
A: I also tried the tofu that I made with different sauces. For example, I tried it with three different soy sauces, and each one made it taste really different. Now I know there's more than just dark and light soy sauces! Also...
A: ...I even tried a sweet, sticky brown sugar sauce with it! I never thought that tofu could be a dessert, but after eating that, I think I'll try eating it for dessert again. Low in calories, nutritious, and delicious?! Count me in!
Thoughts on the Workshop
Q: Overall, how did you find the workshop?
A: I thought it'd just be me cooking, but I got a lot more out of it than I imagined. For starters, I had an amazing time chatting with and learning from my instructor and TOMO. We got along swimmingly despite the language barrier.
A: The rumors about Japanese tofu tasting really good were actually true. At first, I was confused on why, but after making it for myself, I understood. Japanese people put a lot of time and effort into perfecting it, just like everything else.
A: I didn't know this until later, but apparently this tofu shop is so well-known that it was actually used as the representative Japanese tofu store in a published book!
A: Honestly, I want to come back again and again. I made and ate the best tofu I've ever had in my life. It really pales in comparison to anything you'd buy at a supermarket! It's definitely an experience that I'd recommend to anyone looking to experience something different, or even just to anyone interested in cooking!
The tofu workshop will be held at KiaiTofu Saitama-ya, which is in Ohanajaya, Tokyo. It's a relaxing 7-minute walk from Ohanajaya Station. Even from a distance, you should be able to spot its unique exterior and purple banner.
Most of the time, you will actually be meeting with your TOMO at the train station. They will then help guide you to the tofu shop.
Hiroyuki Arai is the proud owner of KiaiTofu Saitama-ya. As it is a family-run business, he was born into it, and has spent a good majority of his life perfecting the art of making tofu. The tofu shop is quite famous in Japan, so he has appeared in various media like on TV.
Book Your Workshop Here!
Fee: 13,000 yen per person
Duration: 3 hours
Address: 2-9-14, Takara-machi, Katsushika-ku, Tokyo
*Note that you have to be 13 years old or above to participate
*A minimum of 2 people are needed
*They provide aprons and headbands, so there's no need to bring anything
You can get 5% off if you enter the following coupon code in the payment screen:
*Only available for the first 30 sign-ups
*Can be used from March 30, 2018 - June 30, 2018
*Can be used for any experience on WOW! JAPAN Experience+
As you might expect, the uniqueness and amazing affordability of this workshop means that it's always in high demand, so you should book as soon as possible to ensure you get a spot. It'll be 3 hours worth of fun, deliciousness, and learning! You'll walk out of it knowing more than your average Japanese person.
The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.