22 January 2024
A Fusion Feast of Tofu and Bizen Ware in an Age-Old Homestead
When dining in Japan, you may have encountered Bizen ware pottery at some restaurants. Bizen ware is cherished by professionals for its durability, resistance to breakage, excellent heat retention, and the ability to maintain the temperature of freshly prepared dishes. Its unglazed, rustic appearance subtly complements the colors of the dishes, enhancing their flavors even further.
During a business trip to Okayama, we discovered a remarkable restaurant called "Takatsuki," housed in a charming 200-year-old thatched-roof farmhouse. What intrigued us the most was that this restaurant exclusively used Bizen ware for its tableware, a venture that had just begun in April 2023. We had the privilege of speaking with the owner, Masuda Ryoji, to learn more about it.
"Takatsuki," operated by the longstanding Masuda Tofu Shop, specializes in tofu cuisine. For over half a century, Masuda Tofu Shop has been crafting exquisite tofu using locally sourced soybeans and renowned natural water.
The restaurant, housed in a picturesque thatched-roof old farmhouse relocated from northern Okayama, is over two centuries old. Inside, guests are greeted by a high-ceilinged, spacious tatami dining area, complete with majestic beams. The dining experience is further enhanced by the view of a beautiful garden, offering a sense of the changing seasons.
We ordered the "Takatsuki Plate Set," a delightful assortment of tofu-based dishes. This set included tofu tsukune "meatball-like dish," soy milk dashi rolls, and fresh yuba "tofu skin" sashimi, offering a diverse range of tofu delicacies.
The pork soup in the set, enriched with fragrant, lightly charred abura-age "fried tofu," was seasoned with Bizen mugi "barley" miso from Okayama, adding a unique local flavor.
The tableware here at Takatsuki is specially crafted by Bizen ware artists, made to order for an exclusive dining experience. Additionally, the decorative pieces placed on each table are also Bizen ware art pieces.
"We chose Bizen ware for our tableware due to the nearby Osafune area, renowned for this pottery style. We entrusted the artists with our menu's vision and let them craft the pieces," shared Masuda.
The post-meal coffee was served in a hidasuki-patterned Bizen ware cup, adding to the authentic experience.
"For those visiting Okayama with an interest in Bizen ware, we hope to provide a more enriching experience by combining it with our healthy tofu cuisine," Masuda expressed.
Indeed, enjoying Bizen ware and healthy tofu dishes at Takatsuki is likely to make any stay in Okayama more memorable especially for the busy traveler. This experience, nestled in the tranquil surroundings of a traditional setting, becomes more than just a meal; it's a luxurious escape.
A Bonus Segment: Korakuen Garden and a Distant View of Okayama Castle
We had some time before our return flight, so Masuda recommended Korakuen Garden, a renowned Japanese garden in Okayama, as a must-visit attraction. Without hesitation, we hurried to our final destination that had suddenly become a candidate.
Korakuen is a garden built about 300 years ago behind Okayama Castle by the feudal lord Ikeda Tsunamasa, as a place of tranquility for his retainers. Its beauty ranks it among Japan's three great gardens, alongside Mito's Kairakuen and Kanazawa's Kenrokuen. It's also internationally acclaimed, having received three stars in the Michelin Green Guide Japan.
This stroll garden, with its expansive lawns, ponds, artificial hills, and tea houses connected by pathways and waterways, allows visitors to enjoy the ever-changing scenery. Despite repeated damage from floods and wars over the years, it has been restored based on Edo-period drawings, preserving much of its original form.
We would have loved to spend more time reflecting on the garden's historical depth, but our visit was brief. "Let's come back to Okayama again," we promised ourselves, looking at the beautiful Okayama Castle bathed in the setting sun, before hurrying back for our flight.
147-1 Terayama, Higashi-ku, Okayama City, Okayama Prefecture, Japan