20 May 2024

Visiting “TOFU SHOKUDO”: Secrets of Tofu Making and Its Appeal as an Ingredient

Tofu, made from soybeans, has been a quintessential ingredient in washoku, Japanese cuisine, for over 800 years. Its signature creamy texture and gentle flavor make it a versatile addition to a wide range of dishes, whether cooked or seasoned. It’s often enjoyed as is with minimal seasoning, allowing its natural essence to shine through. In Japan, of the one million tons of edible soybeans used annually, roughly half are used for tofu production. It has truly become an indispensable food item on dining tables throughout the country.

Tofu, a cornerstone of traditional cuisine in East Asia, including Japan, China, and Korea, has become a worldwide favorite as a plant-based protein option, riding the wave of health consciousness and vegetarianism.

Yet, many people might not be familiar with how tofu is actually made. In this article, we'll take you on a journey to a tofu cuisine restaurant in Tokyo. Explore the intricate art of crafting tofu and discover various delightful cooking techniques to fully enjoy its flavors.


  • How Tofu Is Made in Japan
  • Tofu Temptations: Exploring

How Tofu Is Made in Japan

In modern Japan, while tofu is often mass-produced, there still remain many small-scale tofu manufacturers who prioritize their individual craftsmanship and continue to uphold traditional tofu-making methods with dedication and passion.

In hopes of seeing firsthand the traditional and authentic method of making tofu, Team Musubi visited the tofu cuisine restaurant TOFU SHOKUDO in Ebisu, Tokyo.

At 9:00 in the morning, the tofu makers were already bustling inside the factory. We first met Kanemoto, the factory manager overseeing production. He kindly walked us through their tofu-making process step by step.

Step 1: Washing and Soaking

To ensure the soybeans are finely and evenly mashed, they're soaked overnight in water for at least 14 hours starting from the evening before. According to Kanemoto, they adjust the water temperature higher in winter and lower in summer to ensure the beans absorb plenty of water within the set time.

The soybeans used at TOFU SHOKUDO are a blend of two domestically grown varieties. The first is Fukuyutaka from Saga Prefecture, which is said to be the best and most popular variety for making tofu among domestic soybeans. The second is Miyagishiro-me from Miyagi Prefecture, known for its rich protein and sugar content, and it is also widely used.

Step 2. Grinding

Once the soybeans have fully absorbed water and expanded to roughly twice their original size, they are ground using a stone mill (grinder), with water continuously added. It's crucial not to grind the beans too finely, as this can result in a crumbly texture and loss of flavor.

Step 3. Cooking

The ground soybeans are boiled in a pot. This step not only helps extract the components that will become tofu, but also denatures the proteins, aiding in the curdling process. Additionally, it brings out the distinctive sweet and fragrant flavor inherent in soybeans.

Step 4. Squeezing the Soy Milk

Next, the cooked liquid is pressed to separate tonyu, soy milk, from the fibrous okara, soy pulp. The soy milk is carefully strained twice through a fine cloth to ensure the removal of even the tiniest okara, to give the tofu an ample firmness and a smooth texture.

The soy milk is reheated and then quickly cooled for pasteurization, and allowed to rest for about a day.

"Would you like a taste?" Kanemoto asked, gently warming up fresh soy milk for us to sample.

With just one sip, the gentle sweetness of the soybeans caresses the palate, while the rich aroma lingers subtly.

Every member of Team Musubi couldn't resist exclaiming, "It's delicious!" It's a taste that easily explains why customers make a special trip just for this soy milk.

Step 5. Coagulation

The process of solidifying the liquid soy milk is particularly crucial in creating the unique texture and flavor that are characteristic of tofu.

There are various types of coagulants, and for mass-production, chemically synthesized coagulants are often used. However, the most traditional method involves using nigari, a liquid extracted during the purification of natural salt from seawater, which is primarily composed of magnesium chloride.

Additionally, nigari is believed to offer health benefits derived from its mineral content.

"We mix two types of natural nigari. Using natural ingredients allows us to create tofu with consistent quality and safety," Kanemoto shared.

After meticulously adjusting the thickness and temperature of the soy milk, the liquid nigari is added and mixed using a metal board called a kai. As the soy milk combines with the nigari, the proteins bind together, solidifying in just a few seconds.

Each step in the tofu-making process is seamlessly interconnected, leaving no margin for error. And special caution and precision are crucial during this particular step.

"Even the slightest variation in the intensity of stirring the kai can impact the final texture of the tofu," explained Kanemoto. The coagulation process is one that only a seasoned tofu maker like Kanemoto, with over 30 years of experience, can truly master.

Step 6. Shaping

The process continues onward. After initial solidification, the tofu is gently scooped, and broken into smaller pieces, and placed into a metal box lined with cloth. A lid-shaped metal plate is then placed on top, and the tofu undergoes a pressing process to mold its shape and to remove excess moisture.

At first, we give it a gentle press, then gradually apply more pressure," Kanemoto explained. "We carefully monitor the moisture removal by visually checking the subtle movements of the lid and box." I was truly impressed by the masterful craftsmanship on display, where even the slightest adjustments can greatly impact the texture and quality of the tofu."

"Finally, the finished tofu is cut, soaked in a tank of water to remove any remaining uncoagulated pieces or bitterness, thoroughly cooled, and packaged. Then it's ready to be served."

Despite its unassuming appearance, it's truly astonishing to consider the amount of effort and advanced craftsmanship that goes into producing a single block of tofu.

Tofu Temptations: Exploring

Japan offers a wide variety of processed products made from tofu and soy milk as well.

Thinly sliced tofu fried in oil, known as aburaage, mashed tofu mixed with chopped ingredients, shaped into balls, and fried to make ganmodoki, and yuba, made by skimming the thin “skin” when simmering soy milk, are among the standout examples.

At TOFU SHOKUDO, these products are made inhouse, crafting them into various culinary delights for customers to savor. On this occasion, we had the chance to sample five different menus.

The first dish, oboro dofu, is essentially freshly made tofu without its moisture removed and its shape molded. It boasts a moist and tender texture, allowing you to fully appreciate the flavor of soybeans.

While it's delicious on its own even without seasoning, a dash of natural salt or a splash of fresh extra virgin olive oil adds another layer of flavor to enjoy.

The second dish was ganmodoki. Unlike store-bought ganmodoki, this dish offers immediate pleasure with its freshly fried taste.

Inside, you'll discover a wonderful combination of Chinese sausage and red pickled ginger. This was a delightful dish reminiscent of Osaka's soul food, takoyaki.

Next was mapo tofu. A fiery Chinese creation where tofu and minced meat dance in a blend of fermented seasonings, known as jiang, it is heightened by the fiery kick of red chili peppers and Sichuan peppercorns.

The tofu used here is the resilient momen tofu, prepared by breaking apart coagulated soy milk and squeezing out excess moisture. This process ensures that every bit of flavor seeps into the tofu. With its natural sweetness, the tofu mellows out the dish's saltiness, making it a satisfying bite. The spices' perfect balance of heat only amplified my craving, and I found myself polishing off the plate in no time.

The fourth dish was a spring roll made with yuba, wrapped around thinly sliced bamboo shoots and shiitake mushrooms, then fried in oil. Despite being the second fried dish, we hardly felt the heaviness of the oil.

The fragrant sesame oil, combined with the crispiness of the fried yuba and the chewiness of the bamboo shoots and shiitake mushrooms, created a splendid mix of textures.

The last dish was tofu rice. Here, momen tofu is slowly cooked in a special beef broth for a full five hours, then delicately arranged atop a bed of Koshihikari rice from the Noto Peninsula in Ishikawa Prefecture.

Despite its bold, dark appearance, the taste experience was remarkably subtle and refined, perfectly complementing the gentle sweetness of the Koshihikari rice. The crispy tenkasu “tempura flakes” toppings scattered over the tofu, along with a sprinkle of ground sansho pepper, added just the right touch of crunch and zest.

TOFU SHOKUDO showcases handmade tofu, its by-products, and soy-derived menus. Among them are innovative creations like tofu ice cream and panna cotta made from soy milk, alongside Western-style sweets—a delightful addition to the menu. They also offer tofu-based bread for takeaway.

Each item exudes its own unique charm, making it difficult to pick a favorite. Moreover, thanks to the shared ingredient of soybeans, I found that the dishes complemented each other exceptionally well. It was satisfying to enjoy such tasty and healthy options.

My experience at TOFU SHOKUDO underscored the versatility and boundless potential of tofu and soybeans in cooking.

Tofu is incredibly versatile, lending itself to countless culinary creations. Its understated flavor complements and enhances other ingredients, seamlessly integrating into a wide array of dishes. And its health benefits make it a perfect fit for today's health-conscious consumers.

With its rich history, tofu continues to evolve, maintaining its inherent charm while adapting to modern tastes and preferences. It's poised to bring even more joy to people around the world in the years to come.

By Ito Ryo


1-3-1 Ebisu-Nishi, Shibuya, Tokyo

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