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  Kyoto, Japan:
   New Treats in an Ancient City


      by Dan Brook, Exclusive to VegDining.com


Kyoto is an exquisite city in many ways, serving as the capital of Japan for over one thousand years, until the Meiji Restoration of 1868, when the capital was moved to Tokyo. With its many big and beautiful temples and shrines, its sparkling water ways, its wonderful walking paths, its meticulous rock gardens, its old wooden buildings, its museums and art galleries, its kimono-clad women, its geisha district of Gion, its gently curving alleys, its bicycle culture, and its immaculate cleanliness, Kyoto is a special city to be sure.

Even the Allied forces during WWII recognized Kyoto's uniqueness and spared it from aerial bombing and destruction. Longtime travel writer Arthur Frommer has said: "If you go to only one place in all of Japan, Kyoto should be it." And that is exactly what my family and I did.

Finding vegetarian meals can sometimes be difficult in Japan, due to heavy reliance on fish and other animals in Japanese food. There are, however, many Japanese vegetarian restaurants in this historically Buddhist city of peace. Even more exciting for us, we found yuba restaurants.

Buddhist vegetarian cuisine, or shojin ryori in Japanese, is vegan, excluding all animals and their products, yet also excluding onion, garlic, carrot, potato, and other root vegetables, as the harvesting of them results in the death of those vegetables.

Begun around 800 years ago in Kyoto Buddhist temples, yuba is made by skimming the surface of boiled soymilk (to-nyu) and hanging the sheets to be dried and molded into various shapes and forms. Yuba shares the beginning stages of production with tofu (yudofu), which is also plentiful in Kyoto.

On one of the main paths leading to the magnificent Kiyomizu Temple, we serendipitously discovered Yuba-Sen, a small yet extraordinary vegan restaurant that produces yuba on the first floor and serves it on the second. We watched the production process both before and after our scrumptious meal so as to better appreciate what we were consuming. They served the yuba in different sizes, shapes, and textures, whether fresh, fried, boiled, blended, cooked in soy sauce mixtures, rolled, and, for dessert, sweetened and dusted with matcha (green tea powder).

On the Philosophers' Path, near Ginkagu-ji Temple, there is a yuba and tofu vegetarian restaurant (sorry, no transliterated name, but it's not hard to find). Being inside feels like being in another world: peaceful, traditional, and happy. While enjoying a variety of soy specialities, we also drank in the splendor of Kyoto with miso soup and barley tea.

If you want more than yuba - hard to believe! - there are certainly other worthy opportunities. There are two locations of the lovely Okutan, each near a major temple, while Ryoan-ji Temple itself serves Buddhist vegetarian meals next to a thousand-year-old koi pond. Everything about this place - the food, setting, ambiance, and spirituality - is excellent.

Throughout the day, we also snacked on fried tofu, rice crackers, seaweed, various pickled vegetables, sticky dough stuffed with bean paste, a sake-soymilk mixture, green tea, and other treats. Having such great food in such a great city inspired me to write haiku, the famously-short poetry style developed in Japan. Here's one of the many I wrote:

in an old city
fresh yuba and barley tea
a new perspective

These fresh tofu and yuba meals, as well as the other vegetarian food we enjoyed, were ones to be savored. Likewise, Kyoto is a city to be enjoyed and savored.


Dan Brook, Ph.D., is a writer, speaker, activist, and instructor of sociology and political science. He also maintains Eco-Eating, The Vegetarian Mitzvah, and No Smoking?. Dan welcomes questions, comments, contributions, and other communication via brook@brook.com.

Photos courtesy of Dan Brook.




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