This is a fermented specialty food of the Ryukyu kingdom, enjoyed only by emperor’s family and few privileged nobles during the Ryukyu kingdom era.
It is intense and delicate, all at the same time. Creamy, and a bit pungent, sort of like a fancy European cheese, this is not to be missed while in Okinawa! Tofuyo is dried shima-doufu, marinated and fermented in red kouji and awamori (Okinawa liquor).
Perhaps to a westerner, it does not sound appetizing, but I promise it is! When I first heard about it, I actually pictured something closer to “stinky tofu” of Taiwan, and felt a little timid about trying it, but it is much different! The smell is quite pleasant, a little bit alcoholic, and the texture really is reminiscent of a creamy cheese. The taste can be a bit intense, but it is not overwhelming.
These days tofuyo can be purchased in just about any grocery store in Okinawa. Recently I visited one of the fancier producers in Naha, Tatsu-no-kura 龍の蔵. I was able to sample a bit of everything… and it was amazing. A delicacy indeed, though a bit expensive… this is a special occasion food.
It has come to my attention that Tatsu-no-kura has a store and awamori/fermentation limestone cave up North near Kin kannon-ji (temple). There are 2 parts of the cave system, one for the temple (free) and one for the shop (entrance fee), so don’t get then confused! Go to the store in Kin to pay and join a tour… it is fun!
Okara おから is soy pulp; it is what remains after making soy milk or tofu. It is used in some traditional Japanese, Korean, and Chinese dishes, and gained some popularity with vegetarians. Many people do not really think to eat okara much anymore, but it is full of fiber, protein and some nutrients. Okara is often used for livestock feed.
So, in Okinawa, waste not want not, okara is seen fairly common in stores. It is very cheap to buy fresh okara. Of course, making your own tofu, okara is a natural by-product, and so I sometimes I need to find recipes for the leftover okara. It is common to see in all sorts of recipes, such as fillers for meatballs, vegetarian patties, stews, and even baked goods. My husband like to add it into his chili recipe, to cut down on the amount of meat he uses (this not only gives his meal a nutritional boost, but also helps cut down on the cost).
Keep in mind okara is pretty flavorless on its own, and sometimes it is a little gritty in texture. But used in the right recipe, it can be good. There are a surprising number of recipes using okara out there; there is one blog with an astounding number of okara-based recipes, and it has definitely given me some ideas.
This showcases Okinawa grandma’s cooking. Below is a simple Okinawan recipe which includes tofu, peanut butter, miso, some type of leafy green of your choosing, as well as canned tuna (optional). It might sound strange, but is quite delicious.
白和え shira-ae is basically a Japanese “salad” dressed with tofu and white miso; in Okinawa, usually island peanuts are included as well. It is a type of 和え物 aemono, which just means “dressed salad” dish.
サクナ sakuna, the Okinawan name, is better known by its Japanese name, choumeisou 長命草 (also pronounced botanboufu, so I am not sure which is more common), which basically means something like long-life grass or herb; it is known for its herbal medicinal properties and is supposed to be very healthy for you. It grows in the wild on the rock outcroppings of Yonaguni-jima in the Okinawa prefecture. Choumeisou contains abundant polyphenols to prevent arteriosclerosis, cancer, blood cholesterol and high blood pressure. The plant grows on wave-battered, sun-drenched cliffs exposed to the salty ocean air; the hardiness of the plant to survive such a harsh environment is astounding and it has long been a favorite of people as longevity food. The scientific name is Peucedanum japonicum; I have seen it used in diet/health drinks and smoothies. The herb, as well as products made from the leaves, is easily available in Okinawa.
Anyway, I recently found a really interesting periodical, “ritokei,” about the islands of Japan, with a fold-out sections talking about “mama’s island homemade cooking” with featured dishes around the many islands. Today I will introduce a dish from Yonaguni-jima made from sakuna and island tofu, called サクナの和えもの (sakuna no aemono). Aemono basically just means “seasoned/dressed dish” and in this case, it is referring to shira-ae 白和え, so with tofu and white miso. I suppose you could also call this dish sakuna no shira-ae サクナの白和え.
サクナ(長命草)の和えもの Sakuna no Aemono:
sakuna (choumeisou 長命草), as much as desired– washed and shredded island tofu (shima-doufu 島豆腐), 1/2 block– drained, “mashed” or crumbled roasted sesame, 3 tbsp white miso 1 tbsp sugar, a pinch peanut butter, small amount to taste
Grind sesame with mortar. Next add in miso, sugar, island tofu, peanut butter and mix. Add shredded sakuna, mix well.
Optionally, you can add a little canned tuna. Another option could be to add a tablespoon of dashi if you prefer a bit of fish flavor. Or if you wanted to go all out Okinawan, a third option is to add some mimigaa ミミガー, which is thinly cut boiled pig’s ear sold in supermarkets everywhere here. Not my cup of tea since I do not eat pork, but some people really enjoy mimigaa. There are many variations on this dish, so don’t be afraid to experiment a bit. You can even use a darker miso, just keep in mind, it will make the dish a bit saltier and more pungent, changing the flavor a bit.
Sakuna is fairly common to find here in Okinawa, but you can even use other green leafy vegetables in addition to or instead of sakuna; nigana and handama are also popular in Okinawa, or if you cannot find this, just regular spinach will work as well. You could blanch the leaves in boiling water quickly (~1 minute or less) to get them soft, especially if you decide to try this type of recipe with a more hardy leafy green, such as komatsuna, karashina or other mustard greens.
This is a very simple, yet healthful and flavorful dish, to give you the feeling of Okinawan mother’s home-cooking.
So for lunch I took a small adventure: a drive down the road in Nishihara, not so far from Shuri area to a small cafe called Soy Labo. This place is heavily geared towards mothers and children (I am child-free, so not really my scene per se). That being said, the menu is focuses on tofu and soy products, so as an ardent lover of tofu, this is a must-try!
I took a wrong turn, but ended up there okay (just gotta pay attention to your GPS). It is not very obvious from the main road that this place exists until you make the turn into it. It is a very cute place, I really loved the decor. For moms/kids, there is a play area, baby room, cribs, a room with low tables and floor seating. For everyone else, there are a few tables and a counter. The atmosphere was very comfortably (maybe a bit feminine). The menu is in Japanese… but there are some pictures so it is not so difficult for non-speakers I think. Everything was so delicious, I look forward to returning. Even though this place specializes in soy products, it is not necessarily vegan or vegetarian (although there seemed be options).
Yushi-doufu is island (shima) tofu still in the liquid. It is fluffy and not pressed or formed. You can buy it at any grocery store in Okinawa, sold warm in plastic bags next to the other shima-doufu.
To eat it, it is usually just eaten in a bowl garnished with some green onion and maybe some shoyu. Sometimes it will be added to miso soup or bonito/konbu broth. The yushi-doufu has a rice soy flavor you do not normally see in regular tofu dishes.
Many Okinawa soba (suba) restaurants will serve it as yushi-doufu soba. Okinawa noodles and yushi-doufu are served up in a pig bone broth soup, with simmered pork cartilage (called soki ソーキ), fried eggs strips, and konbu.
Yushi-doufu is uncommon to find outside of Okinawa, so it is a must-try whenever you visit. I think one of the most important things you must try in Okinawa is yushi-doufu; it shows the how amazing tofu can taste, completely different from the pre-packaged kinds from the regular grocery stores. For people who claim to not like tofu, I think they should all try yushi-doufu, and it may very well change their views.
Toufu no Higa is located on Ishigaki-jima, a small island in the southern Ryukyu chain (Yaeyamas). If you find yourself on this island that has world class diving sites, you must make a stop here.
Yes, tofu is in the name because they make tofu products. No, it is nothing like the prepackaged junk they sell in the US. It is DELICIOUS. Even if you say “I don’t like tofu, that is slimey hippie stuff,” you must try it. It is amazing.
The best part is they are even open for breakfast (no they do not have Western breakfast foods). It is always busy with local workmen, so you know it is cheap and good. Their menu is all in Japanese, so if you have no working knowledge of Japanese language, just point to what everyone else is ordering and hold up the number of fingers of how many set meals you want.
One of my classmates was asking me questions about where I have traveled in Okinawa. When I mentioned I went to Ishigaki, she said she was from there and asked what I liked about, what I did there. I told her how much I loved Toufu no Higa, she burst out laughing and she explained her father ate there every day. She was baffled and could not believe a westerner would like such a place.
We had the yushi-doufu set. It came with fresh soymilk and it was seriously just amazing.
Island tofu: Tofu in Okinawa is made differently than on mainland Japan. The best part is fresh tofu is delivered several times a day to grocery stores and markets all over island, still warm from the maker. It is the most amazing taste, and nothing like the little plastic packaged containers found in regular grocery stores. You can buy different types: yushi-doufu ゆし豆腐, firm tofu (called shima-doufu), and age-doufu 揚げ豆腐 (fried tofu) easily. One thing to remember is that it is delivered fresh multiple times a day– usually we only buy it the day we are going to make it, for the best taste. If you have some left over, put it in a lidded container filled with water; replace the water daily, but be sure to consume within a few days since it doesn’t contain preservatives.
We realized one day in the far future, we will probably return to Hawai’i and will no longer have this option. So, we decided we must learn how to make our own. I will share some secrets to the process in the link below: the link explains the process and show step-by-step picture instructions:
Here are the results from the fruits of our labor from AiAi Farm in Nakijin, on the Motobu peninsula of Okinawa.
If you read the linked imgur island, it explains the process. Nigari にがり is often used in the commercial and home process of tofu-making for coagulation to occur. That being said, it is actually traditional to use ocean water from the southern part of the island as it contains the proper minerals including MgCl2 for coagulation. And yes, I have tried both ways… collecting ocean water from not too far from my house, boiling it and using it in the process, it works great! But if you don’t live in southern Okinawa… well, nigari is just as good an option! It is very easy to find in the local grocery stores. Also at home, we modified a sushi-press box that I found cheap in one of the stores, though you can buy some plastic or metal ones out and about locally.