Japanese Food Guide: Tofu

January 18, 2016


Tofu is a Chinese invention that soon made it's way to Korea and Japan. It's a high protein food that can be used in place of meats and fish, and in the West is often used as a substitute in vegetarian cooking. However, in the East tofu is often celebrated as the main event!

Tofu is made from soy bean milk, the milk is coagulated with gypsum salts (but acids can also be used), and the resulting curds are pressed into blocks of tofu.
Tofu doesn't have much of it's own flavour, but it is often marinated and seasoned as it is an excellent carrier for flavours. 
Tofu's natural texture is almost like a very delicate jelly, but it can be fried in various ways to make it crispy and chewy. 


Most of the time when cooking with tofu you will be dealing with either silken tofu, or firm tofu. Silken tofu is made from undrained, unpressed soy milk curds, it can be used as a substitute for eggs, or used in desserts. Firm tofu is has a much more solid texture and can be fried or marinated.
You're less likely to see Extra Firm Tofu used in Japanese cooking, but it is popular in China when made into a noodle-like dish!
Tofu can also be processed in many ways; it is often pickled, fried or dried and sold in that format ready to be used in dishes. 
One of the most popular ways tofu is served in Japan is as Inari pouches, these are made by slicing tofu very thinly, then frying it once at a low temperature, then again at a high temperature. 


You'll often see tofu used in miso soup. In miso soup you can use firm or silken tofu and cook it lightly in the soup broth. Other Japanese tofu dishes you often see in the West include Inari Pockets (Inarizushi), which are tofu pockets stuffed with sushi rice, and see deep-fried inari which is served on top of kitsune ramen.
In Japan, a popular dish is Hiyayakko, which is firm or silken tofu served with spring onions, ginger, soy sauce and katsuobushi shavings (dried fish).
Tofu is also often placed in hot-pots.


  • No one really knows how tofu was invented. Although it is made during a process similar to making cheese, the Chinese have never really eaten or used milks, as they considered them foods of the barbarians. The chinese might have learned the tofu process from the Mongolians, or some speculate it was discovered when impure salt was added to a soy milk soup.
  • Tofu is used as an offering to ancestors, and is placed on their graves in China. 
  • In the past, tofu could only be sold in wintertime, when it's cold enough to preserve the tofu. This is before fridges existed!
  • In the Phillipeans, tofu is a staple food and preferred to meat.
  • When Benjamin Franklin wrote of tofu, he referred to it as a Chinese Cheese. 

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