Arashiyama in the Western part of Kyoto is part tourist hell and part pure beauty. The river, the mountain, the bamboo forest and the amazing Tenryu-ji and its garden makes it a very special place to visit. It is also the place I came to try my first real Kyoto food at Shoraian, a restaurant which specializes in tofu.
If you are like me, you probably didn’t grow up eating tofu. I only learned to appreciate tofu after I moved to Japan and trust me, if you have only eaten the stuff you can find in your supermarket back home, you have never eaten real tofu. While tofu is a daily food staple in Japan, the really fresh and the best can be found in Kyoto which has a long tradition in tofu making.
In Kyoto, Shoraian is considered one of the finest tofu restaurant and if you go, I can promise you a real gastronomical journey.
Getting to Shoraian is an actual journey since you need to walk there. Once we left the tourist buses and the throng of students behind us and started to walk by the river, Arashiyama wasn’t this big tourist trap anymore, but a very pretty river running in the mountains. I didn’t know what to expect, but when we started to climb the stair up the mountain and we came upon a restaurant down a path, I was charmed. How often do you go to a restaurant down a path in the forest?
Shoraian is a traditional house hanging from a cliff right above the river. We were taken to the dinning room which overlooks the river and I was happy to see that we had one of the three tables by the window.
It’s a small restaurant with only 14 covers on the day we visited and reservations are mandatory. If you plan to visit this restaurant in the busy season, you better reserve really early.
We started our meal with a silken tofu and a small cup of umeshu. The tofu was amazingly fresh and it was suggested to only add a pinch of salt.
A Kyoto onion with miso came next. The onion was soft and sweet since it was a new onion freshly harvested.
A plate of various appetizer was brought next. Raw shrimp, octopus, beans made to look like two frogs, tomato filled with cheese and tofu, grilled fu (wheat gluten), soft omelet with some dried shrimp in it and a sort of roll with eggplant. The food at Shoraian is seasonal and the idea of making these two frogs is so simple, yet original.
A small piece of awabi or abalone tofu was brought next. Creamy, firm and almost buttery, this tofu was a shock of flavors, something unexpected with a deep nutty flavor pairing perfectly the awabi.
This very unique tofu is beyond any doubt one of my richest gastronomical memories.
Next came piece of deep fried yuba (the tofu skin which forms on the surface of hot soy milk) and deep fried Sakura shrimps.
The yuba was wonderfully crispy and light, the perfect snack. The shrimps were reminiscent of Shimanto river shrimps from Kochi.The green powder is matcha salt.
The yuba was followed by a white miso gratin. The combination of cheese and miso is tasty and unexpected. Kyoto is also known for white miso which is almost sweet.
After all this, the small nabe on the table was lighted and we could enjoy all you can eat yutofu or tofu in hot water.
The tofu was wonderfully soft and I actually ended ordering a second portion.
This meal was almost vegetarian with the exception of the sea food and this wonderful sashimi of Ohmi beef from Shiga prefecture.
The beef sat on a piece of eggplant and was topped with Kyoto green onions. I had Ohmi beef before in Nagahama and this stuff is simply to die for.
The meal ended with a kind of agetofu, rice and pickles.
The dessert consisted of a small candy, matcha and a scoop of tofu ice cream.
The meal at Shoraian was a real pleasure and the service was friendly and full of small attentions.
The incredible view from the restaurant and the traditional decor makes it the perfect Kyoto experience. As we were finishing our meal, we were already planning our next visit, it’s that good.
There is a menu at 3800 yen, but we opted for the 5800 yen menu and we came out full and blissfully happy. The Ohmi beef alone is a good reason to go for the most expensive menu. For that price, you also get all you can eat yutofu.
3800 yen is a very small part to pay for tofu kaiseki.
If you have a favorite place in Kyoto, don’t hesitate to recommend it.
(This is a copy of the map found on the web site)
There is no road and you will need to walk either from the river side or from the mountain side from Arashiyama Toroko Station. The river side is a lot easier.