Izusen’s “Iron Bowl” cuisine

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IZUSEN restaurant, Daiji-in, Daitokuji, Kyoto

Leaving behind the frenetic busyness of the modern bustling metropolis of Kyoto, as you step over the threshold of the great gateway that marks the entrance to the vast grounds of Daitokuji, one of the five great Zen temple complexes of Kyoto, you enter into a sacred space that seems timeless and imbued with tranquility. Nestled within this great rambling temple complex, following one of the meandering stone pathways flanked by high earthen walls of secluded little temples and ancient twisting pine trees, you eventually arrive at a small sub-temple called Daiji-in. Within this temple is Izusen, a shojin-ryori (Buddhist vegetarian) restaurant that specialises in teppachi-ryori.

Pathway to Izusen, with Daitokuji temple, Kyoto

Pathway to Izusen, with Daitokuji temple, Kyoto

Teppachi literally means “iron bowl” and it refers to the custom of Buddhist monks making daily alms rounds, carrying a bowl in which they received food offerings from people in the neighbourhood who supported the temple. Nowadays, the monks of Daitokuji temple no longer make these rounds, but the traditional bowls they once used are now a feature of this restaurant. The serving dishes are a set of lacquer bowls in which the courses of the meal are served and which fit neatly inside one another when finished.

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The delicacies that are served in these special bowls vary according to the season, but what follows is typical spring menu.

This meal begins with light matcha (whisked powdered green tea) and warabi-mochi, a glutinous sweet made not from rice flour (mochi) but from bracken starch (warabi-ko), covered with kinako (toasted soy bean flour).

Macha & warabi-mochi

Macha & warabi-mochi

Next, shirazu-ae: vegetables coated in a light vinegar and sesame paste, served here with fava beans (soramame).

Shirazu-ae

Shirazu-ae

Next, broccolini with yuba (soy milk skins). Yuba is an essential ingredient in shojin cuisine because it is very high in protein.

Nanohana & yuba

Nanohana & yuba

Next, hassun, which is the main plate and has a selection of delicacies. Here, there is fried gluten, fuki (giant butterbur) wrapped in yuba, and Daitokuji-fu (a special gluten prepared with soy and mirin and deep-fried)

Hassun

Hassun

Next, goma-tofu with sliced cucumber and wasabi: goma-tofu is not the usual soy bean tofu, but instead is made from ground sesame seeds mixed with kudzu flour. It is a signature dish in shojin-ryori of Mt Koya.

Gomatofu

Gomatofu

Next, ganmodoki and fried baby eggplant: ganmodoki, which literally means “mock goose,” is made from tofu mixed with vegetables, made into a ball, boiled first and then fried. It is used as an offering on the altars of temples in Mt Koya.

Ganmodoki & eggplant

Ganmodoki & eggplant

Next, tempura vegetables, including shiitake mushrooms, enoki mushrooms, mitsuba trefoil leaves.

Vegetable tempura

Vegetable tempura

Next, clear wakame (seaweed) soup.

Wakame soup

Wakame soup

Finally, rice with a seasonal ingredient and pickles – this rice is served with kinome, a new sprig of the Japanese pepper tree, which is traditionally a sign of spring.

Rice with kinome

Rice with kinome

Here is a video showing the exterior and interior of Izusen in Kyoto…

Photos courtesy of Hisagon & Yokorin


Tofu and Broken Needles

Hari Kuyo - Memorial for Broken Needles

Hari Kuyo – Memorial for Broken Needles

Tofu, it seems, isn’t just for eating…

Every year on February 8th, various temples and shrines around Japan have a memorial ceremony for worn out and broken sewing needles. People bring their old and broken needles to the temple and place them in a block of tofu or konnyaku. The soft bed is offered as the final resting place for the needles that have worked so hard. The pilgrims who bring their needles are offering their gratitude for the needles’ hard work and also praying to improve their skills in sewing. As well as being an act of gratitude, the pilgrims also pray that all the things that are broken in their lives are laid to rest in a bed of softness – taking away all the sharp pain in their lives.

The gentle soft taste of silken tofu is to be enjoyed perfectly unadorned, as it is. In Kyoto, the best tofu is prepared using the natural spring water that is so delicious in Kyoto. There are a number of famous temple restaurants in Kyoto that serve yudofu 湯豆腐, which is just plain cubes of tofu simmered in spring water, that you eat dipped into a light soy sauce and topped with spring onions and grated ginger. The texture and subtle favour is enjoyed in the meditative surroundings of an ancient garden, so that all of the senses are engaged in the simple act of eating this perfect humble food. It is a sublime culinary experience.

Yudofu

Yudofu

Yudofu

The key to this dish is to use only the highest quality tofu, spring water and konbu.

Ingredients:
1 x 15cm piece of konbu
4 cups of spring or filtered water
Silken or regular tofu cut into cubes about 5cm
Dipping sauce:
1 cup dashi
3 Tbsp shoyu
Sliced spring onion
Grated ginger

Method:
Traditionally, this dish is prepared in a donabe clay pot on a small table burner, but you can use a regular saucepan and then transfer the tofu and water into a warmed casserole pot.
Place the konbu in the water and leave for about 5 hours. Put the saucepan on a low heat until the first bubbles appear, then turn off the heat and pour into a pre-warmed casserole dish with the tofu in it.
Each person takes a piece of tofu and puts it in their bowl, adding the dipping sauce and condiments to their own liking.


Gomoku Pumpkin

This is Genbo Nishikawa’s recipe for tofu & vegetable stuffed mini-pumpkins.

Gomoku pumpkin

Gomoku pumpkin

Recipe makes one stuffed pumpkin

Ingredients:
Mini-pumpkin about 15cms diameter
Stuffing:
3 dried shiitake mushrooms
Small amount of kikurage mushrooms
30g carrot
30g gobo
3 runner beans
Usukuchi shoyu [light soy]
250g firm tofu
Kuzu-an [Ankake] sauce:
1 1/2 cups of water
2 Tbsp konbu dashi [see “dashi” in the glossary page for details]
2 Tbsp usukuchi shoyu [light soy sauce]
20g kuzu

(1) Remove the top portion of the pumpkin – to be used as a lid; Scoop out the seeds; Place the pumpkin in salted water for about 30 minutes
(2) Rehydrate the mushrooms in water and cut finely, reserving the soaking liquid for stock; Cut the carrots into sliced quarters [called icho in Japanese – see glossary for a video on how to slice “icho”]; Slice the gobo down the length into two halves, then thinly slice into “half moon” shapes; Slice the beans into 1cm pieces
(3) Take the ingredients in (2) and put them in the shoyu and chill in the refrigerator; Place the tofu in a muslin cloth or paper towel and allow to drain, then wring lightly to remove the water; Mix the tofu with the chilled ingredients
(4) Boil the pumpkin in the water for about 15 minutes; Stuff the pumpkin with the tofu and vegetables; Put on the pumpkin ‘lid’ and boil for a further 10 minutes
(5) Put the ingredients for the kuzu-an in a saucepan and heat to a gentle simmer, stirring constantly until it thickens
(6) Pour some of the warm kuzu-an sauce into the base of a bowl and then place the pumpkin on top.

Source: 禅寺のおばんざい四季の膳 by Genbo Nishikawa