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.
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.
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).
Next, shirazu-ae: vegetables coated in a light vinegar and sesame paste, served here with fava beans (soramame).
Next, broccolini with yuba (soy milk skins). Yuba is an essential ingredient in shojin cuisine because it is very high in protein.
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)
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.
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.
Next, tempura vegetables, including shiitake mushrooms, enoki mushrooms, mitsuba trefoil leaves.
Next, clear wakame (seaweed) 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.
Here is a video showing the exterior and interior of Izusen in Kyoto…
Photos courtesy of Hisagon & Yokorin