My favorite aspect of travel is food, the local specialty. When going to Nikko, all of my guidebooks boasted about Yuba, which is a hardened layer that forms on top while Tofu is being made. Instead of discarding this part, it is gently scraped off and served in, what seems like, a thousand ways. Yuba is THE food to eat in Nikko.
It’s only natural that Yuba is the regional specialty of Nikko, as the monks who were a part of the UNESCO World Heritage shrines and temples were vegetarians themselves.
I’ll admit that, at first, I was skeptical of Yuba, as I am a proud carnivore. I thought, could my appetite really be satisfied with “Tofu skin”?
But, of course, true to my beliefs of eating local cuisine, I tried it. Actually, it was more like, I INDULGED. I found that, although the dishes it is served in is vegetarian, Yuba is something you can really sink your teeth into, and therefore, leaves your belly content. Coming from Tofu, it shares the same subtle, soybean flavor. However, Yuba’s hardened, chewy texture makes it a much more versatile ingredient. So, as you are touring Nikko, put your preconceptions of the Tofu skin’s wrinkly facade aside, and check out all of the stands and restaurants with the sign “ゆば” (Yuba).
Yuba in Japanese Cuisine: Yuba can be added to pretty much any dish in place of meat. Because of its subtle flavor, it blends in well with Soba, Curry Rice, and Gyoza. If you want a meal in a nicer setting, seek out traditional-style eateries that offer set menus that serve Yuba in various ways (steamed, fried, in Shoyu, etc.)
Yuba in Modern Fare: If you need the flavor to be bumped up a notch, look for Yuba prepared in modern ways. Specifically, Teriyaki Yuba Burgers or Yuba Tomato Soup Ramen. The burger is juicy and filling; I didn’t miss the meat at all. The Ramen is very unique; the tomato soup is flavorful and the Yuba adds some very nice texture.
Yuba in Dessert: Each of Japan’s prefectures offer soft cone ice cream in a local flavor. Similarly, in Nikko, you will find Yuba ice cream. In addition, if you need Omiyage (gift to take back home), consider cookies with a Yuba cream filling. Yuba as a dessert flavor is less sweet, has just enough soybean flavor, and has a delightful thickness to it.
I don’t expect to become a vegetarian, but I could if Yuba were available to me the way it is in Nikko.