It’s no surprise that Kyoto, a city that strives to preserve traditional Japanese culture, is known for its delicious food, and yuba is no exception.
If you haven’t lived in or visited Japan, you may not be familiar with yuba, or tofu skin. In fact, this style of tofu is something that I didn’t see often during my combined decade living in Japan’s Kanto and Chugoku regions. But soon after I moved to the Kansai region, I became enraptured with yuba’s subtle taste, texture, and versatility.
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So what is yuba?
Yuba (ゆば, 湯葉) is tofu skin that forms on top of soy milk when it’s boiling in a shallow pan. It has wrinkles throughout its pale yellow and delicate exterior with a nice chew to it when you bite in, enveloping your mouth with a slightly sweet yet savory flavor.
Although Kyoto is most well-known for its yuba, Nikko in Tochigi also has its own style of yuba. Kyoto’s yuba is usually a thin, single layer; however, Nikko’s yuba is two-layered and sometimes rolled up in round, thick disks, appearing almost like tamagoyaki (卵焼き, たまごやき), a rolled fried egg dish. There are also differences between Kyoto and Nikko in terms of the last character for the kanji for yuba, which is written as 湯葉 in Kyoto and 湯波 in Nikko but pronounced the same way (yuba).
Yuba is typically found in shōjin ryōri (精進料理, しょうじんりょうり), which is Buddhist cuisine that doesn’t contain animal products. This makes yuba especially perfect for vegetarians and vegans but of course, people (like me) who eat meat enjoy it, too.
How do you eat yuba (tofu skin)?
In Japan, yuba can be eaten in various ways, such as on top of udon, in a sauce, as tempura, or even as a dessert. One of my favorite ways to have it is simply buying a pack from a local tofu shop and then dipping it into a mixture of soy sauce with wasabi or ponzu sauce.
Tofu stores sell yuba fresh or dried. If you buy fresh yuba, it can be eaten as-is but dried yuba should be soaked in lukewarm water and then drained before using it in soups or simmered dishes.
Like other kinds of tofu, you can have yuba hot or cold, it’s completely up to you!
Yuba restaurants and stores in Japan
If you’re interested in trying tofu skin in Japan in all its different delectable forms, you should head to Kyoto, the home of yuba. The former capital has a ton of restaurants that specialize in tofu so it is likely they will offer yuba as well.
My recommendations are Yubasen, which is about a five-minute walk from Kiyomizu-dera, one of the most famous and beautiful Buddhist temples in Kyoto, and Yuba cuisine Higashiyama Yuuzu in Gion, which is close to Yasaka Shrine.
As mentioned earlier, Nikko also offers tofu skin in another style, so if you’re in Tokyo, I suggest taking a day trip to Nikko. You can not only try the yuba but also check out the picturesque views as well as the temples and shrines that make it a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
For those in or visiting Kansai, look into Mimiu (美々卯, みみう). This restaurant specializes in udon with several branches in Osaka, Kyoto, and Nagoya. It’s usually quite packed and for good reason. Its various udon and soba dishes are fantastic and they also offer a special yuba udon set, so it has something for everyone. My husband always wants meat if we eat out and my toddler doesn’t like tofu other than inari sushi, so it’s a great way for me to get my yuba fix while my family can eat something they like as well.
Mimiu is one of my favorite udon restaurants in Kansai as it’s delicious and convenient to get to, especially by car if you’re outside of the center of the city, so I highly recommend checking it out.
You can also head to a tofu store or even supermarket where they might be selling them by the pack. The store doesn’t have to be in Kyoto necessarily. It is said that the cleaner the water in the area, the more likely you’ll find a local tofu store that sells especially delicious yuba. Of course, it’s almost guaranteed that a tofu store in Kyoto will carry it and for a very reasonable price, so you can grab a pack and enjoy it at home, whether on top of udon or simply dipped in a sauce.
Yubasho, as the name suggests, is a store that specializes in yuba and they have two branches in Kyoto as well as one in Tokyo. They sell yuba prepared in different ways, including both rolled and layered yuba in adorable wooden bento boxes.
Making yuba at home
Yuba is something you can try making at home if you don’t have the chance to visit Japan in the near future (or you just don’t want to wait!).
I first learned about homemade yuba from a Japanese television show where the hosts boiled a small amount of soy milk on a hot plate while rapidly fanning it with an uchiwa, a round and rigid Japanese fan. They then picked up the skin that formed on the top using chopsticks and placed it in a dish before repeating the process.
I attempted their method and although the taste wasn’t quite the same as getting yuba from a tofu shop or a restaurant, it was still pretty tasty. You don’t have to use a hot plate or uchiwa either, any non-stick frying pan and handheld fan should work.
If you would like to make it at home, watch the video below. Although it’s in Japanese, the steps are easy to follow and gives helpful visuals of the process, so why not give it a try?
- Pour 1 liter of soy milk into a shallow pan/hot plate (it’s best to use a soy milk that contains at least 10% soybean solids, 大豆固形分１０％).
- Slowly heat the soy milk to 140 degrees Celsius or 284 degrees Fahrenheit (in order for the soy milk to develop a “skin”, it’s important to leave the lid off). The instructor doesn’t use an uchiwa to fan the milk in this video, however, you can certainly try that method, too.
- Once the skin has sufficiently formed, carefully pick the yuba up with chopsticks by “gathering” it in the center (see the video for visuals). Note that the first one or two will form nicely over a large area of the pan, however, as the amount of soy milk left decreases, the yuba will start forming in smaller pieces that you’ll need to fish out.
- Serving suggestions: with salt; with dashi jyōyu (a dashi broth-enhanced soy sauce) along with wasabi; or with something like shōga (生姜, Zingiber officinale, what many in the West know as plain old regular ginger) or myōga (茗荷, Zingiber mioga, otherwise known as Japanese ginger).
Have you ever tried or made tofu skin? What’s your favorite way to eat it?
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Kay is a Canadian freelance translator and writer who has been in Japan for more than a decade. Having lived in the Chugoku, Kanto, and now the Kansai regions, she hopes to share their various local cuisine on JFG.
She also writes about her experiences being a mother in Japan on her website, Tiny Tot in Tokyo.