Say hello to my favorite tofu brand: Otokomae Tofu. Otokomae Tofu is a Kyoto company, new and successful, but not an old and established shinise. It is now a well-known brand throughout the country even with some distribution abroad, but it is a very un-Kyoto company. While Otokomae Tofu may be un-Kyoto, I think that it breathes some needed freshness into the culinary and business culture of stuffy old Kyoto.
Otokomae Tofu is a company based in Kyoto prefecture that burst onto the supermarket shelves several years ago and is by all accounts a runaway success. The company name is very unusual, ‘otokomae’ means handsome or good-looking. (You will no doubt notice the character ‘男’ all over the packaging and even on the tofu itself, in some cases, ‘男’ means ‘man’.) Think of a tofu company in the English-speaking world called Handsome Guy Tofu. It is an ironic name in a country the traditionally displays little or no irony in public life and commerce. This brand name has helped the company score some marketing and PR points, I think. However, Otokomae Tofu makes the very best tofu that I have eaten. There are some famous old tofu shops in Kyoto, Morika and so on, and their tofu is very good but I don’t see the same quality among such a variety of products. So, I really like Otokomae Tofu and eat it at home a lot. Most supermarkets stock at least some of their products. They are a bit more expensive that other tofu, but the extra cost is well worth it, especially if you like tofu. The other day I bought a package of the cheapest tofu I could find in the supermarket, about 90 yen and it was indeed flavorless compared to Otokomae Tofu. Several of Otokomae Tofu’s products are so rich and creamy that they can just be eaten like ice cream or yogurt, right out of the package with no soy sauce or garnish.
Otokomae Tofu has an impressive line-up of products and I think I have tried them all, except for some minor seasonal ones. Here is a selection of what I like and also what is generally available at larger supermarkets in Japan. First, my favorites:
Fav 1: Purveyors to Nabe Gourmands: Otokomae Tofu 男前豆腐
This is Otokomae Tofu’s first product, the recipe that literally made the company and brought the founder to Kyoto. The specially developed package contributes to the unique taste and very dense texture. This tofu is very handmade looking and is not the usual square block. It is wrapped in gauze-like fabric and the package has a water trap at the bottom so it is well-drained of water when opened. This keeps the tofu damp and fresh but removes excess water.
The fragrance is fruity and the richness of taste is created with plenty of premium soybeans from Hokkaido. This tofu was made for nabe and sukiyaki. In fact you will notice the vertical red stripe on the right side of the package that reads 鍋将軍御用達 (nabe shogun goyotachi). If you have seen the film or read the book Shogun, you will know that this means military general. Nabe shogun or yakiniku shogun is a term used for someone who feels compelled to do all the cooking when having nabe or yakiniku with friends or family. (I am one of these slightly compulsive, perfectionist types.) Goyotachi means to be a purveyor of goods, usually culinary related, to the Imperial Household. Many confectionaries in Kyoto boast this inscription their noren curtain or shop interior. This ironic populism illustrates more of Otokomae Tofu’s clever humor sense and marketing acumen.
Fav 2: Otokomae Aburaage 男前油揚げ
Aburaage is tofu that has been sliced thin and deep-fried. Aburaage can be used in soups and takikomi gohan. Aburaage is usually light and airy due to the deep-frying process. Otokomae Tofu’s aburaage is impossibly dense and heavy, with an equally dense and robust soy taste.
Aburaage can be used in many quick and healthy Japanese dishes such as soup, stir fry, takikomi-gohan and so on. (Aburaage recently appeared on KF in this okowa recipe and this niku jaga recipe.) I think that it can be easily adapted into Western cuisine quite well and could appeal to people that aren’t big tofu fans.
Otokomae Tofu’s aburaage is surely the best aburaage that I have encountered. If you can get your hands on some, I think you are sure to be pleased!
Fav 3: Creme Fraiche Tofu? Oh yes! Meet, ‘Johnny’ 風に吹かれて豆腐屋ジョニー
This is the Otokomae Tofu’s second product and probably their most well-known. ‘Johnny’, or properly, ‘Wind Blown Tofu Shop, Johnny’ is a tofu product without peer on the supermarket shelves, both in terms of taste and image. ‘Johnny’ in a package shaped like a surfboard, the barcode for the product is a wave with a surfer riding it! (see photo below) This is the first Japanese tofu to sport a Western man’s name as the product name. (Tofu products named with Japanese mens’ names con be found in Japan.)
Otokomae Tofu’s founder told me that this tofu has become such an iconic product that some Japanese children think that ‘Johnny’ means tofu and don’t use the word ‘tofu’ when telling their parents what they want to eat!
Now, when I think of kids and their favorite food, I have to admit that I don’t think of tofu. Kids want ice cream, right? Remarkably I sometimes find myself sitting on the kitchen floor eating this tofu right out of the package with a spoon and no soy sauce or other flavoring. This tofu is impossibly rich and creamy, it coats the palette and the taste lingers like ice cream. The taste, consistency and texture reminded me of creme fraiche, only with a ‘soybeany’ taste. If you didn’t know it were tofu, you might not realize it when encountering ‘Johnny’ for the first time.
Fav Package Design: Nippon Danji 日本男児
Nippon danji is the name of this tofu and it is a silky soft tofu intended for yudofu (tofu hot-pot). Nippon danji expresses the qualities in the ideal man and is based on bushido, or the samurai spirit. The Japanese notion of masculinity includes the following values:
・to always takes full responsibility for his actions (no excuses)
・to always do what he says he will do (no need to make promises)
・to not complain (not be weak)
・to protect his family, society and country
・to never betray another
Interestingly this tofu package features a bare-chested guy drinking directly from a huge bottle of sake. There is nothing like this on the supermarket shelves!
While hard drinking isn’t ‘officially’ a part of Nippon danji, it is said that the men of Kyushu are the most masculine men in Japan and that they are in general avid drinkers. Japan’s strongest alcoholic beverage, shochu comes from Kyushu. (However, I think the — official or unofficial — hardest drinkers in Japan are from Kochi Prefecture in Shikoku.)
Sake bottles in Japan come in two main sizes; 72o㎖ and 1.8ℓ. The guy in the picture is drinking from the 1.8ℓ bottle!
Thanks to this package design, I suppose the day is now coming when a tofu package will include a parental advisory!
Tagline (bottom): 本物の男前はあなたを裏切ったりしない。Honmono no otokomae wa anata wo uragittari shinai.
Meaning: A real man would never disappoint you.
Tofu that makes a statement!
Some Other Popular Otokomae Tofu Products
Here are a few other products that you ought to be able to find in most large grocery stores in Japan.
Product: Masahiro Yudofu
This is tofu for yudofu, simmering in broth. The face on this package is that of the man who actually makes this tofu in the Otokomae factory. The underside of the plastic package has a 男 character which impresses the character into the tofu which makes for an attractive presentation.
Product: Atsuage Fujiyama 厚揚げフジヤマ
Atsuage is tofu that has been deep-fried, but unlike aburaage it has not been cut thin before deep-frying. Atsuage tofu is great in soups and nabe. When I do sukiyaki, I often use atsuage instead of regular tofu.
These come in triangular pieces, hence the reference to Mount Fuji in the product name.
Product: Otokomae Kinudofu 男前絹豆腐
Kinu is silk in Japanese and the softest tofu is called kinogoshi: silken tofu. This product is Kyoto-style, extra soft and only available in winter.
Where to Buy Otokomae Tofu Outside of Japan
Currently Otokomae Tofu is available in limited quantity in the United States, Hong Kong and Singapore. Visit Otokomae Tofu’s Facebook page for the up-to-date list.
21515 Western Ave.
Torrance, CA 90501
TEL: (310) 782-0335
3760 Centinela Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90066
TEL: (310) 398-2113
4240 Kearny Mesa Rd. #119
San Diego, CA 92111
TEL: (858) 569-6699
665 Paularino Ave.
Costa Mesa, CA
675 Saratoga Ave.
San Jose, CA 95129
TEL: (408) 255-6699
Katagiri & Co., Inc.
224 E 59th Street
New York, NY 10022
TEL: (212) 755-3566
Sunrise Mart (SoHo)
494 Broome Street
New York, NY 10012
TEL: (212) 219-0033
Sunrise Mart (East Village)
4 Stuyvesant Street, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10003
TEL: (212) 598-3040
129 E 47th Street
New York, NY 10017
TEL: (212) 755-7380
Daido Japanese Market
522 Mamaroneck Avenue
White Plains, NY 10605
TEL: (914) 683-6735
Nara Japanese Foods
169 Main Street
Port Washington, NY 11050
TEL: (516) 883-1836
595 River Road
Edgewater, NJ 07020
TEL: (201) 941-9113
100 E. Algonquin Road
Arlington Hts., IL 60005
TEL: (847) 956-6699
Marukai Wholesale Mart
2310 Kamehameha Hwy,
Honolulu, HI 96819-4531
Phone: (808) 845-5051
801 Kaheka Street
Honolulu, Hawaii 96814
Hong Kong Apita (Uny)
18 Taikoo Shing Rd.
Quarry Bay, Hong Kong
TEL: 852 2885 0331
435 Orchard Road
TEL: 65 6733 7777