Assorted menus of Kyotofu / Korea Times photo by Michael Schreiber
By Bae Ji-sook
Koreans love tofu ― the white cube made with boiled soya varies from the plain drinkable tofu to the main ingredient for stew and fried dishes among others.
Thanks to its health attributes and the possible contribution to the well-being lifestyle, its popularity is soaring higher than ever.
Kyotofu, a newly opened restaurant in Hannam-dong, central Seoul, is quite a surprise to Koreans who take pride in their own tofu dishes.
In the hands of American establisher Michael Berl, tofu is smothered in caramel syrup, or katsuobushi extract, and covered with chocolates. Unlike Korean style tofu that is squeezed in a big frame for formation, the kyotofu follows more of the Japanese style, with a mellow and softer texture. Tofu is reformed in more than 44 dishes presented.
The signature Sweet Tofu, a sweet tofu with kuro-syrup topping, is the perfect example of what kyotofu is all about. The dessert served in a little glass almost tastes like a milk pudding sold at local patisseries but leaves some smell of soya behind. Those who are not so keen on the soya scent of tofu might just like it.
The kyo-tofu with katsuo sauce is quite salty and strong, killing off all the scent of soya but leaving an extreme salty taste in the mouth. But Koreans may find no problem with it ― they are used to eating soy sauce.
What seem less alien are in the more “sophisticated or contemporary” section where Sake-Jelly and Soft Shell Crab features the earthy and warm side of tofu.
The foods are served with sake but the liquors are light enough not to kill off the originality of the dishes. The food in general is somewhere in the middle of Japanese and Western palettes and fits perfect to the original concept of modern contemporary dining.
Kotofu is the second branch for Berl, who has cherished success with his first shop in New York. In fact, Kyotofu Korea was established after a proposal from a Korean investor who was impressed with the New York store’s success.
“I understand the strong affection Koreans have for tofu. Kyotofu (Japanese for today’s tofu) in that sense may come across as strange. However, I would like to appeal to the uniqueness and the fact that many Koreans in the U.S. were fascinated by our dish. May be it’s not too alien after all,” Berl said.