One of the things I loved about living in Tokyo were the thriving businesses run by small shop-keepers: a tiny stationer’s shop wedged between the jeweller’s and a ramen stand, the yaki-imo man driving around in his pick-up truck with a brazier on the back calling out to all and sundry to get his sweet potatoes while they were steaming hot (yaki-imooooo, ya.ki.IMO!), shops selling nothing but seaweed and the local tofu shop which was no more than a hole in the wall.
I think these businesses survive despite the inevitable onslaught of convenience stores and supermarkets for several reasons, one being that the Japanese mania for terroir goes beyond even that of the French and so specialty shops have a loyal clientele and the second, more negative perhaps, is that most women with children tend to be housewives or part-time workers whether they like it or not and therefore have the time to shop at a variety of stores rather than a one-stop shop.
Tofu, despite its sometimes tasteless and suspiciously firm Western vegetarian incarnations, is lovely. When it is very fresh it has a creaminess that calls for nothing more than a grating of ginger, a sprinkling of spring onions and a splash of shoyu, a dish which is called hiyayakko. Since there (rather surprisingly) don’t seem to be any small tofu purveyors where I live in Austria, let alone a choice of more than two kinds (firm or cotton pressed and silken) I was reduced one day to using the stuff one can buy in a plastic shrink wrapped packet for hiyayakko.
It was sort of like eating a Snickers when you want a Belgian truffle but it hit the spot, sort of.
Do you live in a small shops or superstore kind of place?
This is definitely one of those recipes that require you use the best of everything since there are only 4 ingredients but clearly I have no idea how to take my own advice.
A piece of the best silken tofu you can get your hands on, well chilled
A teaspoon of finely grated fresh ginger
A spring onion, finely sliced
2 tablespoons shoyu
1 teaspoon bonito flakes (optional)
Top the tofu with the ingredients and serve cold.