Tofu is by far one of the most well-known Japanese foods.
But have you ever heard of Frozen Tofu?
Frozen tofu, called “koori-dofu” in Japanese, is a specialty of frosty regions.
Just like its more famous cousin, frozen tofu is made with soy milk which is made to coagulate and solidify by adding bittern to it. For those wondering, bittern is a bitter-tasting solution rich in minerals obtained from seawater. Unlike regular tofu, though, it uses less water and more soy beans, making it richer in proteins.
Frozen tofu is a traditional preservation food in Suwa area. It has a long-standing tradition that dates back centuries. Up until 50 years ago, there used to be over 30 producers in the area, all located in the villages closest to the mountains. Nowadays, there are only 2 left.
Frozen tofu production first started as a winter occupation for farmers who, in this freezing climate, could only grow vegetables for 6 months a year. Here winters are long and in the coldest months the temperature at night can drop to minus 20 degrees. However, far from being put down by the weather, the locals have found ways to make use of it. One of these being frozen tofu production.
There is an activity you can join which will let you know more about this unique ingredient. The activity takes place at “Sennen Tofu”, one of the 2 shops still in business. It is a tiny family-run shop at 1100m of altitude. The owner Kobayashi-san has married the daughter of a local frozen tofu producer and inherited the traditional business.
Once arrived, Kobayashi-san will explain more about tofu and the history of this family business. Then, he will show you inside his workshop and show you Step-by-Step the making of his frozen tofu. An English-speaking guide will be there so that you can ask any questions you like.
A surprising sight expect you before entering the shop. Dozens of tofu slices laid out on a large shallow basket, frozen hard and shining in the morning light.
He will show you the ingredients he uses, only local soy beans, water and bittern; then starts the procedure. Frozen tofu is momen tofu (“cotton tofu” in Japanese), as kinu tofu (“silk tofu”) has never been produced in this area. [Let me briefly explain, in case you don’t know what momen and kinu tofu mean. Kinu tofu is a smooth soft tofu, while momen is rougher, denser and has a textile-like pattern on the surface.]
When the beans have been grinded and milk separated from okara (a pulp made of the insoluble soybean skins), you will be able to have a sip of the warm freshly-squeezed soy milk.
After adding the bittern to the milk and applying some secret traditional techniques, the liquid is poured into a wooden mold and wrapped in cotton cloth (see why it’s called “cotton tofu”?). Stones are placed on top to make sure all the extra water is eliminated. The process is repeated and when completed, the tofu is taken out of the mold and cut in slices.
The tofu is put away until the afternoon, when it will be brought outside to freeze for 1 night under the starry sky.
After the guide visit, you have a chance to make frozen tofu yourself. You will move to another room and, under the master’s guide, go through the process with smaller wooden boxes. When the frozen tofu is ready the following morning, we will deliver it to you.
The activity will conclude with a degustation of both regular and frozen tofu. There will also be other tofu-based dishes, such as salad made with okara and soy milk tenyose (jelly-like vegan dessert).
Frozen tofu has a unique texture, very different from regular tofu. Springy and compact, but also light and delicate.
Enjoy this winter specialty! It’s only available from December to February.
Period: Mid December to End of February
(from March to December the activity is available but featuring regular tofu)
Access: 20 min from JR Chino station (pick-up from station available)
Capacity: Min. 2 persons Max. 4 persons
Price: 5,000 yen + tax /1 person
Includes: activity cost, degustation, English-speaking guide
Vegetarian and vegan options are available.
Please inform us in advance if you have any allergy or special dietary requirements.
For further information, contact Chino Tabi at email@example.com