Monday, May 23, 2011

Food Fetish: Nikko, Yuba, and Localism in Japanese Junk Food

Towards the end of last week I spent a couple of days in Nikko, a nice relaxing solo trip.  I made a point of eating every variety of the local specialty, yuba, that I could get my hands on.  Yuba is made from the curd skimmed during the process of making soy milk, and is particularly associated with Nikko because it was a source of protein for the vegetarian yamabushi (mountain monks) that populated its famous shrines (and, in smaller numbers, still do).

It's more appetizing than it sounds, making this a tasty chance to trace an archetype of Japanese food localism.  In short, this localism is mostly a marketing strategy aimed at travelers that provides nominal variation while still keeping things comfortably familiar.  To wit:

Late May 046

A typical bowl of soba, you say? Not at all - it's yuba soba, transformed by those yellowish rolls.  This was the tastiest of the variations I tried, partly because it was eaten in a small restaurant at the end of a five-hour hike.

And again:

Late May 110
Yuba Ramen.  Actually a pretty egregious misuse of yuba, since ramen contains copious amount of pork fat and tallow, both completely negating the 'vegetarian' status of the yuba, and overpowering it to boot.

Late May 089Yuba Teishoku (set lunch).  Found this place in the back of a gift shop in the middle of Nikko's shrine/temple complex.  This comes across as pretty traditional, though outside of the three varieties of yuba at the center it's relatively indistinguishable from any Japanese set meal.
Late May 049

And here's a yuba croquet - otherwise known as a volume of whipped potato with a basically undetectable paper-thin scrap of yuba in the center, all bread-battered and deep-fried.  The humble croquet, by the way, is just one of the omnipresent junk foods that makes Japan's reputation for "healthy" food completely misguided.

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