EAT IN ASIA / Destinations / Japan

A traditional Zen Buddhist dish - Goma Dofu

What is tofu made of? Everyone would say that from soybeans. And that’s true. I wrote about Japanese soy tofu and different types of it in the earlier post. However, soy is not the only one! Of course, it is in the dictionary meaning, but Goma Dofu is an example of a dish, that is similar to a regular tofu but is not based on soy milk. Well, we were surprised too. Goma Dofu, as it’s called in Japan is made of sesame seeds instead of soybeans. It makes part of a traditional zen Buddhist cuisine. That cuisine - shoujin ryori is mainly a vegan one. That’s why it is so popular in Buddhist monasteries, where tradition still plays a huge role.

A traditional Buddhist breakfast in a 1000 year-old Buddhist temple, Shukubo Koya-san Eko-in monastery.

Goma Dofu, or a sesame tofu, we ate for the first time in a monastery in Koyasan. We spent one night in a 1000 year-old Buddhist temple, Shukubo Koya-san Eko-in monastery, where we had a chance to try a traditional Zen Buddhist classic cuisine. Goma Dofu was perfect in its taste. It was smooth, silky, with a little sweetness and with a soft texture. It was served in a light vegetable sauce that was more like a broth. Then put on delicious greens. It was like a dessert melting in your mouth.

Goma Dofu from a traditional Buddhist breakfast in a 1000 year-old Buddhist temple, Shukubo Koya-san Eko-in monastery.

So, what is Goma Dofu exactly? It is produced mainly from sesame seeds and kudzu starch. Kudzu powder, or kuzu powder, is a kind of a gluten-free starch that is produced from the root of kudzu plant. Added to meals works as a thickener, that is a little bit gelatinous and almost completely translucent. In Japanese cuisine it is added both to sweet and savory dishes. So, you can have it in cakes, buns, main dishes and it’s also in Goma Dofu.

White sesame seeds for Goma Dofu.

The process of making sesame tofu is time consuming. Of course, you can accelerate it by buying sesame paste, but still it needs time. In brief, sesame tofu is a product obtained from grinded sesame seeds mixed with kudzu starch. The sesame paste should be very smooth, so when produced manually, it was a really long time. Now the job is mechanized, but previously the task was done by novice monks. Then the mixture was fried until the excess of water evaporated and the consistence was tough. After that, put into square forms and cooled. When it was finally solid, sesame tofu was stored in water.

Usually it was served cooled with soy sauce, some seaweeds or a dash of wasabi.

Black sesame seeds for Goma Dofu.

Traditional sesame tofu is made of white sesame seeds. However, right now you can get some other varieties of it. So, it is also possible to have a black sesame tofu, or a one being a combination of sesame seeds and soybeans. But still, Goma Dofu in it is original form is the one you should try. Traditional, vegan and nutritious is a good option for a chilled snack or an appetizer. If you are curious how to make it at home, read the recipe on the blog!

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