Tofu Steaks and Lentil Curry in Japan!

Hello friends! I stepped away from my blog for a bit while I traveled and pursued some exciting projects, but now that things are settling down, I’m hoping to get back to regular posts this summer. I have loads of fun photos from my travels and cooking experiments that I’m excited to share!

To start things off today, when I was in Japan a little while ago, I visited this fantastic vegan and vegetarian friendly restaurant called Kizuki Kitchen. I know Japan has a common reputation of being a difficult place to eat veggie, but it’s not true! There are so many fun options, and over the recent years, trendy vegan and vegetarian restaurants and cafes are popping up all over the place!

The ideas are often really creative, too, with a special Japanese twist. These are some deep fried tofu steaks that came with a whole bunch of delicious sides.

There were various salads, brown rice, and mushroom miso soup. We tried a number of other set menus, including the lentil curry, which was nicely spiced. The only adjustment that I wanted to make was that there wasn’t quite enough heat for my taste. I asked the restaurant staff, and they were incredibly helpful, searching all over until they found a little shaker of red chili for me.

One thing that made the cozy little restaurant even more fun was that they would prepare all the food right there in front of you, so you could see your dishes as they were being put together. It’s sort of like dinner and a cooking show at the same time.

The third meal that we ordered was a hotpot set. In it, were daikon raddish, an egg, carrot, konyaku, shiitake mushroom, and a deep fried tofu pouch — all well seasoned and bursting with umami flavour. By the time we finished, the tiny little restaurant was packed, and there was a line out the door. If you ever pay this place a visit, make sure you get there early! This was one of the first health-angled restaurants that I ever visited in Japan, so it was a very neat experience to see what they do with all these different and unique ingredients.


Yakisoba: Japanese fried noodles

Have you ever heard of yakisoba? It’s a super popular street food in Japan, and a staple dish found at every festival you’ll ever visit. The streets will always be lined with food stalls where they have a big flat grill set up, and there’s someone frying up a huge pile of yakisoba noodles using these metal spatulas specially designed for flipping the ingredients.

The most classic yakisoba dish consists of hearty noodles fried together with cabbage, carrots, and onion. It’s then topped off with a savory sauce, shavings of aonori (a type of dried seaweed), and small slices of pickled pink ginger. Recently, some vendors have started to add on some other popular toppings like Japanese mayonnaise.

I don’t usually get to buy yakisoba at food stands because there’s sometimes a bit of meat thrown into the mix, but that doesn’t stop me from making it at home! Lucky for me, it’s fairly quick and easy to put together. I had this for dinner the other night, along with some slices of deep fried tofu that I picked up at the shops and then warmed up in the grill a few minutes before serving.


Gourmet Chocolate Doughnut at a Depachika

On another visit to Mito, I ended up stopping by a large department store. In Japan, the bottom floor of any department store is called the depachika, or in other words, it’s the food floor! Here you can buy a whole assortment of beautifully decorated and luxurious sweets, bento lunches, gift boxes, local specialties, and souvenir snacks. You can also usually get high quality fruits and vegetables. The depachika is loads of fun and it’s always my most favorite section of any Japanese department store!

On this visit, a gourmet doughnut stand caught my eye with its line up of free samples. In Japan, if you’re lucky you can find doughnuts made out of okara, or the soy pulp left over from making tofu. I prefer them to regular ones, as I find that they have a rich flavour and are very crispy on the outside. If you ever find an okara doughnut, definitely give it a try!

I got to sample a matcha green tea doughnut and a salt doughnut. The man also had a whole bunch of other interesting flavours like tiramisu, roasted soybean, strawberry, and black sesame. I settled for a good old fashioned chocolate coated doughnut. The amazing thing about this shop was that instead of using chocolate icing, he actually used pure melted dark chocolate.


Lotus Root Chips and Sweet Potato Sticks

The other Sunday, I spent the afternoon at a festival in the nearby town of Hitachitaga. The event is called Daidogei, and aims to feature street performances from around the world to promote internationalization.  Even though the streets were narrow and it was a pretty small festival, it was very crowded because it must have been the only event going on that weekend.


On the way there, I had a bit of time to kill before my train arrived so I wandered into the little train station art gallery to see what was on exhibit this week. The elderly man behind the desk was super friendly, and turned out to be the artist behind the biggest painting on display. We talked for a few minutes and he rushed off to a nearby convenience store to buy us each a can of coffee! That was so unexpectedly nice of him!


After a short chat, I caught the train and headed off to Hitachitaga. There were the usual food stalls selling all the typical festival foods like yakisoba noodles and snow cones of various flavours. One very cool find, though, was lotus root chips! This was the first time I’ve come across these. There was also a very popular booth where a man was slicing up fresh sweet potatoes and deep frying them to make these massive, fluffy sweet potato fries. It was a simple little festival, but a nice way of unwinding and enjoying a laid back afternoon before heading back to work on Monday.


Soba Buckwheat Noodles for Breakfast

One of my favorite meals that I like to throw together while here in Japan is a big bowl of soba noodles. It’s perfect in every way! It’s healthy, cheap, quick, easy, vegan, and delicious. When it’s cold outside you can serve it in a hot soup. Or, when it’s warm out you can eat it zaru soba style with a small bowl of cold broth on the side, which you dip bite-size portions of the soba noodles into bit by bit as you eat them.

For breakfast, I enjoyed a bowl of hot soba noodles in a soy sauce-based soup. I added in some wakame seaweed and fluffy agedashi tofu, and topped off the dish with Japanese chili powder and slices of fresh green onion.


Giant Steamed Veggie Buns!

I had a sudden craving for steamed buns the other day so I headed to Chinatown to see what was on offer. I wandered up and down the streets, stepping into random dim sum shops and bakeries looking for veggie steamed buns, but pretty much everything contained meat or seafood. Just when I thought I’d have to go back home empty handed, I discovered what is now my absolute favorite Chinese bakery in Vancouver. Every single bun, cake, dumpling, and tart is gigantic! They’re honestly about twice the size of every other shop I visited, and the crazy thing is that most of the items are actually cheaper!


For lunch, I got one white steamed veggie bun, and another whole wheat one. They were so huge that I couldn’t even finish them and ended up having the rest for dinner. It’s not just about the size and price either…none of that would matter if the food was poor. But, you could tell that fresh vegetables were used for the filling inside the buns, and they also had a variety of other ingredients mixed in like mushrooms, rice noodles, and tofu. Really fantastic!


Ridiculously Easy Tofu Tiramisu

I am so stoked about this…it’s kind of life changing. I mean, I like tofu and I’m in love with all the different ways that it can be adapted. But, so far I’ve always stuck to savory dishes and this was my first attempt at using it as a dessert. My mind is blown.

I wanted to make a vegan tiramisu, but to be honest I was expecting it to bite into and think to myself, Oh yeah…this is definitely tofu. But, it tastes so creamy and rich that it’s hard to believe it’s one hundred percent plant based. And not only that, but there’s also no added fats or oils and it only takes a few minutes to throw together!


I just put the following ingredients into a blender and mixed until everything was nice and smooth.

  • 1 block medium firm tofu (This will be about 1 pound. Try to use a good quality tofu because it’s much creamier.)
  • 4 tbsp sugar or agave (Change it up depending on how sweet you want it. This wasn’t super sweet.)
  • 1 tbsp miso (Miso is used in a lot of vegan cheeses to give it that savory taste. If you don’t have miso, I think a bit of tahini or almond butter might work, although the flavor would be different.)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp tapioca starch dissolved in 2 tbsp water (You can add a bit more starch if you want it to be firmer.)

You could honestly get a spoon and eat it straight out of the blender haha. It’s like vanilla pudding! But, here’s an important tip: Let it sit in the fridge at least overnightIf you can manage to let it sit two nights, that’s even better. Fresh out of the blender, it still had a bit of a tofu flavour to it. But after letting it sit in the fridge for two nights, it was heavenly.

In a glass bowl, I crumbled up an oat cookie and a some chunks of chocolate, and then sprinkled in a few drops of brandy (if you have coffee liqueur at home, that might be more authentic). Then, I just scooped on the tofu mix. If you put it back in the fridge for a little while it will firm up. Or, you can just coat it in cocoa powder and dig in right away!

Roadtrip to Aomori: Dinner and Live Shamisen Music

For dinner in Aomori we went to this amazing Japanese pub. It’s not the kind of place where you sit on a bar stool and chug a pint of beer while munching on a burger and fries, though. In the traditional Japanese style, we all get to sit on the floor on these large cushions (zabuton) and relax for hours. The dark wooden furnishings used in all old Japanese buildings and the traditional paper screens add a really authentic touch. And get this…there’s a live shamisen performance each evening!


We shared a big a hotpot of tofu and veggies cooked right there on a little fire in the middle of our table. We also ordered a whole bunch of neat appetizers including a serving of roasted garlic with a sweet miso dressing…plus a lot of good sake and beer, of course!

There’s something about sitting on the floor that’s so welcoming and comfortable. Instead of feeling like a bunch of patrons at a restaurant, it feels like a big party and you sort of build this feeling of closeness with everyone else there. And as an added bonus, when you finally get sleepy (or drunk!) you can just lie flat on your face and no one really cares haha 😀


Sweet Potato and Okra Rice Bowl

For breakfast I put together this delicious rice bowl using my new favorite sweet potato rice. (If you still haven’t tried this, do! Not only are the potatoes steamed to perfection, but the rice also gets steeped in such a gorgeous flavor.) On top of this, I added steamed okra, enoki mushrooms, sliced carrots, and a piece of tofu marinated in rice koji.

I usually go with something sweet for breakfast like banana and date oatmeal, blackberry jam on bread, or a fruit bowl. But the natural sugars brought in by the sweet potatoes, the mushrooms, and the carrots was so satisfying. I am absolutely making this again. Very simple, extremely healthy…and delicious!

Vegan Chicken Teriyaki

When I was younger, I would pretty much unfailingly order a chicken teriyaki rice bowl any time I went to Japanese restaurant. I tried making a similar style teriyaki dish using yuba, which I have to say was the closest thing I’ve had to chicken teriyaki in a number of years now. Satisfying, healthy, and very simple!


If you have never heard of yuba before, it’s sometimes described as “tofu skin”, or in more detailed terms, the film that forms on the surface of soy milk when it is being heated up for the production of tofu. You can find it at most Asian grocery stores, either fresh (in which case you can eat it as is), or dried (in which case you would reconstitute it by soaking in water). There are of course different qualities of yuba, and in my experience the fresh stuff is best for this type of dish.

In Japan, I tried yuba at a tofu restaurant. When served fresh, it usually has no added sauce or flavorings and has a nice mild flavour not too unlike tofu. The traditional style of serving looks something like this.


For the teriyaki rice bowl, I made my own teriyaki sauce by mixing together the following ingredients, covering the yuba in the sauce, and then grilling them for a few minutes (flipping frequently to keep them from burning) until they were nice and crispy on the outside.

  • soy sauce
  • agave
  • sesame seeds
  • a tiny bit of ground ginger (if you like ginger)
  • a pinch of black pepper
  • chili sauce of your liking (or crushed chili peppers)

The photo below is an unadon version, with nori underneath and a sprinkling of sanshō (a type of Japanese pepper) on top.