Skins

I have been lurking on the Chowhound France boards in anticipation of our upcoming eating and drinking trip in early April. In general, things seldom get very heated (partly because CH boards are heavily moderated); however, a recent Parisian restaurant thread got a little intense. The bone of contention, of all things, was vegetarian menu offerings: their sheer availability, excitement-worthiness, and overall chef attitudes towards vegetarians.

People eat vegetarian for a number of reasons, and have very different expectations of a worthy meal. If we were to put all socio-political agendas aside for a moment, and just focused on balance, flavor intensity, texture, etc., we would see that relatively few chefs cater to discerning vegetarians. For them, it is not enough for the meal to be meat-free, organic, local, sustainable, etc. They are looking for overall execution quality, inventiveness, and the kind of deliciousness that would excite vegetarians and omnivores alike.

I have found that in general, ethnic restaurants do a much better job turning out great vegetarian dishes. The most recent example was our experience with modern and traditional Japanese cuisine in the East Village involving yuba.

Yuba is tofu skin which forms during the process of making tofu and is obtained by skimming the top of the curding vat as the soymilk cools down. Yuba is ubiquitous in Japan and China, and is served as sashimi, enjoyed fresh in a rice bowl, used like nori or spring roll skin (for example, as a wrapper for Cantonese dim sum); it can also be deep-fried, dried for later use, etc.  Its texture and appearance run the whole spectrum from “old shriveled linen” to custard, such as in homestyle fresh yuba, which is supposed to give one’s complexion a satiny quality, according to Japanese grandmothers:

The eponymous restaurant in East Village does a fantastic job showcasing this fascinating ingredient; it was amazing to observe the chef produce such a wide range of experiences for a discerning foodie, starting with yuba sashimi and uni (sea urchin) with yuba, where it appears to be silky, creamy and almost milky, not unlike fresh silken tofu.

 

 

 

 

 

Other delectable variations were grilled miso yuba and yuba roll, and our favorite turned out to be layered yuba pouch with slow-braised yuba with mixed mushrooms. Here, it was rich and luxurious, with an amazing juxtaposition of sweetness and earthiness.

Besides the eponymous Yuba, we have discovered a whole “Yubaland” in the East Village (Cocoron, Sobaya, etc.). This is the kind of eating experience that is sure to excite any foodie, vegetarian or not. It sends even a lazy amateur chef like myself to the Japanese grocery store Hana here in DC, and then running to the kitchen. This time, the owners of Hana were out of yuba 😦 , but still provided me with plenty inspiration to put together a fun impromptu meal.

  • Assorted Japanese pickles (pickled plums, sesame pickled cucumbers, and eggplant)
  • Udon noodles with braised enoki mushrooms, nori, scallions, and miso grilled tofu in a dashi broth
  • Green Tea flavored Mochi Ice-Cream bonbons
I cannot wait for my tofu skins order to come in next week!

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11 thoughts on “Skins

  1. I totally agree with you about great vegetarian fare within ethnic cuisine. I’ve actually started including fish in my diet because I’m often limited in the flavorful options when I go out to dine. I’m nervous about making tofu skin (yuba), but I always enjoy it when I get it at japanese restaurants or with my Chinese hotpot.

    • I am not one of those people who feel compelled to re-create everything they encounter at a restaurant at home. I much rather steal select little ideas.
      I am not a vegetarian myself, but my husband is (has been over 20 years). Every now and then he also dabbles in fish, especially when dealing with prix-fixe choices; for example, smoked eel has definitely entered the vegetable status :-).

  2. Wow! Great post! I just learned about the making of yuba, very interesting read, I enjoy getting a dose of yummy food photos and information about the foods we love. Thanks so much for sharing, enjoy the rest of your weekend =]

  3. We’re signed up to take a vegan cooking class at the local culinary school. Even here in what we nickname “white bread America” the new generation of chefs are learning to respect various types of menus.

  4. I just moved to NYC and have been looking for crazy awesome restaurants to add to my Must Eat list – Yuba is now most definitely a Must Eat!! Thanks 🙂

    Also – LOVE your about section… as a fellow food lover I can totally appreciate eating like two pigs. Would love to eat our way through NYC some time 🙂

    • Thanks so much for your comments! NYC is chock full of culinary treasures, and you will have a fantastic time getting to know the restaurants. Check out my posts “The Tale of Two Brunches”, “Oh La La”, “A Lesson in Subtlety”, “Less Is More”, and “Tasty Little Brains, Or a Halloween Special” for more fun ideas.

  5. Those are mochi balls; they are Japanese rice cakes (made of sticky rice pounded into a paste). The texture is quite starchy, and takes getting used to. I am definitely a fan, especially when mochi is filled with something flavorful for a nice contrast (green tea paste, black sesame paste, or, like in this case, ice cream).

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