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Savoring Saga: A Vegetarian Journey Through Soybean Cuisine and Onsen Yudofu

Diving deeper into Saga’s treasure trove of ingredients, our journey has so far illuminated the region’s vegetable-rich menus. This chapter turns our attention to another of Saga’s agricultural pillars: the soybean.

Saga, field , 佐賀の田園風景

Esteemed not just locally but nationally for its hefty contribution to Japan’s soybean yield, Saga’s expertise in cultivating these essential beans feeds into the creation of some of the country’s most beloved food staples, including miso, soy sauce, tofu, and natto.

The soybean variety that takes center stage in Saga’s agricultural narrative is “Fukuyutaka.” Characterized by its subtle sweetness and high protein content, Fukuyutaka soybeans are particularly revered for tofu making, enjoying widespread popularity across tofu establishments nationwide. This preference underscores Saga’s influential position in the soybean sector, marrying quality with culinary tradition.

Saga Yudofu, 佐賀の湯豆腐

A distinctive embodiment of this tradition is found in Ureshino Onsen’s “Onsen Yudofu,” a preparation that marries tofu with the mineral-rich waters of the hot springs. Although a common dish across Japan, Ureshino’s version offers a unique gastronomic experience, transforming the humble tofu into a delicacy that’s softly textured and infused with the essence of the onsen waters, presenting a culinary gem yet to be fully discovered by the masses.

Hitotsubu Chaya Suisha, 一粒茶屋すいしゃ

This intertwining of natural bounty and culinary innovation is vividly showcased in the onsen town of Ureshino, where the historical and the gastronomical converge. A meal at a longstanding eatery, nestled by the tranquil Ureshino River and operated by a rice merchant from the dawn of the 20th century, offers an authentic taste of this tradition. The Onsen Yudofu here, made exclusively from “Fukuyutaka” soybeans, comes accompanied by a homemade sesame sauce, marrying soy sauce, sesame, kombucha, and sugar in a delightful symphony of flavors. Patrons are presented with the choice of pairing this dish with either succulent white rice or a robust roll filled with soybean meat and vegetables, each seasoned to perfection with sesame oil.

Hitotsubu Chaya Suisha, 一粒茶屋すいしゃ

The pride of this shop, still milling rice with traditional stone mills and wooden pestles, lies in its white rice. The perfectly cooked, sticky rice, bursting with the sweetness of the grains, is exceptional. Is it the special Saga-grown rice? The unique water of Ureshino? There might be various reasons, but the primary one is undoubtedly the milling method.

Here at “Suisya,” rice is milled slowly over five hours using the power of a waterwheel and stone mills, a method that does not generate the friction heat of machine milling, preserving the rice’s natural flavor. The milled rice is then aged in nutrient-rich rice bran for over 48 hours, enhancing its texture and aroma. This careful process leaves the rice with a glossy finish and a rich scent, embodying the meticulous attention to detail that defines Saga’s culinary tradition.

Hitotsubu Chaya Suisha, 一粒茶屋すいしゃ

Spring heralds the introduction of “Sicilian Rice” to the menu, a creative vegan take on a beloved Saga dish. Traditionally featuring fried meat atop a bed of rice with tomatoes, lettuce, and other vegetables, all drizzled with mayonnaise, this iteration embraces soybean meat. Complementing this are okara croquettes, a selection of seasonal vegetable tempura, Daigaku-imo (sweet potato treats), kombu dashi miso soup, and tofu donuts—each element a testament to Saga’s innovation in plant-based cuisine.

Ichiryu Chaya Suisya stands as a beacon of Saga’s rich agricultural and culinary heritage, inviting patrons to immerse themselves in a dining experience that transcends mere sustenance. Through its signature dishes like Onsen Yudofu and the newly introduced Sicilian Rice, it weaves a narrative of regional pride, natural abundance, and culinary evolution, inviting all to savor the essence of Saga’s gastronomic excellence.

Ichiryu Chaya Suisya
5682-2 Shimonoko, Ureshino-machi, Ureshino City, Saga
• Hours: 11:30~14:00 L.O., Saturdays & holidays 11:00~13:30 L.O.
• Closed: Sundays and Mondays
• Vegetarian Menu (tax included): Yudofu Set ¥2,500, SAGA Sicilian Set ¥2,290 (reservation required by the day before)

Nestled within the heart of Saga, Saga Hirakawaya emerges as a beacon of tofu craftsmanship, established in the mid-20th century. This tofu specialty store, renowned for its comprehensive array of tofu delights crafted from locally sourced Saga soybeans, has found a new lease on life with the advent of the West Kyushu Shinkansen in autumn 2022. Strategically positioned just a leisurely stroll from JR Takeo Onsen Station, it stands welcomingly in the shadow of Takeo Onsen’s iconic tower gate, inviting both locals and travelers alike to explore its culinary offerings.

Saga Hirakawaya - Takeo Onsen head shop, 佐嘉平川屋武雄温泉本店

The interior of Saga Hirakawaya, with its modern flair, provides a warm ambiance for guests to immerse themselves in the world of tofu. Here, one can embark on a gastronomic journey with the Onsen Yudofu course or indulge in the lighter fare offered at the café space, which boasts an array of soy milk gelato and parfaits, each a testament to the versatile appeal of soy.

Saga Hirakawaya - Takeo Onsen head shop, 佐嘉平川屋武雄温泉本店

The Onsen Yudofu course at Saga Hirakawaya is a curated experience designed to showcase the depth and variety of Saga’s tofu. Beginning with a refreshing shot of soy milk, it sequentially introduces patrons to the region’s tofu specialties, including the nutty richness of sesame tofu and the creamy texture of peanut tofu. The centerpiece, Onsen Yudofu, promises a sensory delight as it is presented in its most authentic form, simmered in hot spring water until it reaches a perfect, melt-in-your-mouth consistency.

Saga Hirakawaya - Takeo Onsen head shop, 佐嘉平川屋武雄温泉本店

Guests are encouraged to first taste the tofu unadorned, allowing the natural umami to come forth, before experimenting with the accompanying original sesame sauce, tailored to preference with alternatives like olive oil, salt for those abstaining from fish broth.

The zosui, a comforting rice soup that beautifully encapsulates the essence of the meal, drawing on the deep flavors infused in the tofu’s cooking broth. And don’t forget the kake-jiru (rice porridge) at the end with the hot spring yudofu. You can savor the flavorful soup infused with the richness of the tofu until the very last drop.

The plant-based soy milk gelato made in-house features seasonal flavors such as matcha from Ureshino and organic lemon.

Saga Hirakawaya - Takeo Onsen head shop, 佐嘉平川屋武雄温泉本店

As we continue to navigate through the rich tapestry of Saga’s culinary heritage, our exploration is far from complete. The forthcoming installment promises to dive deeper into the region’s gastronomic diversity, unveiling the myriad ways in which Saga’s abundant ingredients are transformed into exquisite culinary creations. Anticipate a journey that further celebrates the intricate relationship between Saga’s natural bounties and its culinary artistry, inviting readers to a deeper appreciation of this enchanting region’s food culture.

Saga Hirakawaya Takeo Onsen Main Store
7411 Takeo, Takeo-machi, Takeo City, Saga
• Hours: 10:00~16:30 L.O. (Shop hours 9:00~18:00)
• Closed: Year-end and New Year
• Vegetarian Menu (tax included): Yudofu Set Meal ¥2,500, Soy Milk Gelato ¥490

Saga Hirakawaya - Takeo Onsen head shop, 佐嘉平川屋武雄温泉本店

Fukuoka Now x Saga Prefectural Tourism Federation.
Support for restaurants that can accommodate vegetarians.
Official website: Enjoying Vegetarianism in Saga! Vegetarian Guidebook

Vegetarian Friendly Saga Prefecture – In Four Parts
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Vol. 01 Plant-Based in Saga: A Traveler’s Guide to Vegetarian Eats in Kyushu!
• Vol. 02 Savoring Saga: A Vegetarian Journey Through Soybean Cuisine and Onsen Yudofu
Vol. 03 Crafted to Taste: The Artful Intersection of Saga’s Vegetarian Cuisine and Ceramics
Vol. 04 From Farm to Table: Exploring Saga’s Vegetarian Delights
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Food & Drink
Saga Prefecture
Published: Mar 25, 2024 / Last Updated: Apr 5, 2024

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