Shojin Ryori—Fit for a Stoic Gourmet
Lunch at Izusen in Kyoto. Inspired by the kitchens of Buddhist monasteries, Shojin Ryori is light, imaginative and delicious vegan cuisine, and Izusen is one of the best places to enjoy it. Set in Kyoto’s magnificent Daitokuji monastery, it is one of my favorite restaurants to take visitors.
We began the meal with a bowl of whisked and frothy green tea and a sweet made from the roots of the Warabi fiddlehead fern and sprinkled with sweetened roasted soy powder.
The tea was followed by a shot of plum wine.
The first food course consisted of steamed canola flowers (similar to broccoli) seasoned with rice vinegar and miso. Also in the same dish were cold vegetables mixed with thick soy cream.
This course was a combination of lily roots, bits of a kind of tofu and mushrooms, all set in a kudtzu sauce. Yes, kudtzu that “adorns” the highways of Georgia gives us a wonderful thick sauce, and is a native of Japan.
Beginning at the top and going clockwise, a river vegetable and Japanese sansho pepper corns, followed by a pink block of rice mixed with lily roots, a soybean cake that amazingly imitated the tastes of fish, a grilled wheat gluten cake covered in white miso that was skewered with a fine bamboo stick shaped like pine needles and a bundle of fuki, a crunchy stemmed vegetable, wrapped in yuba, made from soy milk.
Tofu made with sesame is a old Kyoto favorite and it was followed by a dish of tempura made with lotus root, shitake mushroom, bamboo shoot and burdock root.
The final course was a soy dumpling containing vegetables and a ginko nut, Japanese pumpkin squash, a roll of soy milk yuba topped with a pink plum blossom made from wheat gluten.
For the rice and soup ending, we enjoyed fragrant rice infused with bamboo shoots, topped with a sprig of sansho pepper leaves and a shitake mushroom clear soup with a hint of yuze citron peel flavor.