A friend lent me his copy of Old Kyoto by Diane Durston - a guide to traditional shops, restaurants and inns. The information is beautifully woven together with stories of family establishments, some that have been in business for over ten generations. I love this book so much that I had to get my own copy. I was able to visit a few of the places listed, and Yubahan was one of them.
According to Old Kyoto, Yubahan began making yuba (soy milk skin) in 1716, and the old wooden structure was reconstructed after a fire in 1864. Yuba can be purchased fresh or dried and is said to contain the highest concentration of protein found in any natural food.
Through an unusual string of serendipitous events, I ventured out at sunrise one morning to go to Yubahan and watch the making of yuba. I was offered a seat by a small heater and a little dish of fresh yuba drizzled with soy sauce. After the soybeans are soaked overnight, ground, and boiled for hours, they are pressed through cheesecloth. The extracted milk is then placed in heated vats, thin sheets begin to form on the surface, and then are deftly swept up with wooden sticks.
This was the moment when I wished more than anything that I could communicate. One day while in Kyoto, I had a conversation with a woman that was in the exact order it had unfolded on a Japanese language CD I’d tried before the trip (it happened once, and never again, but it was fun while it lasted!). While sitting in the steam-filled shop, I made every possible attempt to get by. We used a pocket dictionary and a lot of gestures, they showed me an article about Yubahan in Bon Appetit, and somehow, with an excessive amount of thanking and a little confusion, a conversation was had.