Rather than a "vegetable filled steamed bun" as written on the board, this manju is more like okara shaped like a bun. A natural soy fragrance greeted us as we pry open the bun, only to see that there was none of the typical shredded vegetables but full of okara, a kind of soy bean dish that you can only find in Japan. It is a common obanzai (home cooked dish) that is made with mashed tofu, vegetables, mirin and sake. Soft and fluffy with a subtle sweetness, this savoury manju is so delicious that I would never forget the taste.
But the experience goes beyond the rustic bun. Each order comes with a cup of hot black bean tea but when it was my turn, the thermoflask ran out of tea. So the old granny turned her severely hunched back and walk to the back to fetch another thermo flask. I wanted to tell her that it is alright to do without tea but she went out of sight before I could open my mouth. About three minutes later, she gradually made her way back to the storefront, trudging slowly as she lugged the heavy thermoflask that added pressure on her frail body.
Instead of one cup of tea, she dished me a tray with two cups of hot fragrant tea. Perhaps it was because she felt bad to keep customers waiting. Or perhaps she noticed my father standing at the side together with me. In any case, this was a nice simple touch that made a difference to my day.
I wanted to have a chat with her but I couldn't as she was busy attending to other customers. But in my heart, I felt very happy for her. She might be in her 80s or 90s already but still continue to work hard and serve any customers (be it local or tourists) with sincerity and passion. The tofu manju is mostly likely made from the kitchen of Okutan, a renowned tofu zen cuisine establishment in Kyoto, but I'm sure it would have tasted different if I were to have it inside the restaurant.
I hope the next time I return, I can still taste the buns that are served by this old lady.
Tofu Manju Shop (Right next to Yudofu Okutan ゆどうふ 奥丹清水)
3-340 Kiyomizu, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto