A Tofu lover's dream at Shika-Jaya, Hakone
Hakone is the ideal date- and sightseeing spot for Tokyoites as it's only about 1,5 hrs. away by train and offers the perfect formula for an out-of-city day trip. Whether your goal is to see the beautiful Mt. Fuji views, enjoy some of the best Onsen, or walk around sightseeing spots in Kimono; at the end of the day, everyone gets hungry! If you're a fan of Tofu and Yams, Shika-Jaya is the place for you!
When we talk about tofu in the West, a lot of people imagine a big, white block of wobbly tofu that they once bought after hearing their veggie friends rave about it, and chucked away after taking half a bite, raw and still floating in liquid... One of my go-to hashtags is #IfyoudontlikeTofuyoudontknowhowtoCookit
Tofu is just as versatile as any other meat or meat alternative, and it comes in many varieties that each allow for different ways to prepare and enjoy - You just need to know what to do with it!
Shika-Jaya, located in Hakone Yumoto, definitely does!
Having been around since the beginning of the Showa era (1933) when they functioned as a rest-house to the Onsen Hot Spring, they now pride themselves in serving the same authentic menu they served their guests back then, while at the same time offering great service and a true "experience"!
The history is definitely visible in the beautiful interior of the restaurant. From the traditional entrance, the decorations, the construction and the furniture, with a beautiful large irori table on the first floor, and the staff wearing kimono. Located in the center of Hakone Yumoto, 6 minutes away from the station, but around the corner of the busy street and next to a bridge with beautiful nature views, the location and restaurant itself are already worth a visit.
The second floor has individual rooms for reserved courses, whereas the first floor is walk-in only. There is no name-writing system as with many other restaurants, so we had to wait in line for about 30 minutes.
The menu in itself is not very Vegan friendly. Despite being based on Tofu and Yamaimo ("Japanese Mountain Yams"), most of the seasoning, stock or preparation methods include eggs and dashi. The staff is however very knowledgeable and knows exactly how to veganize each option. If you're looking for the ultimate Tofu experience, plan your visit and book at least two days ahead for the "ベジタリアンプラン〔全11品〕" Vegetarian/Vegan plan including 11 dishes, all suitable for Vegans. You need to book for at least 2 people and the plan will costs you ￥5000 p.p. including service fee and the fee for the individual room where you will enjoy this experience.
The staff do not speak English, for which they apologize both on their website and with a note in front of their shop, but especially the chef's wife is very passionate, knowledgeable and willing to help. If you bring the Vegan Passport or are able to say which foods you cannot have, you should be fine.
As we did not know the plan had to be booked in advance (#TeamRandom) we went ahead with the suggestion of the lady serving us, and ordered two smaller menu's that were either Vegan friendly or could be customized.
Tofu Tofu Tofu
Be prepared for a lot of tofu in all kinds and shapes! Although they use a lot of different styles and flavors, the flavors will be a lot more mild than you might be used at if you often eat meat replacements or at Vegan cafes. Whether this is their authentic style, or just the case with the Vegan options (they may rely on katsuo for their umami), I do not know. The menu includes plenty of food, but most of them are mildly flavored tofu and yam dishes - If you're not a HUGE fan of tofu, you may not find this very satisfying. In this case, I would recommend going for 1-2 individual Vegan options to enjoy with a bowl of rice*, rather than paying for a full menu.
*You can order a free refill of rice!
I personally found it a very enjoyable experience. The dishes make for an excellent inspiration for the big variety of delicious dishes you can create with a handful of simple ingredients like tofu, yams, spring onion, miso.
Some of the dishes come with a pestle, or are being steamed at your table, so you are getting in some action too!
Despite the reasonably big amount of food, we were hungry enough for a Tabe-aruki stroll down the streats of Hakone Yumoto. The menu is light, mild and very healthy. I loved the atmosphere, the service and enthusiasm of the owner's wife, the beautiful old restaurant, and the variety of the foods. Some of the dishes were very delicious and I would definitively consider booking the full menu course for a special occasion. I am not sure if I would bring first-time visitors or people who are not crazy about Tofu, as... that's pretty much what you'll get! Finish off with some of the traditional wagashi down the street and take some pickles, umeboshi plums or local crafts home as a souvenir, and your Hakone Day Trip is complete!
*COVID-19 note: Although the waiting area, where you have to line up as there is no reservation system was very social distancing un-friendly, the staff were very diligent in wearing masks and cleaning everything with alcohol. As they were preparing to close for lunch when we were visiting our meal, we could see them cleaning all the menu's, seats and door posts".*
Address: 640 Yumoto, Hakone-machi, Kanagawa-ken, Japan 250-0311
Access: 5 minute walk from the Hakone Yumoto station, next to the large bridge
Food: Traditional Tofu and Yamaimo based dishes
Price: Not cheap. ￥5000 for the 11-menu course, about ￥2300 for the 4-menu course. We were satisfied, but not full after this course (however, you can ask for more rice).
Service: The lady serving us was passionate, kind, knowledgeable and cheerful. The other lady, which we only called once as we quickly needed to confirm something, was not.
Location: Great location if you are sightseeing or entering an onsen in the area. Close to the station and surrounded by beautiful nature.
Overall: Although we were off to a slow start with the long waiting line where nobody knew what the order or system was (no name writing), the lady serving us was extremely kind, accommodating and knowledgeable on the menu. The food was delicious - some dishes more impressive than others. All in all, a very nice experience and a good option if you are sightseeing in the area and are willing to pay a bit more for a "not-everyday" meal rather than pizza, burgers, konbini food or some random wagashi snacks on the main street.