In my new book (what? You haven't ordered a copy yet? Have you been away? Has someone locked you the basement?), I briefly mention a remarkable 150 year old food producer I visited in Kyoto during our stay there.
This is FuKa, supplier of fu to his imperial majesty the Emperor of Japan.
What is fu? I hear you ask. Well, I had no idea either until Shuichiro Kobori, the son of the owner, kindly offered to show me round. Fu is wheat gluten, a doughy, chewy, largely flavourless substance used in Kyoto's traditional vegetarian cuisine Kyo Ryori – as a kind of bulky meat substitute in hot pot dishes or just fried.
It is made by constantly washing wheat dough so that the starch sinks to the bottom of the tank leaving behind the pure wheat gluten which they form into heavy, dense, rubbery bricks.
The secret of FuKa's superior fu is their ancient water source from a well in their back yard. As with Kyoto's superb sake and tofu, the cool, fresh mountain water with which this former royal capital is blessed helps make great food products.
As I said, fu is largely flavourless, so they add flavours and colours themselves. They were busy making chestnut fu when we were there, but were particularly proud of their contemporary flavours, including basil and bacon.
For me these kind of obscure – to us – food products (crispy tofu skin, was another) were one of the great thrills of travelling in Japan and I'll be returning to them in future posts.
No, sorry, you are just going to have to wait…