When Sava Goto was growing up in Japan (in the countryside of Hyogo prefecture), tofu was an integral part of her diet – mostly enjoyed in hotpots or miso soup, or boiled on its own. But since moving to Melbourne five years ago, she’s been unable to find any that measures up to what she ate at home.

“The texture is different, the taste is different,” she says. So she decided to take matters into her own hands.

“I went back to Japan two years ago to learn how to make tofu in Osaka,” says Goto. She spent two and a half weeks there working with a tofu expert to learn the ropes, but he said he could only help so much. “[He] was like, ‘The water in Melbourne is different, the climate is different’. His advice was to keep making it till I figure it out,” says Goto.

And that’s exactly what she did. Before officially opening Tofu Shoten’s physical store – a tiny shopfront inside Brunswick cafe Kines – in February, Goto spent nearly a year testing recipes for silken, fried, firm and smoked tofu; they were packaged and sold via Instagram or direct to Kines’s walk-in customers.

She also did some research to learn more about how tofu is served outside of Japan. “I didn’t know much about other countries’ tofu dishes when I came to Australia,” says Goto. “I didn’t even know salt-and-pepper tofu, so I’d try to go out and have different tofu dishes from Thai restaurants and Vietnamese restaurants.”

Goto uses non-GMO (genetically modified organisms) soybeans from Queensland to create her range of products, which includes Japanese-style tofu blocks plus a few items made with tofu by-products. Use the rich, semi-firm momen for hotpot, stir-frying or braising. The deep-fried atsuage is Goto’s pick for marinating and grilling. The light, super-silky kinugoshi tofu is perfect for salads, soups and desserts.

There’s also okara (soybean pulp), which is commonly used for baking and making miso. It also comes sauteed in a vegetarian Japanese side dish called unohana. She also sells soy milk, vegan soy butter and jars of a nutty, creamy spread made with kinako (roasted soybean powder), organic maple syrup and the Tofu Shoten butter.

When time and resources allow, Goto serves ready-to-eat tofu puddings, kinako-topped kuzumochi (a starchy, syrupy Japanese dessert) and other soybean-based snacks. The Tofu Shoten Instagram page is filled with Goto’s homemade tofu creations – from mapo-tofu-filled bread rolls to chocolate-tofu terrines to okara croquettes.

In addition to tofu’s versatility, one of the other things Goto wants to stress is just how hard it is to make. Although Tofu Shoten is only open three days a week, she is on-site prepping nearly every day. And the production is a one-woman operation.

“Many of the small tofu shops in Japan are closing because it’s easier to make in a factory,” she says. “I think it’s important not to lose the handmade process, but it is really labour-intensive. One batch takes four hours, at least.”

Since launching the brand last year, Goto’s attracted customers from across Melbourne (as far as Dandenong, she says) and typically sells out within hours of opening. But despite her success, she’s wary of upscaling – both to maintain the quality of her products and her passion for making them.

“I’m not willing to expand or anything,” says Goto. “I’ll keep it small, keep it local. When I sell out, I sell out.”

Tofu Shoten
11 Hope Street, Brunswick

Thu & Fri 12pm–4pm
Sat 9am–4pm