Sunday, June 22, 2008

Tofu: an inquiry.

The other night, the historian and I were in East-West Connection, a restaurant I like very much, in part because of the mint they put in the Bun Cha Gao, which is mmm delicious. For a starter, we ordered the vegetarian Imperial Rolls which featured "Julienne of vegetables, rice noodles and tofu strings, rolled in soft rice paper and served in a rich bean sauce."

Now, I'm not quite sure why I consented to this, because you guys, I really am not a fan of tofu. It all started when I made a salad from one of the Moosewood cookbooks, which are wonderful--I highly recommend them. I was something of a smarty-pants graduate student, and I'm sure I thought I was about to blow everyone's mind with the expanded culinary horizons and whatnot. The recipe was some upstate-New-York-in-the-1980s version of a Vietnamese salad; it called for all manner of stuff I didn't have, however, and it was my very, very first experience (of not too many, as it turned out) cooking with tofu. I sliced, I diced, I chopped, I assembled, I dressed this salad, and I set it forth.

This was back in the day, and my then-husband took just one bite and then could go no further. And I don't blame him, not one bit: the dish had not only tofu, at which I was inexperienced, and therefore it had only its own sorry, spongy nature to draw upon, but the whole dish had an unhappy, and no doubt excessive, dose of dark sesame oil. It was a dark, dark day in the megastore kitchen, let me tell you: the food that went to waste! the horror of the spongy and the pungent!

In fact, "not a fan" is really not accurate. On that dark day, tofu became anathema to me.

Lest a thousand vegetarians descend upon this blog like a wolf upon the fold, let me pause to note the following:
  1. one bad tofu experience is surely inadequate evidence for declaring tofu "anathema."
  2. I should give tofu another try.
  3. flash-frying! flash-frying!
  4. with tofu, it's all about the context.
I will concede that I have since had better tofu than the horrible Vietnamese-styled salad of the dark days of yore. Yet I feel that tofu has never--not once!--shone its glimmering light upon my palate so that I can find it in the least bit enjoyable. Endurable, yes. I can see how you might stumble upon the idea of turning beans into curd (what? curd?) and then eating it as a humble yet hearty sustenance. But enjoyable? Delightful? No. Not even. The most thrilling flash-fryer of tofu, who then bathes the tofu in the most heavenly of sauces, accompanied by a soupcon of herbs and a lightly crushed peanut, cannot take the curd out of the tofu, and I say unto you, tofu is for the birds. I shall not eat it.

Not even rolled in delicate rice papers along with julienne of vegetables and rice noodles, accompanied by a very, very wealthy bean sauce. Tofu is tofu, and we have made an uneasy truce: I will allow that it has its virtues as long as it never tries to press any claim of deliciousness on me. It stays on its side of the table, and I stay on mine.


  1. Exactly how I feel about shrimp.ewwwwwwwww.

  2. I agree that with tofu context is everything. And that texture is number one. You can only buy the extra firm. Then, you have to put oil in a pan, make sure it is hot, and fry it until it is crispy.
    Myself, I like tofu. Son used to eat it, uncooked, from the cutting board. Because really, it has no flavor. It's only as good as its dish and/or sauce. I love it in Pad Seiw (probably spelled wrong...) and other Thai dishes. Again, it's the sauce.
    Now, if you want to talk about tempeh....

  3. I've tried it fried, I've tried it marinated, I've tried it cooked by veggie friends who know better than me. And still it sits there in my mouth. Like sponge.

    Tofu kids, just say no.



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