Among the terrific unintended consequences of going on the book tour were the local tofu tips that people volunteered. Before I left for the Pacific Northwest, I got insights from tofu lovers. On the road, some people shared their favorite sources for good local stuff, particularly in Seattle.
Beatriz S. already owned the book and had signed up for the DIY tofu class at Book Larder in Seattle. She’d read the book and sent me a “Welcome to Seattle!” email with a list and comments on local options. After I got to the city, Seattle Times staff food writer Nancy Leson also shared her picks, and so did chef/restaurateur Eric Banh and authors Pat Tanumihardja and Michael Natkin. I was delighted to have all these people on the tofu train! I had a rental car and took a look myself in Seattle. Even if you don’t live in the cities covered in this post, you’ll glean ideas for finding good Asian food and ingredients.
Northwest Tofu and Chu Minh Tofu
Seattle’s International District (“ID”) on Jackson Street is where a number of the city’s Asian markets are. It’s scruffy and is slowly being upgraded. Drive up the hill and under the overpass and things may seem somewhat downtrodden and ghetto. But around 7th, Viet Wah market has an okay selection of tofu. Skip it and drive a little further to a nondescript strip mall for Chu Minh tofu. I’d bought Chu Minh’s tofu at Uwajimaya grocery store and it was very good a little on the too firm side to be “firm”. It’s sold on Styrofoam trays wrapped in plastic. To get the very fresh stuff, you can pop into the shop itself and buy from a bean curd source.
Continue further up Jackson to 20th, outside of the ID. There’s a gem called Northwest Tofu. I like this place because (1) they make some exceptional products and (2) they sell dumplings. How can I not love a tofu and dumpling shop? Order tofu products at the counter or grab it from the fridge. Food such as dumplings and salt and pepper tofu need to ordered from the stuaff.
They sell Chinese-style tofu directly from the store, which advertises itself as a deli and restaurant. What I loved was the seasoned pressed tofu (in the lead photo) that’s brown on the outside from being marinated in soy sauce and spices. There’s a thin and thick one. The thick one is tender and creamy on the inside and well-flavored, resembling excellent pressed tofu (dou fu gan) in Taiwan. I cut slices of it to nibble on, drop into noodle soup and tuck into sandwiches.
Eric Banh used the thinner firmer brown tofu (it’s just pressed harder) to stir-fry with rapini and roast duck at Monsoon restaurant’s Asian Tofu luncheon. The fresh tofu was of medium-firm texture, sold in a plastic bag just like in Asia. I used the soy milk to make short cut tofu and it was just fine, though a bit more watery than Thanh Son’s.
What I didn’t get to try from Northwest tofu was their fresh tofu skin. They’re one of the few small shops in America that make tofu skin (often called by its Japanese name, yuba). Nancy Leson said it was phenomenal. They’d run out when I got there, they said. Here’s a photo that Nancy ran with her 2011 tofu story in the Seattle Times.
Thanh Son Tofu
I picked up some of Thanh Son’s soy milk at Uwajimaya for shortcut tofu at the Book Larder class, where I compared it to tofu I made using from scratch soy milk. It was very good soy milk, a tad better than Northwest Tofu’s. I tracked down the factory on 12th, which was easily noticed by the mural on the side of the road.
Alas, it was not open that day, a Tuesday; chains on the doors made the point. A bit of tofu gossip from Eric: Thanh Son will be opening a new and larger facility soon.
Since I didn’t get to try Thanh Son tofu from the Seattle shop, I’ll provide you with Beatriz’s comments:
This is my favorite fresh tofu store - I keep going back again and again.
It’s owned by Vietnamese people. They sell fantastic tofu pudding, with pandan flavor and plain with ginger syrup. Their blocks of tofu and soy milk are somehow always warm when I go there, it doesn’t matter which time of the day. They don’t even keep them in the refrigerated section - I assume it sells before there’s a need for that. They also have fried tofu with different flavors, but those I prefer to fry myself at home.
In addition to tofu, they serve some prepared foods and sell Vietnamese ingredients. You can get their tofu at Uwajimaya (the big Asian chain supermarket in the area) but it’s not nearly as fresh. Always refrigerated, never warm.
What Thanh Son does is very Vietnamese. It’s different from Northwest Tofu, which is Chinese, and Chu Minh, which is in somewhere in between.
Philip and Jun Jo Lee of Readers to Eaters told me about Tofu 101 that just opened in Bellevue. I didn’t get a chance to stop by but people I queried said that it was very Taiwanese, though they didn’t have stinky tofu or tofu noodles, per current Yelp reviews. Their website is not helpful. Tofu 101 sells Taiwanese snacks for the somewhat tony Chinese population in Bellevue.
For Japanese style tofu, try Tacoma tofu, which I bought in tubs at Uwajimaya. Labeled momen (cotton in Japanese), the medium-firm was lovely and tender. The firm was great too. Tacoma’s website has photos of their factory shop floor, in case you’re interested in the tofu-making process.
Vancouver and Portland
In Vancouver, there were mostly Chinese-style shops. I spent nearly 20 minutes at T&T market in Chinatown trying to figure it all out. There’s a tofu ghetto in the back of the spic-and-span store (one in the major Canadian chain) and I got stuck there in bewilderment.
The labeling in Canada for tofu texture is not the same as in the US. It tends to be softer, with a silky-firm texture due to combining gypsum and glucono delta lactone. The best way for me to figure out the textures was through the protein count on the average serving. See the little table in Asian Tofu in the “Buying Guide” section.
The tofu that I was most impressed by in Vancouver on this visit was a smoked pressed tofu made by Sunrise Soya. It’s as good as what I had in Sichuan China. It tasted like smoked gouda and is what I used for the stir-fried smoked tofu, pepper and pork that I demoed on City TV in Vancouver. You’ll see it there on screen. Sunrise is a tofu powerhouse in western Canada. I saw their products sold in Seattle’s Asian markets too, though the smoked tofu was nowhere to be found in the U.S. I took some across the border to eat in Washington State.
In Portland, I found Japanese-style Ota tofu at Whole Foods in downtown. It looked really good. Years ago, Oregonian food columnist and writer Ivy Manning took me to Thanh Son, which had great Vietnamese-style deep fried lemongrass tofu. I also noticed Bui Natural Tofu but didn’t get a chance to check it out.
That’s my tofu roundup from the road. Do you have thoughts on these spots or have ones to add? We’d all love to know your insights.