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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.