By: Jay Friedman – Ethnic Seattle
March 22, 2016
You can find tofu blocks and other soy and tofu products at Seattle’s tofu stores. These makers sell tofu blocks made daily, which means a grassier flavor (as compared to sourness, a sign of aging). Your support benefits the local tofu-maker. And it benefits you, as tofu is high in protein, calcium and potassium while low in cholesterol (none, though that changes if you fry it!) and cost.
Thanh Son is a Vietnamese tofu-maker doing a bustling business. If you’re looking for blocks of tofu, they sell one type: a fairly firm large loaf. You’ll find these wrapped and likely warm on a central table of products that also includes containers of soy milk, plain or sweetened. Nearby is a “buffet bar” of many flavors of fried tofu (try the lemongrass-chili) that you bag yourself and buy by the pound. You can also try their tofu in a delicious banh mi as part of their variety of $3 sandwiches. Also look for tofu pudding with ginger syrup.
Northwest Tofu is a Chinese tofu store and restaurant. A lone cooler contains a surprising number of tofu products, ranging from tofu puffs (delicious in laksa), fried tofu, tofu skins (try them pan-fried in the restaurant, served with sweet and sour sauce), five spice dry tofu (the only place to find it fresh in Seattle; it’s chewy and nice with noodles—though there’s also a product called tofu noodles!), deep-fried tofu pockets (great for soups, or stuffing with rice to make inari), and even tofu they call veggie chicken as a meat substitute. You might have to ask for the tofu blocks, which come medium firm and soft. The soft tofu (very close to silken, and therefore popular with the Japanese community) costs $2 for three cubes and like goldfish comes in plastic bags full of water. Soy milk is available until it sells out, usually at lunchtime, and there’s tofu pudding—used by Koreans to put in chigae stews, and available in a sweet or savory preparation in the dining room.
You can find Thanh Son products at almost all of local major Asian grocery stores (such as Uwajimaya, H Mart, Viet Wah, Central Market and 99 Ranch Market), while Northwest Tofu sells at Asian Food Center and Uwajimaya. Further your tofu education at stores like Uwajimaya, which sells tofu from pre-product (soymilk) to byproduct (okara and yuba), and also stocks soft to extra-firm Mori-nu Silken Tofu from Morinaga in unrefrigerated boxes that boast a long shelf life. I like the silken variety (preferably fresh from Northwest Tofu) when eating tofu “raw,” topped with salted kombu or as hiya yakko topped with green onion, ginger and soy sauce.
But, ultimately, choose the type of tofu you like best. Ma po tofu is perhaps my favorite food in the world (far from a vegetarian, I love the way tofu plays with ground pork, and I’m a spice fiend), and I’m happy to have the dish with either momen or kinu tofu. After all, variety is the spice of life.