This past weekend the City of Oakland hosted the Eat Real Fest in Jack London Square. There were food trucks galore, as well as various food vendor booths, demos, etc., etc., etc. It was a little bit of foodie paradise by the Bay for three days with all sorts of things to try (among them flavored salts and artisan sodas). I spied trucks from Napa and Sonoma and even Santa Rosa in attendance, not just the SF regulars that have been making the rounds, particularly at the Streat Food Park in SOMA.
In all honesty, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to go to the fest when my sister-in-law and foodie-in-crime forwarded an email announcement to me about it. Too crowded, I thought at first. But after checking out the schedule, I discovered a good reason to go–a demo by Hodo Soy owner Minh Tsai! So, I hauled my butt outta bed Sunday morning to trek over for his 11:30 am Tofu Making demo.
For an hour, Tsai talked about the history of tofu both in Asia and in the U.S., the economics of tofu, and, of course, the benefits of fresh, organically made tofu. I learned a few interesting tofu facts from his talk:
1) Tofu is made by heating soy milk and then adding a coagulant so it binds together. Most tofu really should be silken in texture – that’s what results from adding milk to a coagulant. The original coagulating ingredient used in China was likely vinegar. Today, natural chemical compounds are used–he used a calcium-based coagulant, whose name I’m blanking on right now–will look up later… (Ah, calcium sulfate…)
2) Tofu really wasn’t used widely in the U.S. until the 60s and 70s. It’s a hippie-era thang, which on some level comes as no surprise. And it has primarily been promoted here as a meat substitute rather than a complete protein in its own right. According to Tsai, tofu is usually eaten in combination with another protein source in China, not usually on its own like we do.
3) Firm tofu is an American thing. Another attempt at making tofu as meat-like as possible.
4) Tofu prices haven’t changed much in the past 20-30 years–which, economically speaking, is not a good thing for producers. They’re being paid less today to make a product whose prices have become commoditized. (A good reason to splurge on a specialty brand like Hodo–supports the producers more.)
Tsai demoed how to make both silken and firm tofu. Unflappable in the face of a couple of portable burners that didn’t want to heat up properly (and required 4 stage techs to come check the electrical–how many techs does it take to boil soy milk?), Tsai’s demo of the actual process took surprisingly little time. Once the soy milk was heated thoroughly, all he had to do was pour it into a bowl with the coagulant and presto change-o tofu appeared! It was even more instant than instant Jell-O or instant pudding. It literally took about 2 minutes to form a nice mass of silken tofu, which was then divvied up for the crowd to try in small, rectangular brown paper dishes, served with a dollop of Ma-Po sauce. People lined up to get the stuff. And it was really fresh and tasty–with the texture of a loose custard and just a hint of the bean flavor.
For the firm tofu, Tsai pulled out a tofu press that he said was available for order online in a tofu-making kit. The press was basically a wooden box with one open side that served as a lid/press. After making a second batch of the silken stuff, Tsai lined the box with a cheesecloth, broke up the silken mixture a bit with a large wooden spoon and then poured the mass into the box for pressing. He folded the top of the cheesecloth over the mass, and used the box top to press the tofu firm. The box also had drainage holes on the bottom so that the excess water could be pressed out of the block of tofu. After pressing and draining the silken for a couple of minutes, he removed the box top and unfolded the cheesecloth to reveal–voila–a tofu brick. This was also divvied and served up to the crowd with the sauce.
It was a fun demo–I’m inspired to sign up for a factory tour sometime. Tsai’s company, Hodo Soy, also had a booth at the fest, which I made a bee-line for immediately after the demo when I heard they had a kale and yuba salad for sale. It turned out to be even better than salad–kale pesto tossed with cold yuba, in the manner of a cold pasta salad. I am soooo going to try to make that–YUM!!