Now in my thirties, I have clear memories of curling up on my grandfather’s lap, back when I was a small child. He’d sit on a old wooden bed and smoke a china bowl pope, his ancient shriveled hands breaking grilled tofu into pieces and dipping the morsels into salt.
As a child, I thought that the tofu chinks looked unappealing, but the adults seemed to enjoy eating them. It was common to see cylclo drivers eating this dish by the roadside during their breaks at the time Hai Phong still had many flamboyant trees and low small houses. If I shut my eyes I can still smell the scent of grilling tofu.
Even today grilled tofu is still offered in cheap beer bar, where customers enjoy its pungent taste. Tofu is used in all sorts of ways. Dried boiled or steamed. This ingredient however is rarely served at feasts or fancy dinners.
Most Vietnamese people consider tofu to be humble fare. It is cheap and readily available. In Asia, people have been making food from soy beans for century. Tofu and other soy products are associated with devout Buddhists, who are vegetarian for religious reasons. Soy products are used to make meat substitutes that sometimes look and taste just like meat.
Visit any market in Vietnam and you will see women selling Tofu out of flat baskets. Shoppers come to know who make the best tofu and popular vendors sell out early. In Hanoi, Dau Mo (Tofu from Mo Market) is considered a specialty, like basil from Lang Village or soy sauce from Ban Village.
The Tofu makers in Mo Village have their own secret, although all tofu contains similar ingredients. Perhaps the tofu in Mo Village observe better standards of quality control, using better ingredients and refusing to cut corners to obtain a short term profit. Making Tofu is time consuming. Producers are up most of the night in order to get their tofu to market at dawn. First one must grind the soy beans then filter them before cooking, cooling packaging compressing and peeling the resulting tofu. Each step requires careful and experienced hands.
Today, the old villages of Ke Mo are but a memory. The streets feature narrow shop-house and high rises. Even Mo Market is long gone, having been demolished to build a shopping centre. Food Lovers in Hanoi, however still recall the excellent of Mo tofu
Tofu Makers produce a range of products. The output of their first step of production is Tao pho, a white, condensed pudding that is serve as a dessert with sweet syrup. Very popular with women, this is a good snack on a hot summer day. In northern Vietnam, Tao Pho sellers often ride bicycles with a barrel of Tao Pho behind them. The vender uses a flat spoon to ladle thin layers of Tao pho into a bowl before adding syrup.
Today as people are increasingly affluent, the more sophisticated Japanese style of Tofu is gaining popularity. The purest product of the tofu cooking process this type of soft tofu may be found on buffet tables and at fancy feasts. In my view, this type of tofu is too soft, breaking apart as soon as one takes a bite. For daily fare, I prefer the ordinary, traditional Vietnamese tofu.
Some afternoons, I sit at a roadside restaurant under a flamboyant tree and enjoy the rich taste of grilled tofu flavored with turmeric. This dish never fails to remind me of my childhood. Good food need not be expensive. Good food is food that is eaten at the right time and place and that makes you feel good
This article is written by Lan Nguyen, from Vietnam Heritage Travel