Tofu

It’s happened: I’ve gone an entire week without blogging about food.  But I can’t help myself any longer.  I have to talk about my new relationship with tofu.

I’ve been a vegetarian for about 13 or 14 years.  For the first few years, I relied on meat substitutes like Chik Nuggets and veggie burgers.  (I still have a soft spot for veggie sausage patties, especially when layered with a toasted bagel, egg over medium, and cheddar cheese.)  Only gradually did I begin cooking from scratch, trying out tofu, tempeh, seitan, and other interesting foods. Extra-firm tofu is the newbie’s point of departure: it holds its shape in a pan or on the grill, can be marinated like more familiar things like chicken, and has a satisfying texture when you get around to eating it.  Soft tofu was never something I understood.  It intimidated me.  Die-hard vegans swear by it for desserts, sauces, a realm I’ve yet to venture into.  But now I’ve looked at it, I’ve bought it, and I’ve eaten it.  With pleasure.

The most important think I learned in Korea was that soft tofu can be delightful in its simplest form.  At breakfast, a vast ceramic dish would hold artfully terraced slices of soft tofu.  Next to the tofu sat a small dish of sauce.  Spooned over the tofu, it was the perfect accompaniment to the tender tofu: soy sauce, a little sesame oil, maybe a few scallions.

My last morning in Seoul, after our trip to Beijing, I again had soft tofu for breakfast.  This time, instead of a dish of sauce, there were three tiny pitchers: one for soy sauce, one for sesame oil, and one for chili oil.  Again, simple and perfect.

So just now, back in my very American apartment, I got pretty hungry.  I opened the fridge, took out the tofu, and cut a few thin slices.  Poured over some soy sauce and the tiniest drizzle of sesame sauce.  Ate half of it standing over the kitchen counter, ravenous and happy.  Finished the rest sitting down like a civilized person.  Still feeling content and satisfied from my new friend, soft tofu.

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