Making Tofu at Oakland’s Soy Beanery – Hodo Soy

It was love at first taste. I first found Hodo Soy at a Saturday morning farmer’s market in Berkeley, where I discovered their truly velvety fresh yuba (tofu skins). I had never been a fan of tofu products – not even while I was living in China. The squidgy texture always icked me out a bit. Every tofu product I’d ever tried was rubbery and bland, and frankly, just confusing to my palate.

What is tofu, anyway? *Poke, poke*

A single bite of Hodo Soy’s yuba completely changed my mind. I’d had yuba before in China but it was kind of a filler as far as I was concerned. Not this stuff. This is the tofu of legends, and it’s made locally from organic soybeans by a company that vehemently cares about its product and its people.

So like most of my love affairs, I fell hard and fast for Hodo Soy. I stocked up on it during my weekly trips to the Berkeley Bowl (for the uninitiated, it’s the world’s best grocery store, no exaggeration. It’s a foodie’s Mecca.), and it afforded me countless creative moments in the kitchen.

As my obsession escalated, I decided to follow my tongue and take my Hodo Soy stalking to the next level. I want to go to there. I had to go to Hodo Soy and make my own tofu. That’s what any rational being would do, right? Right?

I was practically bouncing up and down in my chair all day at work with anticipation for that evening when I’d go to Hodo Soy to see how they make their tofu, and hear self-proclaimed tofu master, Minh Tsai, talk tofu.

From Master Tsai, I learned that firm tofu is a construct that Americans came up with in the 80s, to increase shelf stability and give it a “meat” texture.  Doing so makes it more difficult to flavor, and Hodo Soy’s motto is that “tofu needs to taste good if people are going to eat it.” Today, three or four large tofu companies own 80-90% of the business, driving down price and quality.

That evening quality and flavor weren’t at stake. We feasted on incredible tofu dishes, one that riffed on taboulleh, mapo tofu, and an interpretation of pad thai, before heading into the beanery itself, armed with a cedar tofu press, cheesecloth, a baggie of calcium sulfate and hot soy milk.

Minh guided us through preparing our tofu press, lining it delicately with the cheesecloth. We heated the milk, and added water to the calcium sulfate, swirling it around until the water became milky and white. We poured the 150 degree F soy milk on top of the calcium sulfate from a foot and a half above, trusting that momentum would combine the two liquids evenly, without agitating the nascent tofu by stirring. Nervous eyes lowered to bowl level. Was the texture changing?

Two minutes later, we ran a whisk once through what had been liquid moments before and was now jiggly. Doing so separated the tofu curds from clear yellow liquid left behind. We gently ladled those curds into our tofu presses, folded it into the cheesecloth and began pressing slowly but firmly until no more liquid emerged.

Unwrapping the tofu gently was almost a godly experience. I had just made tofu. Not in a recipe, but from start to finish. There was a quiet sense of reverence in which I realized what a labor of love handmade tofu really is. Everything at Hodo Soy is made this way – lovingly, and with respect to ingredients.

Its name – Hodo – is so very appropriate. Ho, the Cantonese pronunciation of the character for good, and Do, or dou in Mandarin meaning bean. Hodo Soy’s products really are made from the best beans.

Have you ever taken a cooking class that inspired you and changed how you thought about food? Have you ever made something from scratch that you had previously only bought packaged in stores? I want to hear about it!

Hodo Soy Beanery (2923 Adeline Street, Oakland, CA. Though it’s only available on the West Coast now, Minh also has plans for an East Coast beanery, providing fresh tofu from that new hub as well.)

 Event organized by Slow Food East Bay.

6 comments

  1. Isabelle says:

    We took a chocolate making classes a few months ago in SF (through skillshare), and we learned so much about chocolate and making HEALTHY chocolate that tastes just as amazing as the less healthy version — with no sugar used at all (wild honey). :D

  2. Cat says:

    Great experience Kate, thanks so much for sharing!

    …and YES, Berkley Bowl really IS the most amazing grocery story ever. It’s a bit of a trek from my place but well worth it. :)

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