Some say that the appreciation for tofu is an acquired taste. You either like it or you don’t. Of course, that is being simplistic. What you like, or don’t, is not something that happened overnight. Rather, it is the result of years and years of eating habits which, in turn, are influenced by culture, economic status and even social prejudices.
Social prejudices? Well, yes. Think of canned sardines and how some affluent people (I know a lot, actually) refuse to eat it because canned sardines have a reputation for being poor folks’ food. Just like galunggong or kangkong or just about anything that, by socio-economic standards, is dirt cheap. Of course, there’s no really such thing as dirt cheap these days but that’s another story.
Anyway… growing up in the Philippines, I ate a lot of tofu as a child because my grandfather loved Chinese food. In college, it was quite a shock to discover that a lot of people my age didn’t touch tofu because, to them, it was a mere extender — something you add to meat when you don’t have enough money to feed everyone with good quality meat. Goodness gracious, I thought, what a convoluted idea.
But, perhaps, it’s not entirely their fault for thinking that way. Many Filipino cooks have that attitude — treat tofu as an extender (even I did when the occasion called for it). And with the rise of vegetarianism and veganism later, tofu acquired a new purpose. It was no longer just an extender, it was a complete substitute for meat. Suddenly, tofu was no longer poor folks’ food — it was something fashionable.
The truth is, I feel bad for tofu to be treated as an extender or even as a substitute. It is not something one resorts to because he can’t have the real thing for reasons of economics, food politics or health. Tofu is a class all its own. And when one learns to appreciate it that way, tofu becomes a whole new culinary adventure.
- 1 cake of silken tofu, cut into 2-inch cubes
- a small handful of finely sliced onion leaves
- about half a cup of cooking oil for frying
- 1 tbsp. of oyster sauce (for strict vegetarians, there are vegetarian oyster sauces)
- 1 tbsp. of hoisin sauce
- 1 tsp. of chili-garlic sauce
- 1 tsp. of light soy sauce
- juice of a quarter of a lemon
- Heat the cooking oil and fry the tofu cubes until lightly browned. Scoop out and transfer to a plate.
- Pour off the oil from the pan. The remaining oil that coats the bottom should be enough to cook the onion leaves in.
- Reheat the pan. Cook the onion leaves for about 30 seconds and push to one side.
- Pour in the oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, chili-garlic sauce and light soy sauce. Stir.
- Add the tofu cubes to the pan. Toss with the green onions and cook for another 30 seconds or just until heated through.
- Off the heat, squeeze in the lemon juice and toss a few more times. Serve the silken tofu with four sauces hot. With rice or by itself.