Saturday, September 3, 2016

A NEW REFLECTION: "To Fu, or Not Tofu?"

"Tofu With Soy Sauce And Carrot" by Chris 73
(see end of post for full attribution)
To Fu, or Not Tofu?
by Judith Cullen
© 2016

As time passes, our relationships change.  I cherish memories of the righteous freedom of my child and young adulthood, when my head was still filled with questions of "how" and "why" instead of bearing the time-inflicted patina of doubt. Yet, every now and again I surprise myself. I find myself embracing something new in a new way, and I feel that young excitement again.  Today it was tofu.

I was introduced to the curd in the 1970s. Back in those times buying lettuce in the produce section, a single side of an aisle and not even a full one, meant purchasing the sphere of green known as iceberg.  There were no other options.  Since there were Caesar Salads there had to have been romaine, and I am sure there were gardens bountiful with green leaf varietals, and red.  They might have even existed in my little fenced-yard of the world.  I just didn't know about them. They were not a part of my formative gastronomic experiences.

One day there appeared in our produce aisle a white mass of something encased in a plastic container.  With typical childlike directness I pointed at it and said, "What is THAT?" in a volume that would penetrate a crowded football stadium.  My Mom answered off-handedly, "That's bean curd" in the same tone she might use to describe the wash water after you had scrubbed the kitchen floor.  I was perplexed.  How would you curd a bean, and why? Mom would not speak of it further.  It was clear that she did not consider it real food.

My future relationship with tofu was defined by that moment.  As a newly minted professional, I remember meeting a couple who were vegetarians and ate tofu. The "he" of the couple especially enjoyed quipping us carnivores about tofu "weenies" in an attempted double entendre. I just could not understand how something that looked like a primary school glue bottle experiment could be tasty, much less nutritious.  But it is a big global table, and there should be a place for everyone.  So I let the tofu lovers have their place without derision or condescension.  They were welcome to my portion of bean curd.

Yet, as we know, with the passing of time can come many transformations.  What once seemed an inviolate reality can alter, the only constant in a dynamic universe being change.  Recently, I went into a new local eatery and was fascinated to try a new spin on hash.  Now, I know and you know that "hash" is in truth an approach to preparation, like poaching or broiling.  You take all sorts of bits of stuff and you chop them up small, then you fry them up in a skillet.  Most people think of meat and potatoes hash, though when we were little Mom would often put all the leftovers of a pot roast in the meat grinder for homemade hash.  So we would have carrots and bits of onion in ours.

"Tofu Cooked Chinese Style" by  Andrew Lih
(see end of post for full attribution)
This hash had different things in its base, so I was intrigued.  There were carrots, and sweet peppers.  It all sounded very interesting, so I ordered it.  It was delicious.  It had been fried with some generous bits of stalk-y parsley, but once I picked those out it was quite delicious.  I forked a particularly savory cube of seasoned something into my mouth and thought, "That's really good.  What is it?"  I swallowed and the realization washed over me, and I urgently asked the neighboring table if I could look at one of their menus for a moment.  Sure enough, that savory bit was tofu.

Just within the last week I was at a local specialty store and found myself excited that they had Thai style salad rolls in the prepared foods cooler.  I love salad rolls!  Doesn't matter whether it is chicken or shrimp, with a quantity of decent peanut sauce I will schlump down a mess of salad rolls, and happily lick my fingers afterward.  The options in the cooler were shrimp, or tofu.  Now, I had a long drive across the county to get home with a few stops to make on the way, and it was an oppressively hot day.  We've all heard stories about deadly shrimp consumption.  I decided, with a slight reluctance, to play it safe and purchase the tofu rolls.  They turned out to be delicious.

It's a small victory, I think, changing my perspective on tofu.  It gives me hope that I might not be getting rigid in my middle age - or maybe quite as rigid.  After all, I am not yet giving up my love of meats.  But I am willing to partake of a new taste, prepared in an enticing manner.  I am sure that tofu has come a long way in America's ever adaptive cuisine in the decades since that first encounter with it: nestled there, almost embarrassed,  at the end of the grocery aisle amidst the green and the leafy.  And me?  It seems I have come a long way as well.


 Wikimedia Commons image "Tofu With Soy Sauce And Carrot" is from the user Chris 73 and is freely available at // under the creative commons cc-by-sa 3.0 license license. 

"Tofu cooked Chinese style, Beijing, China" {{cc-by-sa-2.0}} by Andrew Lihis also available on Wikimedia Commons

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