Top

dining

Stories

 

NYC Tofu Guide: A Springy Food for Spring

Isn’t bean curd the blandest substance on earth? Not on your life!

If you’ve been pounding back steaks, chops, and burgers all winter in response to an animal need to ingest massive amounts of meat and fat, now’s the time to lighten up your diet. And what better way than by concentrating on meat’s opposite, tofu?

Wait a minute! Isn’t bean curd the blandest substance on earth? Fit for vegetarians and dyspeptics, who treat it as a main course only because there’s almost nothing else? Not on your life! In its myriad forms, bean curd is the equivalent of the diverse flesh of animals, with a protein content of about half what meat has, a similarly high iron content, and a lot less fat. Like meat, it can serve many roles in cooking.

But what the hell is it anyway? Tofu was invented during the Han Dynasty around the time of Christ, when a scientific team at the emperor’s direction went looking for new medicines. They discovered that by crushing, soaking, and boiling dried soybeans, a milky liquid was formed that could be coagulated by adding a variety of starters, including vinegar, hydrated calcium sulfate, and magnesium chloride. The resulting flocculent substance had a pleasing mild flavor, and, as the years went by, dozens of culinary uses were found for it. Eventually, it was welcomed into other Asian countries, often transmitted along with East Asian forms of Buddhism.

Lemon it, bake it, eat it: Angelica Kitchen's tofu sandwich
Danielle Hyland
Lemon it, bake it, eat it: Angelica Kitchen's tofu sandwich
Tofu gets fresh at Hibino in Cobble Hill.
Danielle Hyland
Tofu gets fresh at Hibino in Cobble Hill.

Location Info

Map

East Harbor

726 65th St.
Brooklyn, NY 11220

Category: Restaurant > Dim Sum

Region: Sunset Park

Hibino Japanese Restaurant

333 Henry St.
Brooklyn, NY 11201

Category: Restaurant > Japanese

Region: Brooklyn

EN Japanese Brasserie

435 Hudson St.
New York, NY 10014

Category: Restaurant > Japanese

Region: Greenwich Village

BCD Tofu House

5W 32nd St
New York, NY 10001

Category: Restaurant > Korean

Region: Garment District

Black Shack Burger

320 Lexington Ave.
New York, NY 10016

Category: Restaurant > Burgers

Region: Murray Hill

Calexico Restaurante

122 Union St.
Brooklyn, NY 11231

Category: Restaurant > Mexican

Region: Soho

Spring Street Natural Restaurant

62 Spring St.
New York, NY 10012

Category: Restaurant > New American

Region: Soho

Angelica Kitchen

300 E. 12th St.
New York, NY 10003

Category: Restaurant > Vegetarian

Region: East Village

The Island of Taiwan

6817 Eighth Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11220

Category: Restaurant > Chinese

Region: Bay Ridge

Main Street Imperial Taiwanese Gourmet

59-14A Main St.
Flushing, NY 11355

Category: Restaurant > Chinese

Region: Flushing

Jing Fong Restaurant

20 Elizabeth St.
New York, NY 10013

Category: Restaurant > Chinese

Region: Chinatown

Ennju

20 E. 17th St.
New York, NY 10003

Category: Restaurant > Japanese

Region: Union Square

Golden Palace

140-09 Cherry Ave.
Flushing, NY 11355

Category: Restaurant > Chinese

Region: Flushing

Details

Related Stories

More About

If you want to experience the excitement of that original Chinese scientific team, seek out those restaurants that make their own bean curd and serve it fresh. Dim sum specialists like East Harbor Seafood Palace (714 65th Street, Brooklyn, 718-765-0098) make it in a big crock with wooden staves, then wheel it around the dining room. When you order a bowl, a sweet ginger syrup is poured over the top. Japanese restaurants Hibino (333 Henry Street, Brooklyn, 718-260-8052) and En Japanese Brasserie (435 Hudson Street, 212-647-9196) offer fresh tofu made just hours before it’s served, and you’ve never tasted anything so fresh. Trickle on the light soy sauce!

The city also boasts a string of Korean tofu houses that treat the newly made product in remarkable ways. In contrast to the Japanese, who usually like to leave it plain in its icy elegance, Koreans load on the sesame oil and chile peppers—and sometimes the meat, too, so watch out, since our purpose here is to suggest vegetarian dishes. BCD Tofu House (17 West 32nd Street, 212-967-1900) in Koreatown specializes in the soupy tofu called soon dubu served with a variety of add-ins, including pickled vegetables and a kim chee that will really clear your sinuses. Sunnyside’s Natural Bean Curd (40-06 Queens Boulevard, Queens, 718-706-0899) is every bit as good. Both places serve a free selection of mainly vegetarian pan chan before and during the meal, along with big bowls of white or brown rice.

For tofu just a bit more mature, yet still in its simple, jiggly state, check out the tofu burger at Black Shack (320 Lexington Avenue, 212-213-0042). I usually deplore all the prefab and overprocessed patties that masquerade as veggie burgers, but this fabrication is great, a pillowy tofu square that has absorbed smoke from flame grilling and emerged with black stripes just like a normal hamburger, every bit as flavorful and an eerie shade of dusky white.

Also deserving prizes in the creative uses of curd is Calexico Carne Asada (122 Union Street, Brooklyn, 718-488-8226, other locations), which features a tofu asado taco smeared with great fresh salsa, while old-timer Spring Street Natural Restaurant (62 Spring Street, 212-966-0290)—a place left over from downtown’s hippie days—cuts a tofu cheesecake that’s inspired such august imitators as Nobu. Bean curd can also be transformed by marinating it in lemon and baking it, which is the way Angelica Kitchen (300 East 12th Street, 212-228-2909) makes its tofu sandwich so delectable. The parsley-almond pesto doesn’t hurt, either.

At this point, things start getting a bit gnarly. There’s a product sometimes known as Chinese cheese that involves fermenting curd, sometimes for weeks, until it has the vomitous odor of durian. You may not believe this, but in spite of the smell, the flavor is perfectly tolerable, even good, especially when served with a spicy dipping sauce or topped with an equally pungent wad of kim chee. This aged curd is available in most Taiwanese restaurants, but you have to ask for it. Request “stinky tofu” in Bay Ridge at Island of Taiwan (6817 Eighth Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-680-0033) or in Flushing at Main Street Imperial Taiwanese Gourmet (59-14a Main Street, Queens, 718-886-8788).

Indeed, using tofu as a raw material, or extracting by-products during its production, results in many strange and inspired forms. One of the best is tofu skin, also known as yuba, which is the solid matter that floats to the surface before the bean curd coagulates. The skins are useful as wrappers in dim sum, which you can see rolling by at some of the city’s better dim sum parlors, including Royal Seafood (103-105 Mott Street, 212-219-2338) and Jin Fong (20 Elizabeth Street, 212-964-5256). Bean curd sliced thin and deep-fried is often used to make pouches in Japanese cooking. Stuffed with vinegared rice, it’s most commonly seen in raw fish assortments at East Village sushi bars like Sapporo East (164 First Avenue, 212-260-1330), or for carryout at Ennju (20 East 17th Street, 646-336-7004).

1
 
2
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
1 comments
Jamie
Jamie

I will have one of each, please. One of each vegan one, anyway. My life just wouldn't make any sense without tofu.

 
Loading...