Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Tofu with Everything -- a Deep-Fried Soybean Snack Is Better Than Chips. (Food)

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Tofu with Everything -- a Deep-Fried Soybean Snack Is Better Than Chips. (Food)

Article excerpt

Bean curd, or tofu, must be one of the most commonly reviled foods in Britain, often viewed with more disgust than frogs or snails. Not too long ago, the Observer Food Monthly nominated this protein-rich white curd as a "crime against food". Some people seem to hate its texture, its appearance and its taste, or lack of it.

Yet, as Alan Davidson writes, "tofu occupies a place in oriental cookery which corresponds to that of dairy products in other parts of the world". The transformation of soybeans into vegetarian quasi-cheese has been practised since at least the Middle Ages.

Among the South Koreans, that great footballing people, bean curd is not some quirky "ingredient" -- like smoked paprika, say, or monkfish tails -- but an indispensable category of food. In Japan, there are entire restaurants dedicated to tofu. In China, popular vendors are surrounded by eager customers ready to buy a healthy afternoon bowlful of soft, slippery bean curd, topped with peanuts and brown sugar, or almond essence and fruit or, in Chengdu, with chilli oil and Sichuan pepper.

I must admit that, until recently, I have always found bean curd to be pleasant enough, but nothing to rave about. This was before I discovered deep-fried tofu, one of the most moreish snacks imaginable, better than chips. Admittedly, if you are mainly interested in bean curd for its dour nutritional properties, then deep-frying may be missing the point. But for anyone who cares a little about pleasure, deep-frying is the point. Something magical happens when tofu hits hot oil in a wok. It puffs up, frills at the edges, crispens. The damp white squares suddenly go golden, but stay moist within, a bit like very delicious eggy bread, but somehow not greasy. After you've drained them, if you wait a little bit, until the burnished pieces are just cool enough to touch, then dip them in a little Kikkoman soy sauce, with some cucumber on the side, you have a truly perfect snack. …

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