The Tofu Factory, usually the first stop on the Easy Rider tour, is much less a factory than a 2-person operation in a single room. In fact, this cottage industry is as mom-and-pop as you can get.
At 3 a.m. the tofu couple rises to sell their product on the night market. The tofu is good for a day – afterwards it begins to sour, so they have to sell fast and in large quantities. Their principal clients are school cafeterias, but small restaurants buy in bulk as well. Each chunk (around the size of a child’s fist) sells for VND 5,000 to 15,000, depending on the size.
The couple has been making tofu and soy milk for 27 years. At one point they taught tofu making to groups of Vietnamese folk immigrating to Denmark, the U.S. and other countries.
The process can be learned in a single afternoon. But to master it takes quite some time.
We observed the couple at work, asking intermittent questions. There is an air of precision in their method, but it’s not obsessive – just nuanced. While we interviewed them, their cat meandered in the background, its collar tied to a beam; the ancient, damp space a cluttered yet ideal milieu for tofu making – and feline spelunking.
The process for making tofu can be summed up in seven steps:
Soy beans imported from the U.S. are places into water for eight hours.
They take the soybeans out and grind them by hand.
They cook the grinded paste for an hour.
After an hour, they collect the mush and place it into a wooden mold.
They the water out of the tofu in the mold.
Now, they get the tofu we’re familiar with.
They can either sell the tofu as is or fry it.
And yes, they eat their tofu every day and still haven’t gotten tired of it.