Traditional Tofu in Okinawa and Kalihi
Growing up in Okinawa, tofu was a major part of my diet—and it also exposed me to some interesting experiences! I remember visiting some relatives on a small island called Henza that is connected to Okinawa by a land bridge. I stayed there for a few months, and remember that you had to park your car in a neighborhood parking lot, and then walk into the village because the roads were really small the houses were really close. It sort of felt like a National Geographic scene, and it was an interesting place to stay with my relatives!
Every morning, the local grandmother would have me run down to the Mom and PoP market to pick up a few cubes of tofu at the tofu place. They would have a bunch of tofu floating in cold water, and I would take a bucket and fill it up with two tofus, and run home so we could have tofu for breakfast. Thinking back that it really stuck out in my memory growing up in Okinawa.
The other day I was chatting to someone about that memory, and it made me think about a small tofu place here on Oahu. The store is called Mrs. Cheng’s, it’s located at the end of Kalihi Street. If you leave our store and head towards Ewa, right after you pass Home Depot you will come to Kalihi Street.
After turning left, you will see it on the left side across the street from Ethel’s Grill. Mrs. Cheng’s makes all sorts of tofu. I hadn’t been there in five or six years, so I decided to pay the store a visit, and ended up buying some soft tofu. They call it tofu pudding, and it comes in sort of an ice cream quart jar. I tried the soymilk too, but I’ve never really been into soymilk. I prefer tofu more. When you get the tofu, you also get some honey ginger to go with it, but we typically just eat it with shoyu and grated ginger on top. You also get okara, which is a byproduct of the tofu production process. For $1 you get a bag full of okara, which we use for all sorts of things, like making okara hamburgers and okara cookies. The tofu will typically last around five days, and it’s best if you change out the water each day, and keep it refrigerated. The Okara my wive used it within a week. Not sure how long that will keep.
What I find interesting is that most of us are used to getting our tofu in packages from big grocery stores, but we don’t really have any idea how it is made or where it comes from. But reminiscing about my time in Okinawa helped me to once again appreciate the art of making tofu, and the ritual of heading down to the tofu store to get some homemade tofu for the kitchen. If you’ve never had this experience, I encourage you to head to Mrs. Cheng’s and see what they have to offer!