Healthy Food in Vietnam: Tofu & Tao Pho

Now in my thirties, I have clear memories of curling up on my grandfather’s lap, back when I was a small child.

He’d sit on a old wooden bed and smoke a china bowl pope, his ancient shriveled hands breaking grilled tofu into pieces and dipping the morsels into salt.

As a child, I thought that the tofu chinks looked unappealing, but the adults seemed to enjoy eating them. It was common to see cyclo drivers eating this dish by the roadside during their breaks at the time Hai Phong still had many flamboyant trees and low small houses.

If I shut my eyes I can still smell the scent of grilling tofu.

Tofu is among the healthy food in Vietnam not to be missed!

Healthy food in Vietnam
Healthy food in Vietnam

Heathy food in Vietnam

Tofu

Even today grilled tofu is still offered in cheap beer bars, where customers enjoy its pungent taste. Tofu is used in all sorts of ways. Dried boiled or steamed. This ingredient however is rarely served at feasts or fancy dinners.

Most Vietnamese people consider tofu to be humble fare. It is cheap and readily available. In Asia, people have been making food from soy beans for century. Tofu and other soy products are associated with devout Buddhists, who are vegetarian for religious reasons. Soy products are used to make meat substitutes that sometimes look and taste just like meat.

Visit any market in Vietnam and you will see women selling Tofu out of flat baskets. Shoppers come to know who make the best tofu and popular vendors sell out early. In Hanoi, Dau Mo (Tofu from Mo Market) is considered a specialty, like basil from Lang Village or soy sauce from Ban Village.

The Tofu makers in Mo Village have their own secret, although all tofu contains similar ingredients. Perhaps the tofu in Mo Village observe better standards of quality control, using better ingredients and refusing to cut corners to obtain a short term profit.

Making Tofu is time consuming.

Producers are up most of the night in order to get their tofu to market at dawn. First one must grind the soy beans then filter them before cooking, cooling packaging compressing and peeling the resulting tofu. Each step requires careful and experienced hands.

Today, the old villages of Ke Mo are but a memory. The streets feature narrow shop-house and high rises. Even Mo Market is long gone, having been demolished to build a shopping centre. Food lovers in Hanoi, however still recall the excellent of Mo tofu.

Tofu in Vietnam
Tofu in Vietnam

Tao Pho

Tofu makers produce a range of products. The output of their first step of production is Tao Pho, a white, condensed pudding that is serve as a dessert with sweet syrup. Very popular with women, this is a good snack on a hot summer day.

In northern Vietnam, Tao Pho sellers often ride bicycles with a barrel of Tao Pho behind them. The vender uses a flat spoon to ladle thin layers of Tao pho into a bowl before adding syrup.

Today as people are increasingly affluent, the more sophisticated Japanese style of Tofu is gaining popularity. The purest product of the tofu cooking process this type of soft tofu may be found on buffet tables and at fancy feasts.

In my view, this type of tofu is too soft, breaking apart as soon as one takes a bite. For daily fare, I prefer the ordinary, traditional Vietnamese tofu.

Some afternoons, I sit at a roadside restaurant under a flamboyant tree and enjoy the rich taste of grilled tofu flavored with turmeric. This dish never fails to remind me of my childhood.

Good food doesn’t need to be expensive and there’s so much healthy food in Vietnam!

Good food is food that is eaten at the right time and place and that makes you feel good.

Looking for more food in Vietnam? Check out these posts:


China

The Incredible Food and Eating Culture of China

 

Traveling as a vegetarian isn’t always the easiest thing to do.

It’s often whittled down to a paltry choice between some kind of flavourless pasta/bread/rice/vegetable combination, leading to a frustratingly unimaginative diet.  There is also a constant barrage of temptation being thrown at you whatever your reason for no longer eating meat.

Despite a very near moment of weakness in Costa Rica two years ago, I’ve managed pretty well so far. But nowhere was as easy for me to remain positively adamant that my carnivorous side is in the past than China. And no, this wasn’t because the meat served in China was… erm, strange, to put it nicely, it’s because the vegetarian food available was in-cred-ible.

Here’s some of my best China food memories, and things not to miss out on:

1) Chinese Steamed Buns.

I don’t know the Chinese name of these buns, much to the absolute dismay of my Slovenian companion and I. They’re absolutely different to anything I’d tasted in the West… kind of like bread, but I think they’re made of rice. My descriptions do it no justice. However, after discovering a taste for the mysterious buns, spotting a tiny shop making morning batches of these bad boys at the side of the street on the way home, after a spontaneously crazy night in Beijing, was like finding Mecca. We sat down and steadily made our through 36 of them between three of us. They were dipped in fresh chilies and soy sauce. These little stores are all over China, and always worth a quick visit.

2) A Breakfast Buffet to End All

For most Westerners, breakfast isn’t really a big deal… You know, a bit of bread, some cereal, fruit, yogurt, cheese.  Aside from the full English breakfast, I’ve never really experienced discomfort from eating so much first thing in the morning. So when I was invited to breakfast with our Chinese hosts, I was not prepared for the absolute feast we were presented with: Dishes upon dishes of noodles, rice, spiced vegetables, meat in various sauces, those all important steamed buns… the list was endless. A strange but memorable experience, and again, one that I would recommend! Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, after all…

3) Revolving Restaurant and the Shanghai Skyline

Due to a generous budget being afforded to me by the people sending me around the world, my travel companions and I treated ourselves to dinner at the very swanky revolving restaurant in the Oriental Pearl TV Tower. The food wasn’t served on revolving tables because the floor rotated around the tables and tables of food, which did the job. The main experience here wasn’t the food (despite it being, yet again, mouth wateringly, greed inducingly delicious) but the views, which is the entire glowing skyline of Shanghai. Words can’t really describe it. Restaurants throughout the country are cheap in comparison to many places around the world, and are often of a really high standard. Even a backpacker budget can stretch to a coupe of good meals out!

4)  The Chinese Culture of Eating

It wasn’t just the food itself that was amazing, but the Chinese experience of eating. Huge round tables full of dishes upon dishes of different types of food served with green tea and, strangely, never water.  Everyone seated at the table trying everything that is on offer, really appreciating the food in front of them, and enjoying each other’s company. In a world that is increasingly too busy to sit down and eat a meal by themselves let alone in the company of others, this was a refreshing taste of Chinese culture that has stayed with me.