Life in Korea

How I Made $30 Eating Tofu (and musings on the future of the bean curd)

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Today, I taste-tested various tofu samples for Pulmuone 풀무원 (pronounced “poor-moo-won”), apparently the largest manufacturer of tofu products in the world.  It was such a delectable experience that when the nice food scientist asked if she could contact us regarding future “tests,” my friend and I immediately said yes.

We had six sets of samples in total. Each set consisted of two variations on one theme, starting with three sets of uncooked tofu (my favorite being the silken tofu with a rich beany flavor), followed by tofu-scramble-on-a-tortilla (looked like barf, but tasted way better), and finally tofu fruit smoothie and tofu chocolate mousse.

The latter three sets were prepared by one of their four chefs, who specializes in designing tofu recipes to suit the “Western” palate. (The other three chefs specialize in Korean, Japanese, and Chinese taste preferences.) As someone who has only had tofu in the context of Chinese and Japanese cuisine, these “Western”-style tofu samples were exciting. 

By sneaking tofu into savory Western-style desserts, Pulmuone can initiate people not from traditionally tofu-eating-societies (read “less fortunate souls”) to the world of tofu.  Plus, vegetarians will have a new and easy way to pack in extra protein!

I used to think that newfangled approaches to traditional foods were somehow wrong… but take evolution of Japanese food products for instance. After World War II, it was unthinkable for anyone in America to eat Japanese food, let alone drink Japanese green tea. Now, hibachi is a popular choice for birthday parties, and even the ubiquitous overpriced American coffee franchise offers green tea lattes! Fancy.

So while tofu has largely been relegated to cheap Chinese restaurants and vegan recipes on the fringes of American food culture, given smart adaptations to local consumer preferences, I see no reason why it can’t become the next big hit.

Shout out to Emily Hong for sharing this opportunity with me!

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