Years ago, I was in Cagayan de Oro City, south of the Philippines, on a lecture trip. One of the students, Teresa Tiu, brought a tray of tofu to be cooked and fed to the guests. I learned that the tofu was home-made. It was made by Teresa’s family. It was their small family business. As a tofu-eating vegetarian I was impressed. Nowadays it is rare to find whole families working together to provide people with such a wonderfood as tofu...
Tofu-making is an ancient art. The earliest mention in record of tofu dates back to 2000 B.C. in China. For thousands of years , it’s been the staple food in the Far East and was introduced to the Philippines as early as the 8th century by ancient Chinese traders. Since then tofu has provided nutritious meatless protein to the early Filipino people. In the case of the Tiu family, Teresa relates to me, they acquired the art from their Chinese lolo (grandfather) whose ancestors migrated to the Philippines from China. Tofu-making has been around her lolo’s household as far back as Teresa could remember.
At three o’clock in the morning, members of the Tiu family are already bustling with activities. Somebody washes the soaked soy beans. Another grinds them on the old stone gilingan till the beans are reduced to fine granules.
Meanwhile, somebody boils water in the huge kawa. Logs of hard tugas tree are burning brightly. Finally, somebody boils the soymilk. Another strains it with clean katsa cloth, adds coagulant, strains again and arranges on molds. Another presses them with weights.
By seven in the morning, trays of soft, freshly fragrant tofu are delivered to the Cagayan de Oro City public market. It is a small-time family operation - - a decent livelihood earning just enough to put Teresa and the other children to school. For me however, it is more than that. It is a living legacy of an ancient noble food art.
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