Odes to tofu


POSTED: Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Tofu is My Life
I'm Addicted To Tofu
Tofu is My World
— Ryan, age 11

Who'd ever think the spectrum of human existence could be conveyed in children's reflections on tofu?

One person who probably does is Paul Uyehara, third-generation president of Aloha Tofu, which turns 60 this year. Uyehara grew up amid the hustle and bustle of the old factory on Dillingham Boulevard, where, alongside his cousins, he toiled for the family biz. It made for a complex relationship with tofu.

“;We all despised the factory,”; he said. “;As an 11-year-old, would you rather be out playing with friends or sweating in a factory?”;

Yet today, Uyehara has taken the helm at Aloha Tofu. (But more on that later.)

Last month, Uyehara served as a judge and sponsor of Kapolei Public Library's first tofu haiku contest, conjured up by children's librarian Caroline Coleman. It was the perfect fit for Uyehara's anniversary. But what of Coleman?

“;Out in Kapolei, lots of children are new to Hawaii, so I wanted to do something to promote local culture,”; she said.

To gather ideas, Coleman surfed the Web, happened upon Aloha Tofu's site and voila! Tofu haiku.

“;This contest was multifaceted. It keeps us grounded to our melting-pot roots, plus it's good exercise — the children had to use their imagination.”;

Tofu, ah, tofu!
Bringing me long life and health
Oh, the joy of soy
— Malia, age 7 (runner-up)

The competition had built momentum by the end of January, when the final entries, a tail end of some 290, rolled in. Uyehara blogged about it on Aloha Tofu's Web site, while Read to Me International discussed it on Facebook and Twitter. Poems came in from as far away as Hawaii Kai, and contestants included an entire class of private-school students.

On Saturday, judges Uyehara, library branch manager Stacie Kanno and state Sen. Mike Gabbard were to present prizes of Wet 'n' Wild family packages to top poets Sarah, 8, and Andie, 13. (MidWeek Publisher Ron Nagasawa also judged entries.) But the tsunami threat postponed festivities, and Uyehara's tofu recipe samples for 200 no doubt alleviated worries of a food shortage for his family and friends. Coleman says the library will probably have the ceremony in mid-March.

Picking of winners, however, took place in January. Judges lent a sensible, practical eye to the decision.

“;Happy Little Square / Sitting nicely on the plate / Delicious Tofu!”; Sarah composed.

Andie's version: “;Versatile tofu / A Ninja white protein source / Steam, bake, fry or soup.”;

Yet the winners represent merely the tip of the creative iceberg. Note 9-year-old Mikee's existential effort: “;It's easy to cut / Soft and wiggles like Jell-O / I am a tofu.”;

Or 11-year-old Dave's surrealistic “;I went to the park. / Then it was raining tofu. / It went all on me.”;

Others entries have a local flair. “;Bra, tofu tasty! / Soft texture going down da throat / You like try tofu?”; asks Joy, 7, another runner-up.

Then there are the brutally honest.

“;Tofu is healthy / My grandma eats it at home / I hate it so much,”; Clarissa-Leigh, 12, states boldly.

Refreshing the soul

Food from heaven in a bowl

God gives Aloha

— Allyson, age 12

This brings us back to Uyehara, who in his youth was not unlike Clarissa-Leigh in sentiment. Yet after going away to college, he came to realize his life was shaped and sustained by the factory his grandparents had taken on in 1950.

Uyehara returned to Hawaii after his schooling to run the business, now in Kalihi, with several cousins. After a few years and “;the ebb and flow of time,”; he finds himself going it solo.

“;I guess we all mature,”; he said. “;All the opportunities I have had in education and travel I can trace back to the factory. So I feel an obligation.

“;I see the factory as a living, breathing entity. You take care of it, it takes care of you.”;


Recipes show off tofu's versatility

Here are a couple of recipes from the Aloha Tofu Web site, which includes an extensive recipe library. Some recipes even come with video footage of demos that aired on “;Sam Choy's Kitchen.”; Visit



Courtesy Aloha Tofu

2 20-ounce containers firm tofu
1/2 pound fresh ahi, chopped
1/2 pound shrimp, chopped
1 can water chestnuts, chopped
4 to 8 tablespoons oyster sauce
1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped green onions
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup flour (just enough to help mixture hold patty shape)
1/2 cup oil

Drain tofu of water and wrap in paper towel for 10 minutes to absorb excess liquid.

Combine tofu, ahi, shrimp, chestnuts, oyster sauce and green onions. Add salt and pepper to taste, then flour. Form mixture into patties.

Add 2 tablespoons oil to pan at a time, heat on medium-high heat and fry about 3 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Drain on paper towel. Yields 16 patties.

Approximate nutritional analysis, per serving (based on 16 servings and not including salt to taste): 200 calories, 12 g total fat, 1.5 g saturated fat, 35 mg cholesterol, 100 mg sodium, 9 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber, 1 g sugar, 15 g protein



Courtesy Aloha Tofu

1 can (16 ounces) pureed pumpkin
3/4 cup sugar or 1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons brandy
2 to 3 tablespoons cornstarch, to firm up pie filling
1/2 container (10 ounces) soft tofu
1 9-inch unbaked pie shell

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Blend pumpkin and sugar or syrup. Add salt, spices, brandy, cornstarch and tofu. Mix thoroughly.

Pour into pie shell and bake 15 minutes.

Lower heat to 350 degrees and bake another 60 minutes.

Chill and serve. Serves 8.

Approximate nutritional analysis, per serving: 220 calories, 7 g total fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 250 mg sodium, 35 g carbohydrate, 2 g fiber, 21 g sugar, 4 g protein


Nutritional analyses by Joannie Dobbs, Ph.D., C.N.S.