Mushy Tofu Syndrome - by Danielle Kischler
While my family is a bit weirded out by my veganism--and kvetched a bit about the difficulty of feeding one--they understand to some extent why I made the choice I did and admire my courage in sticking to what I do.
On my last night in town, my mom, stepdad, dad, sister, brother-in-law and I out for dinner. Now, finding vegetarian cooking in Central Florida is not exactly easy. I ate at the Sweet Tomatoes Friday afternoon for lunch, and while they're kind enough to warn patrons which foods are non-vegetarian and which foods are vegetarian (in some cases), that doesn't help a vegan much. There is a vegetarian restaurant in Orlando, but getting there would have been a huge hassle, since it's on the other side of town. After a long time dickering over what to eat, we chose a Chinese place my dad likes. From the skimpy vegetable section, I chose Buddha's Delight while my family selected various meat dishes. When I got my dish, it was a selection of gorgeous veggies in a white sauce with flaccid white tofu. Yes, folks, my dish had Mushy Tofu Syndrome. While I had a surprisingly pleasant visit with my family, I was glad to get back to DC, which is far friendlier to veg*ans.
Of course, there are restaurants in DC who suffer from Mushy Tofu Syndrome, but enough places in the area cook tofu up crispy and chewy to make me happy; it's just finding the places and the dishes that can be a challenge. Oodles Noodles on 19th Street cooks up tofu well, and they were happy to veganize a dish for me the last time I went; I'm sure their Bethesda location would do the same. Berwyn Cafe in College Park has a tofu gyro, and though it is soft, it does not suffer from Mushy Tofu Syndrome, maybe because the tofu is in shreds, not gloppy cubes. Now, I have not had the opportunity to cook tofu myself--something I'm sure will be trial and lots of error--and I realize many things take practice, but you would think a restaurant cook would have some familiarity with tofu and be able to cook it crispy, crunchy, chewy, textured, and tasty, right?
In fact, I think it is the image of tofu as bland, white and mushy that puts a lot of people off vegetarianism. I mean, tofu is the butt of how many jokes? If more restaurant cooks knew how to prepare it better, I'm sure more people would be willing to try it. I also have to wonder why more restaurants don't use tempeh in their dishes. I love tempeh's nutty, chewy texture and the way it just completes a stir-fry. Tempeh can also sub for meat in many dishes (although I haven't tried it that way yet). It's not too expensive, keeps longer in the fridge than tofu, and is not nearly as scary. For under $2, you get eight ounces of tempeh that makes a stir fry with enough leftovers for several meals (unless you have a huge appetite).
So, restaurant chefs: make tofu tasty! Just because we're veg*an doesn't mean we don't like delicious foods. I realize fried tofu is not the healthiest thing on the planet, but it's probably healthier than meat. Experiment with tempeh and seitan. Tempt our palates. Believe me, when I find a place that serves good veg*an food, I encourage others to go there. Tempt my palate, and you will have a loyal customer.