Posted by: martinworster | August 13, 2007

65. TOFU FESTIVAL

It’s hip to be square. What the hell happens at a Tofu Festival?

I spluttered into my soy latte as I saw the ad for the annual LA Tofu Festival whilst reading the LA Times. A Tofu Festival? I imagined hoardes of Birkenstock clad muslie munchers salivating at the sight of a calf-sized lump of tofu burning on a spit above raging flames. A veggie kebab stall with an upside down tofu elephant trunk from which the greasy vendor sheared off slithers into warm pitta. Being a staunch vegetarian it was something I had to investigate. I had no preconceptions. I was just baffled and intrigued. Only in LA, I thought. What the hell happens at a Tofu Festival?

More and more vegetarian products try to emulate meat. Burgers, sausages, ‘chicken’ breasts, I even once bizzarely saw a vegetarian haggis in Sainsburys. When veggie burgers and sausages first came out I was glad I could join in at barbecues. Previously I had to make do with wisps of lettice and yellowing potato salad whilst the carnivores ripped off shards of flesh with their teeth. Now I am fussy and don’t like to share the BBQ flame with my Linda McCartney Cumberlands. When meat is cooked it spits and grizzles, infecting my produce with meat juice. By the time it’s cooked, my veggie sausages had a higher meat / blood content than rare steak. People thought I was fussy. I was.

The Tofu Festival was roadblocked. It was a sweltering Sunday in Downtown LA on the fringes of Little Tokyo and we paid our $8 and entered Tofu Heaven. I didn’t know which way to turn. Thai Tofu Nirvana jostled with Toby’s Tofu Pate stool for my attention. Would it be marinated Tofu lettuce wraps or Soyrizo Burritos? Tofu Shirataki with Mentsuyu or Tofu Ciabatta sandwiches?

Tofu has long been a staple of Chinese and Thai food but is now really starting to spread it’s meatless wings. I admit, on its own it has the consistency of jelly and the taste of, well, nothing. It has to be marinated in sauces for it to aquire taste, but in terms of low fat / low cholestral and high in protein it’s a wonder food. For carnivores, I suppose, it’s a wonder that anyone eats it.

LA types – ie all types – walked around sampling soy beans finest. Other stalls sold T-Shirts, weekends in Napa Valley and courses at the Oriental Medical School. The LAPD recruitment unit was very quiet. Celebrity chefs I’d never heard of flipped fillets of Tofu in exotic marinades over in the cooking tent.

An MC announced various competitions and events. There was to be a tofu eating contest later. I imagined the dyspeptic contestents burying their faces into plate fulls of white paste and felt bilious. I bought some Protons – bright crunchy Tofu. I bought a packet of Tofu Beef Jerky. There was another stall for Tofurky . I was a Tofchicken and didn’t bother trying it. I did have some lovely Tofu Tostadas and a medium to rare Tofu steak that had me drooling, followed by lemon and ginger soy ice cream. I noticed some stalls selling meat and flesh amongs the tofu, which I thought was sacrilegious, like selling coke at a recovering crack heads convention.

By the end we were Tofu’d out. I bought a Tofu cookbook that I’m sure will remain in the pile of cookbooks I never use. This was the 11th LA Tofu Festival, so it wasn’t some fly by night Mickey Mouse event. Perhaps I’ll practice my Tofu eating skills and return to enter the contest in 2007.

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