"It's very much like a creamy cheese, a blue cheese or a brie—it just has an incredible mouth feel," says Rau Om's Dang Vu. He's talking about tofu misozuke, a preserved version of tofu that is cured in miso to create a spreadable, long-life version of the asiatic staple. Vu likens tofu misozuke—which pairs well with sake—to "an independent Japanese derivation of the wine and cheese experience." Wary gourmets may doubt the fermented concoction, but Vu and his wife Oanh are making fast work of converting California's eaters.
The story of tofu misozuke as Vu relates it goes a long way toward explaining the dish's peculiar form. Following defeat during a 12th-century Japanese civil war, survivors of the losing clan went into hiding, disconnected from the metropolitan centers. In desperate need of preservable foods, the survivors created tofu misozuke as a way to extend tofu's shelf life.
Vu's first exposure to the dish came at a Tokyo sake bar. A DIY experiment ensued, and Vu finally found his recipe by combining a modern version with a recipe from 1780. Later, upon hearing of the dish's origins, Vu's picture of tofu misozuke became complete. "You have here a great example of function following form," he says. "You have this thing that's salty and savory from the miso and has this incredibly cheese-like texture."
Following this process of creation and exploration, Vu began selling the spread at a local food market south of San Francisco. For the first time, Tofu Misozuke was available stateside, and has since been gaining traction as a vegan cheese substitute. Spreading rapidly by word of mouth, Rau Om's tofu misozuke is quickly changing the perception of tofu and filling a cheesy void for long-time vegans.
Tofu misozuke is available from the Rau Om online shop.
Images by James Thorne