Food & Wine

Local tofu specialty wins ethical accolade

Photo By: Courtesy of Rau Om
Photo Courtesy Of Rau Om A Mountain View pair’s kitchen experiments grew into a food business centered on a rich, spreadable Japanese treat.

Oanh Nguyen and Dang Vu started experimenting with a Japanese specialty, tofu misozuke, after falling in love with its unusual flavor on a visit to a Sake bar in Ginza. Three years later, they’ve launched a tiny food business, Rau Om, out of their Mountain View home and space rented in a commercial kitchen in Belmont. Their fledgling culinary endeavor received an unexpected accolade Friday – the “Better Than Foie Gras Award” from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Reached on the phone last week, Vu was bemused but pleased with the honor.

“I don’t think of tofu misozuke as a vegan foie gras,” he said. “I guess I’m comfortable thinking of it as its own product, with its own rich history – it dates to the 13th century.”

But for American consumers, a little translation can’t hurt, Vu acknowledged.

“I guess I’ll accept any analogy that people come up with to explain what it is, because it’s such a weird and new product,” he said.

By taking tofu and aging it in miso – a fermented, salty paste often made of soybeans – Vu and Nguyen create a smooth, creamy product with a rich, unctuous taste slightly reminiscent of an organ meat.

Since California’s foie gras ban went into effect July 1, forbidding the sale of fattened goose or duck liver, restaurateurs and home chefs have in theory had fewer options for adding umami to their dishes.

Tofu misozuke, a traditional specialty from Japan’s Fukuoka District, can pair with fresh or dried fruits, on bread or crackers, or as a topping for vegetables or salad.

Vu and Nguyen operate a stall at the California Avenue Farmers’ Market in Palo Alto Sunday mornings but haven’t yet gotten the product stocked in any Peninsula markets.

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