In the mail today I received a cookbook I've been anticipating for some time, Andrea Nguyen's 'Asian Tofu'. I've been a big admirer of her quiet but insightful work at Viet World Kitchen ever since my old mate Noodlepie pointed me in her direction when I was starting this blog up back in 2005. I was a regular lurker in her Vietnamese herb primer page trying to make sense of the botannical wonder outside of coriander and mint, of which there is a lot. I've emailed Andrea for the odd translation or insight into a dish or ingredient and she's always been most obliging. We are yet to meet but it's only a matter of time.
Until that happens, I will continue to enjoy her writing on traditional aspects of Vietnamese cuisine, her recipes - some traditional, some with twists - and her little stories of life in and out of the huge Vietnamese diaspora in America. And with this new book in my hands combined with ease of access to tofu in many of its forms in Hanoi's wet markets, I'm hoping to glean from Andrea all that she knows about this chameleon ingredient.
One way that tofu can be enjoyed on the streets of Vietnam, usually from mobile vendors on bicycles or on foot, is as a custard-like pudding. These days scooped out of large saucepans or insulated containers with a slightly curved plastic or metal paddle, this velvety tofu used to be prepared in large earthenware jars. Known in Hanoi as tào phớ and in the centre and south as đậu hủ, the eight to twelve wobbly discs placed in a bowl by the vendor are not traditionally a dessert but rather a mid-morning or afternoon snack.
Down in Hội An a month ago, however, I walked straight out of a late lunch at the chicken rice house and into the waving arms of a double-hatted đậu hủ seller. Her ginger-infused syrup drizzled over the just warm tofu pudding - well, to me that would read quite nicely on a dessert menu.
In the mouth, it is delicately sweet and spicy. And in my new book, I have Andrea's recipe.