Making tofu

DSC_3744-Edit Perhaps because of their relative isolation, the residents of northern Thailand's various Chinese communities have been able to lead distinctly Chinese lives for several decades now. This remoteness has also meant that they've had to become rather self-sufficient. Even today, the Chinese residents of towns such as Ban Rak Thai and Mae Salong continue to produce their own air-dried ham, sausages, pickled vegetables, noodles, tea and tofu -- the same staples their parents and grandparents would have made back in Yunnan.

Ban Thoet Thai, in Chiang Rai, although not exclusively Chinese, is yet another example of this.


Walking past the house above, I noticed blocks of tofu being dried in the sun:


Investigating inside, I discovered a virtual tofu factory:


Although they spoke very little Thai, the folks were kind enough to humour my camera and my questions, and I got to witness the entire process of making tofu, from beginning to end -- something I hadn't seen previously.

It began by grinding re-hydrated soy beans, adding water to facilitate the process:


The thick mush was combined with a bit of hot water, and the mixture was strained through a suspended cheesecloth via some pretty vigorous spinning and shaking (the leftover solids were used for pig feed):


The liquid was poured into large, wok-like vats and simmered for about an hour:


After the liquid had thickened slightly and a skin had formed, it was taken from the vats:


and immediately combined with a coagulant. After about 15 minutes, curds started to form:


The chunky mixture was then poured into permeable plastic sacks that were rolled to combine the solids and extract water:


After manually removing as much water as possible, the bags were formed into rectangles and pressed with heavy wood blocks and the additional force of a car jack:


After about an hour, the bags were removed from the press and set aside:


And after another couple hours of additional draining, the finished tofu was removed from the bags and cut into cubes:


In China, the tofu would probably be finished at this point, but to provide it with a bit more shelf life in Thailand's hot and humid climate, the cubes were dried in the sun for a day before being sold.