Vietnamese Pan-fried Tofu Posted by: | March 12, 2011

I never thought I would blog about such a seemingly trivial dish. But I truly experienced its beauty and meaning today, at a place I would never imagine. A roadside hair salon. Actually it would hardly qualify as a salon, as it’s just just a hole in the wall on a busy street outside my house. Unlike many of Hanoi’s hair salons that seem to always come and go (I find it hard to stick to one place, as they keep moving, or closing before I know it), this one really stands the test of time. My Mom has been going there for 10 years. The hairdresser’s husband is a Motorbike-Taxi (Xe Om) driver, and my Mom is a regular customer of his as well. Back then as a teen, I found it embarrassing to go there for haircuts, as friends would always ask me where I had my hair done, and I would hate to say that I cut it in a nameless shop on the roadside. Yup, I was once a lame teen too.

Today I finally decided to get a haircut for the first time since I moved back to Hanoi. It’s been 6 months and I’m amazed at the weight I’ve been carrying around on my shoulders, literally. I wasn’t in a fancy “I-need-a-makeover” mood, so I asked my Mom to bring me to her trusty old hairdresser on our street. The place looked exactly the same. Tiny, messy, and probably not the cleanest. The hairdresser greeted both me and my Mom as if we were family. I felt immediately at ease. More at ease than I had felt in any hair salons elsewhere in the world.

I was sitting around waiting for my turn, when a very familiar smell hit me. The smell of fried Tofu. There he was, the hairdresser’s old Dad, sitting there by the entrance of the salon, frying tofus on his little coal stove, on the middle of the pavement, back facing the busy traffic on the street. He was just chillin’ there, frying tofu for dinner, while chatting with the next door neighbor. I quickly pulled a paparazzi shot on the grandpa. It was just too cute.

The Tofu takes at least 15 minutes to fry completely on all sides, so there I was, salivating the entire time, feeling a ridiculous crave for fried tofu. That was suddenly all I could think of. It’s funny how I could crave for such a simple, everyday food. Then I realized why. Growing up, the smell of fried tofu has always been a memory of home food, family and warmth. Tofu is such a common staple in Vietnam that we eat it almost every other day. Just the other day I thought I had overdosed on Tofus in a Vietnamese Tofu & Eggplant casserole dish, and here I am, craving for it again, it its simplest form of preparation – FRIED. After the haircut (which turned out surprisingly decent and cheap – VND35k, which is about 2 dollars), I stormed home hoping we would have tofus to make for dinner. And we did. It was probably the first time my Mom ever saw me being so enthusiastic over frying tofus.

And there I was, inhaling the smell of fried Tofu one more time, this time happy because I was going to devour it later. It’s like falling in love again with something old and familiar, and realizing how much it actually means to you. Vietnamese tofu is one of the best tofu I know, with its distinct flavor and texture that is only possible with Vietnamese soy milk. I tried frying tofus in Singapore once, and I never made it again. It’s just not the same.

The best way to eat Fried Tofu is fresh out of the pan – golden, crispy and bubbling hot, dipped into Vietnamese fish sauce with chopped scallions. I could eat it just like that with white rice, without anything else.

Mom also made a typical Vietnamese soup to accompany our tofu and rice: a sour & herby sweet-water mussel soup (something like “Canh Ngao”). It’s basically  fresh “mussels” (I really don’t know what this shell-creature is called in English, or if it even exists outside Vietnam), cooked in water, then the stock is flavored with tomatoes, herbs, fish sauce and lots of lime juice. This refreshing, tangy soup was a perfect contrast with the mild taste of the tofus.

I had such a strong sense of satisfaction after the meal. Finally my craving was answered. I was literally high from the meal. What a simple joy, over a simple meal. Hanoi really teaches me to appreciate simple things in life more and more each day. The awesome chef/author/food blogger David Lebovitz has this book called “My Sweet Life in Paris”. If I ever had a book about Hanoi, it would probably be called… Yes, you’ve guessed it. It would be “My Simple Life in Hanoi”.


I am submitting this entry to the Delicious Vietnam Mar 2011 blogging event, founded by A Food Lover’s Journey and Ravenous Couple and hosted by Nam Nguyen from The Culinary Chronicles this month. This monthly blogging event celebrates the wonderful Vietnamese Cuisine being cooked and blogged by Vietnamese food lovers around the world.


13 Responses to “Vietnamese Pan-fried Tofu”

  1. I’ve been cutting back on tofu lately, but this looks really good!

  2. Chi Anh says:

    Maria: thanks for dropping by :) Tofu is really good at preventing cancer, esp for women. I hate soymilk, but tofu i can never resist!

  3. [...] Hanoi, Vietnam: Chi Anh Dao of Door To My Kitchen shares Vietnamese Pan-Fried Tofu Chi Anh Dao [...]

  4. This is a beautifully written post! I love the descriptions of the sights, sounds, smells……I miss Viet Nam!! :)

  5. thanks for sharing this chi anh dao. i never appreciated tofu until i left home, on my first and last attempt at making it, it stuck to the pan and was more of a scramble than fried tofu ;)

  6. Lan says:

    i also love fried tofu, tho it’s not something i would ever fry in my home. my parents would make a wonderfully tangy-sweet tomato sauce to go with fried tofu that was so good with plain steamed rice. *comfort food*

    thank you for sharing this story.

  7. Chi Anh says:

    @Nam: You’re right, the beauty of Hanoi/Vietnam really lies in the sights, sounds and smells. You have to love it enough to notice it, and identify with it. Thanks for your lovely description on Delicious Vietnam entry :)

    @saVUryandsweet: you know there are some Tofus I’ve bought overseas that stick horribly to the pan as well, I think they have a higher sugar content and hence burns easily. They are usually the softer and more pudding kind of Tofu. Though I have to admit, sometimes I love eating “scrambled tofu” with minced meat. You should try that!

    @Lan: we often make a tomato sauce to pour over the fried potatoes too, though I still prefer the plain fried ones with pure fish sauce. Have you tried stuffing tofu with minced meat?

    • Lan says:

      i have tried it, it’s wonderful. pretty much anything with tofu is lovely. :)

      i’m currently going meatless for Lent so i am trying to focus on all vegetarian stuff.

  8. Julia says:

    I love the paparazzi shot on the grandpa! And fried tofu rocks! I learned this from my Mom in Law (Who’s Vietnamese). Wish I could make it like here. I think I’ve bought the wrong ‘American’ type with too much sugar- it’ll stick bad on me, maybe I’m afraid of too much oil. Luv your post!

  9. Chris says:

    The photos are so appetizing. Think I’ll go fry some tofu now…
    You’re right about tofu in Vietnam being especially tasty. I think it’s because it’s so fresh, as it is made every day. The firm kind popular among Europeans and North Americans isn’t so much to my taste. When I’m not in Vietnam, I buy it at an Asian market, and at least the texture is right.

    For those who have trouble with it sticking to the pan, the trick is to have the oil really hot, then slide it in and don’t disturb it until it has formed a crust. You’ll know, because you will start to see the edges turning golden at the bottom, where the tofu meets the pan. Then, you can push it around and flip it over quite easily.

    I’ve been lurking here on and off, and enjoying your postings. Thanks for sharing your lovely pics and recipes.

    • Chi Anh says:

      Hi Chris,
      Thanks for your lovely comment. You sure do know Tofu! You’re right, western tofu tastes like cardboard… I find the Chinese type a bit too “sugary” so it tends to burn really quick. Thanks for stopping by :) I just checked out your blog too. Really nice read. Hope you’ll come back to Vietnam soon!

  10. betty says:

    i love panfried tofu!

  11. PhamQuangDuc says:

    Món đậu rán này anh có thể ăn một ngày 3 bữa, ngày nào cũng ăn, lúc nào ăn cũng thấy nó ngon. ( Tất nhiên là với điều kiện đậu ngon và nước mắm ngon. ) Vậy mà từ 2 tháng gần đây anh không được ăn món khoái khẩu này. Bị vợ cấm.

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