I spent three wonderfully intense weeks in Vietnam this summer. Big cities were an endless whirlwind of motorbikes, street food, and humidity. I didn’t expect to be so blown away by the beauty in the North, from the overcrowded boat tour through limestone pillars in the Cat Ba Archipelago, to the serene beauty of the Ha Giang Loop, a three day scooter ride on vividly green, winding mountain roads through farm land… Vietnam took my breath away.
I relied heavily on my use of the word vegetarian (An Chay) in order to find food, since a lot of people do not speak English. It was on the Ha Giang loop that I fell in love with the dish “Tomato Tofu.” It’s very simple and super delicious, fried tofu in a generous amount of fresh tomato sauce with lots of garlic and large pieces of scallions, sometimes garnished with cilantro. I sought it out daily for lunch, and though it was prepared slightly differently each time, it always came served with rice, some kind of steamed or sautéed green with lots of garlic, and a clear broth (definitely meat based). I’d pull up at a small restaurant/house tucked into a mountain side around 2pm, ask if they had tomato tofu, and then take out my book while I waited for my feast. I’d hear the telltale signs of a great meal, the click of their rice cooker, clanging in the kitchen, and then the smell of garlic would fill the air. Around 20 minutes later, lunch was ready and it was always a true delight.
From Vietnam, I met up with a friend in South Korea. This was the first dish that we cooked together in our hostel kitchen, as I was already so nostalgic for it, and it’s the perfect one pan dinner. She loved it as much as I do.
1 package firm tofu,* cut into 1 inch cubes
1/4 cup vegetable oil, divided
6 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
4 cups chopped tomatoes**
1 stock cube, I use an organic onion flavoured one (OR a few splashes of soya sauce)
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt & pepper
5 scallions, cut into 1 inch pieces
Cilantro, to garnish, optional
*Ideally you want to cut your block of tofu into slices and let it sit wrapped up in a clean kitchen towel for at least 30 minutes. This will draw out the water from the tofu, creating a creamier texture and crunchier edges in the finished dish.
**Roma/plum tomatoes are ideal for this (the oval Italian ones) since they have less juice, but you can use any kind of tomato, though you may need to cook the sauce for longer if it’s too liquidy.
Heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a large non-stick pan over medium heat and add the tofu. Pan fry on both sides until golden brown and crispy. Season with salt and pepper (white pepper if you have it) and remove from the pan.
Prep your garlic and tomatoes while the tofu is cooking.
Now add the rest of the oil into the pan along with garlic (you can also add a pinch of chili flakes – untraditional, but delicious), and once lightly brown, add the chopped tomatoes, stock cube, and sugar. Raise the heat and cover until it comes to a simmer. Now remove the lid, stir well, and turn the heat to medium low in order to let the flavours meld and the sauce reduce. Let this cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Taste the sauce to see if it needs anything, more salt/pepper/ sugar, and then add in the tofu. Let this cook together for 5 minutes before you add the scallions, cook a final 1-2 minutes, just until the scallions are slightly softened.
Serve with rice, and garnish with cilantro.