Story: Tu Anh
Photos: Xuan Chinh

Local lore holds that residents of Mo village have been making tofu for two millenniums

Residents of Mo Village – Mai Dong have made tofu for generations. According to village lore, this trade was introduced by General Tam Trinh during the reign of the Trung Sisters some two thousand years ago.

Going back to the early 20th century, tofu from Mo village was sold at each of the entrance gates to Hanoi. Along with white tofu, Mo villagers also grilled tofu over charcoal and sold it to peckish crowds outside tuồng and cải lương theaters, and to rickshaw-pullers as a cheap midnight snack.

Tofu from Mo village is sold in small yellow bars. While the ingredients are identical to those used by other villages, it’s said that Mo villagers possess some secret knowledge that makes their tofu tastier. Another explanation is that the village’s wellwater gives the tofu a distinctive flavour. Whatever the truth, the fame of Mo tofu has spread far and wide.

Today, only a dozen established families in Mo village still make tofu. Most of the other tofu-makers are new migrants.

To produce delectable bars of tofu to sell in morning markets, villagers must wake up very early. Yellow soybeans are soaked the day before until their peels come off. Filtered soybeans are then ground with a stone mortar and pestle. Water is added as the soybeans are ground. The resulting soy milk is poured into a coarse cloth bag and squeezed to filter it, then cooked.

The condensed tofu is wrapped in a thin cloth bag and put into a wooden mold, then pressed for roughly 30 minutes. The pressed tofu is removed and left to cool. Each bar of steaming tofu is arranged on a sieve, then carried to market. Tofu sold in the afternoon is stored in cold water to preserve it. Mo villagers usually put their tofu into barrels of water to carry them to market.

Time-consuming to prepare, tofu is extremely popular. Freshly-made tofu can be served without further cooking, usually with shrimp paste or chili fish sauce. However, a more popular treat is fried tofu, in which the tofu is dropped into hot oil until it develops a golden crunchy outer cover. Fried tofu is served with rice or vermicelli.

“Mo tofu served with shrimp paste,
In the morning I ate, in the afternoon I still crave it.
Why did I marry you?
I love Mai Dong, and the tofu of Mo Village.”

To satisfy demanding customers, restaurants offer novel dishes made with Mo tofu: snail vermicelli with bananas and tofu, braised tofu with mushrooms, stir fried tofu with chili, tofu soup with seafood, banana flower salad with tofu, etc.

Generations of Hanoi residents have enjoyed tofu from Mo village. This simple dish evokes fond memories for many Hanoians. Tofu from Mo village is part of this thousand-year-old capital’s culinary culture.