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MY TOFU TALE

Ch 1. A Historical Love Affair

I have a bit of a history with tofu. It started off 21 years ago when I was taken out for dinner by a kind couple in Australia. I was 17 and they took me to a Chinese restaurant for a farewell meal. What I most remember from the meal was eating tofu for the first time, deep fried in a honey-sesame encrusted batter. It was sensational.

Fast-forward to 2009 and I was living in South Korea, falling in love with a type of dish called Kimchi Jiggae - a spicy soup where soft pillows of tofu were often the star of the show. I only wish I had been as in to the process of making tofu then as I am now - I kick myself thinking of all the opportunities I could have had to learn the tricks of the trade then!

 

Ch 2. Corona Virus Changes my Life

 

In 2020, like so many other people in lock-down, Mark and I watched two Netflix shows - "What the Health" and "The Game Changers". Maybe you're rolling your eyes by now - but hear me out. Mark had been curious about vegan athletes for years (in particular endurance and ultra-marathon runners) - and lockdown seemed like as good a time as any to give a proper vegan diet a whirl. The Netflix doccies were a kick-start to something we'd always been keen to try - and if the world was going to end due to a pandemic - why not now? I have been vegetarian on and off since I was 14, so I was excited to have someone to do this with.

I started to search for tofu to add into our diets, but pretty quickly found that the only options in our area were from Woolworths and cost around R80 for a small block of silken tofu imported from Japan. It was simply not realistic for Mark and I to eat that at all. I found a website to order really good quality tofu from Cape Town, but the environmental impact guilt I felt about all the packaging and travel was real - plus - it was still adding up to a lot of money.

Ch 3: The Hustle Begins

And so I set to work. In the soy barren lands of Curry's Post - I would make my own tofu! At first I experimented with box soy milk and lemon juice, which to it's credit did actually work. But at R26 a box - and using two boxes to make a small block - it was not any financially better than ordering from Cape Town and the texture was chalky.

 

I didn't give up. Through a good friend I managed to get soy beans...in fact I got 100kgs of soy beans as that was the minimum quantity his neighbour would sell to a pleb like me. Talk about having faith! I sunk my money in and met a young farmer on the side of the freeway who'd been coerced into illegally delivering my goods during Level 4. With a few power squats I lumped it into my Duster and skedaddled home with my white gold.

Through the help of several YouTube videos, and in particular my tofu idol Andrea Nguyen, I started making epic tofu. With every batch it got better and better, trying different coagulants and techniques. I was churning it out by the KG and our vegan experiment was charging ahead.

Ch 4: Getting Crafty

 

But the one thing I hated was dealing with balancing colanders over pots, with dish clothes, kettle bells and all sorts of other weird stuff all over the kitchen. It always looked like a war zone when I was done. I Googled my little heart out looking for a wooden tofu press like Andrea's to make the process simpler - but with no luck. I honestly couldn't believe that in the whole of South Africa there were none to be found.

I got hold of a few carpenters to get a quote on making some traditional finger-joint or dove-tail joint boxes. The cost blew my little mind (around R1500 per box!) - and I thought "Nay. There must be a cheaper way". It wasn't even the wood that was expensive, it was the time and craftsmanship that goes into that particular type of joinery. I had also begun to suspect that I couldn't be the only person in South Africa in need of one of these tofu presses.

So started the great tofu press experiment. Two of my friends who live in the Karkloof put a huge amount of effort into testing poplar, maple, beech and even Rhodesian teak using a simple design where the sides of the box were pinned together. Unfortunately the warping that the wood experiences under the wet and warm conditions of tofu making meant that the presses would lose their perfect shape, and in some cases start to push out the bamboo pins used to keep the boxes together. They were astounding works of art though and I will keep those boxes in my treasure trove forever.

Ch 5: Getting Machine Based

 

Mark suggested I get in touch with a friend who works in the machining industry - but primarily in wood machinery. Using a design that allowed for the wood to expand and contract, we got to testing new woods using lazer cutting. The results were super encouraging (aside from the bamboo which basically turned into charcoal. Oh yes, and the camphor wood one - I only considered whether camphor may be poisonous after eating the entire block of tofu. Vicks flavoured tofu would not be a best seller I don't think).

Eventually - we had a winner. It was cypress. It did warp when wet and warm, but went almost all the way back to flat after drying. It smelled amazing, didn't impart flavours and it was attractive. Things were looking up! We had a working tofu press, the first of it's kind in South Africa.

Ch 6: Serious Moves

It was at this point though, that I realised my passion and unbridled enthusiasm for tofu, nutrition and cooking had completely taken over in terms of what was making me happy. It was a weird realisation knowing that I needed to follow my heart (and gut), that it was time to complete the chapter of my life working in adventure tourism research and project management and move on. With support from my friends, my family and my work colleagues, I took the plunge and started FULLsome on the 1st of December 2020.

 

I am seriously proud to be able to offer anyone in South Africa a full tofu making kit for half the price of what one wooden tofu press would have cost from my initial quotes. One kit will result in +- 5 blocks of tofu - which is already around R250 saved on a grocery bill - and after someone has bought the kit, they simply have to buy beans and coagulant (which can even be lemon juice!) from there on out.

I want people, not just financially privileged people, to be able to afford healthy food and the benefits it brings. I hate knowing that the majority of South Africans are stuck eating refined, processed food that leads to diabetes, cancer, high blood-pressure, heart attacks - mainly because it's cheap and filling. This has knock on effects impacting South Africa's strained medical system - and the people most directly affected are those who can't afford private health care - the same people who rely on processed, cheap, accessible food. We have to start somewhere - and tofu may not be an African staple yet...but give me time.