ALOHA TOFU TOWN
735 Iwilei Rd.
Phone number (808) 845-2669
As someone who is Japanese and Korean, I’ve eaten tofu for as long as I can remember — in soups, with shoyu, I mean really, it’s as much a staple as rice.
But for me, it only ever made sense in these most obvious ways. Used in any other dish and I usually refrained from sampling what I considered to be an unappealing substitute for meat.
Then, a few years ago, I tried Aloha Tofu’s Cheesecake Tofu Mousse. I’m not normally a fan of cheesecake, but this one was much lighter in flavor and considerably less dense in texture. Spoiler alert: I ate the whole thing.
So when I heard that the company’s first storefront was open, I contacted Aloha Tofu president Paul Uyehara immediately.
Located in Dole Cannery, Aloha Tofu Town offers a rotating menu of plate lunches Monday-Friday. For now, Uyehara tells me that for the most part, they’ll stick with set daily specials. Naturally, every meal includes tofu in some aspect. On Monday, stop in for Aloha Tofu Curry Rice, or sample Aloha Shrimp Tofu with Chili Sauce on Thursdays. You’ll also find the Tofu Mousse, in flavors such as strawberry (my favorite), blueberry and green tea.
Tofu, says Uyehara, sometimes implies vegetarianism, but that’s not what Aloha Tofu is after. So while the company is developing vegetarian options, don’t expect them just yet.
“Our position is that tofu is very versatile,” says Uyehara. “It can go with anything that you want.”
My visit on a Friday included sampling the Aloha Friday Bento, which is available with either a tofu hamburger and salmon, or an okara croquette and salmon.
If I had to choose, I’d say the tofu hamburger combo was my favorite. The hamburger itself was tender, probably due entirely to the addition of tofu to beef. Though what it really came down to was the glaze — a sweet, tangy and slightly smoky teriyaki sauce.
But I also liked the okara croquette (okara is a soy product that feels soft and a little spongy, kind of like aburage, or deep-fried tofu). Plus, this version was wrapped in ham, then battered with panko and deep-fried. I am certain I would have liked it more if I had tried it immediately, versus waiting to get back to my office, because it lost some of that deep-fried crispiness.
One last thing to note, and this may sound crazy, but the rice was perfect: a balance between soft, sticky and dry. Trust me, it’s the best sort of oxymoron.
BEHIND THE SCENES
Daily, Aloha Tofu produces as many as 5,000 blocks of firm and soft tofu. The company also is known for its aburage (deep-fried tofu pouches) and atsuge (deep-fried tofu blocks). It’s because of this other arm of the business that the company opened a second location in Iwilei.
You won’t be able to see it for about another month (when it’s done, a window will allow visitors to catch a glimpse), but included in its new storefront will be a second factory that will produce only deep-fried products. Plus, the commercial kitchen, where its plate lunches and Tofu Mousse are prepared, allows Aloha Tofu to comfortably create these retail items.
Until that’s done, Metro was able to tour Aloha Tofu’s main factory. To give you a glimpse, our videographer Rachel Breit has created a video that takes you inside the fun-to-watch process of making tofu.
I recently had the opportunity to stop by Foodland to check out its Eat Local Tuesdays initiative. It’s a simple concept: At least one day a week, the market chain asks customers to eat local. As an added incentive, all local products will be offered at reduced prices daily in Foodland stores throughout the state, and each week, a different local item will be highlighted.
On the day I visited, Foodland had just released its latest ahi creation: Lomi Poke.
Personally, lomi salmon always has been my favorite component of any Hawaiian plate, and this poke bowl is no exception. Each bite is like a mouthful of lomi salmon, and the crunch and subtle flavor of sea asparagus cuts through any overt fishiness you’d expect from the dual combination of ahi and salmon.
Follow @foodlandhi on Instagram to keep up with this latest initiative, and use #EatLocalTuesdays to join in.