The staple of hippie cuisine goes mainstream

Maybe you remember your first encounter. Mork & Mindy was on TV, and your mother called you to dinner, where you confronted a tremulous white cube doused in soy sauce. “Tofu,” your mother said. “It’s good for you.”

Cut to 2009, and the low-calorie, high-protein soybean curd is as mainstream here as the Quarter Pounder. As it happens, Asian-born tofu is deeply Western: The first U.S. manufacturer opened in San Francisco in 1878.

Today the nation’s largest tofu producer, House Foods of Garden Grove, California, makes 150,000 packages of tofu each day at its West Coast plant alone; tofu products crowd the dairy or deli aisles in grocery stores.

And tofu has vaulted from health food to haute cuisine―as at Nobu Los Angeles, where it stars in a sake-flamed dish called toban-yaki. Like Mom, we always know a good thing (eventually) when we see one.

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