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Staying cool with a bowl of tào phớ

Update: July, 10/2018 - 10:26
Cool kids: Yên Hòa students enjoy Mrs Chiến’s tào phớ. — Photos
Viet Nam News

Hồ Hoàng

With outdoor temperatures hitting 50 degrees, Hanoians are suffering from another severe summer. Each year is hotter than the last thanks to climate change.

Unlike the heat of the World Cup, which is really exciting, this heat can actually burn you. In an experiment by VTV, candles melted under the afternoon sun in minutes. The sweltering weather is a daytime nightmare for employees, especially those outdoors.

But luckily, tào phớ (soya bean curd) comes to the rescue as one of the best summer foods in Việt Nam.

“On July 1st, there were too many customers to count, but I went through about 1,500 plastic cups used to hold the tào phớ. This wasn’t counting servings ot caramel and sweet soup,” said Lê Thu Nga, the owner of a summer food shop in Linh Đàm Market (in Hà Nội’s Hoàng Mai District). She explained that tào phớ helps to cool down customers during hot summer days, earning her more than VNĐ8 million (US$347) per month.

Simple: Tào phớ can be made at home easily. — Photo

Tào phớ is an iconic food for Vietnamese people with a long history of development in ingredients and processing throughout provinces from north to south.

From the familiar vendors on a bike that ride around town, waking kids and serving traditional cups of tào phớ with soy-bean milk, tofu, and yellow sugar, to bigger, more modern shops with added ingredients, tào phớ is always close to the heart of Hanoians, from children to adults.

In the central region, especially in Huế and Đà Nẵng, tào phớ is called đậu hũ. It differs slightly in flavour from tào phớ, which has ginger. The taste of đậu hũ is more pungent but still very unique. 

Further to the south, dishes are generally sweeter. The tào phớ is thicker with coconut milk and called tàu hủ. Saigonese usually eat tàu hủ with hot syrup, but during the summer months, tàu hủ with ice and cool coconut water is the best choice for students after a hard day at school.

Nutritious: Tofu in tào phớ contains a lot of healthy nutrients, including protein.— Photo

Generations of Yên Hòa High School students have enjoyed tào phớ at Mother Chiến’s shop. They all thought it was one of the most memorable high school moments.

With simple ingredients like tofu, syrup, black pearl, dried coconut and jelly, Mrs. Chiến’s motto is ‘traditional at its best’.

“We call her “mother Chiến” because she is very kind, friendly and her tào phớ is the best. I eat the dish at her shop every day, especially in the summer, even if we don’t have any classes. The simplicity of her tào phớ is what I love, when we don’t need to consider which flavor we should choose, and just enjoy the delicious genuine flavour of this food,” said Nguyễn Huyền My, a grade 11 student from Yên Hòa High School.

Mrs Chiến, 67, started a new life in Hà Nội decades ago after leaving a job as a clerk at the Thái Nguyên Steel Factory.

“I opened my shop without any experience, it was a gamble for my family at that moment. I kept learning every day. It’s not complicated to make tào phớ, but you have to be careful on the smallest details. The soybeans have to be meticulously selected, they have to be new, clean, and soaked in water for a long time, not to mention you need to change the water in order to make it softer and easier to take off the shell,” Chiến recalled.

Original: Plain tào phớ has its own attraction, too. — VNS Photo Lê Hương

“I only add dried coconut, jelly, or black pearl because the students ask me to,” she said.

“They call me ‘mother’ because we have a really good relationship. I still remember many years ago, when a cup of tào phớ cost just VNĐ500, the students had to save up every VNĐ200 to buy one. Some were very thirsty but didn’t have enough money. I still made the dish for them, looking at their happy eyes made my day, they promised to pay me back and they did. A bowl of tào phớ is not expensive, but the warm affection between elders and youngsters is more important,” she said about the relationship with Yên Hòa students.

For VNĐ8,000 a bowl, Chiến’s shop doesn’t just attract Yên Hòa students, but also other customers from around Hà Nội.

“I’ve heard of Mrs. Chiến’s food a long time ago and finally had the chance to try it. It was so refreshing, especially in those hot days of summer. I also heard that tào phớ is really good for pregnancy so I will buy it more of often as I work nearby and it’s quite cheap but very tasty,” said Phạm Thanh Thảo. 

Without doubt, the tofu in tào phớ contains a lot of healthy nutrients, including protein, said Megan Ware, a nutritionist and author of Medical News Today. There are 10 grams of protein in every half cup of tào phớ, which is really good for health especially during pregnancy.

“Tofu, with its high levels of isoflavones, carbohydrate and calcium, can provide a lower risk of several age- and lifestyle-related diseases such as cardiovascular, liver damage, osteoporosis, breast and prostate cancer,” Megan Ware said about the benefits of tofu in tào phớ.

New twist: Young people prefer tào phớ with coffee. — File Photo

“But everything is not good when you use it too much, remember to absorb no more than 200 grams of tofu per day, if you eat too much tofu, there will be risks of having reverse health effects to fertility as the phytoestrogen in soy produce may have a mildly feminising effect, and that this could lead to complications such as gynecomastia. Iodine deficiency, atherosclerosis and poor digestion are other risks when you eat too much tào phớ as it also contains many saponins and methionine,” she added.

Nowadays, tào phớ is sold everywhere, from small stalls to big, modern shops. Types sold include original flavours to those with different ingredients. Jelly Bean (on Hà Nội’s Quang Trung Street) is leading the tào phớ trend among young people. From tào phớ with red beans and coconut milk, tào phớ with coffee and chocolate to tào phớ with ginger jam. The diversity of its menu brings fresh tastes to young customers.

“I had my own way of doing things. First, I researched the effect of soy beans and realised that this is a very good product for health, so I wanted to bring these products closer to everyone. Secondly, I researched the traditional products to fit modern styles of tào phớ without losing the identity of those products. So, when putting new recipe on the menu, I have to study very carefully to ensure that consistency. I always ensure the quality and hygiene of food safety. Tào phớ and soy milk at Jelly Bean are only for sale during the day, and what’s left at the end of the day will be removed,” Trần Đức Nghĩa – founder of Jelly Bean, proudly shared about his first restaurant.

Throughout the years, tào phớ continues to cool customers in the hot summer, with new variations satisfying the tastes of new generations. But for those who prefer the dish with an original taste, there will always be tào phớ shops like Mrs Chiến’s, in this nostalgic capital city. — VNS


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