Why did the tofu cross the road?

By Eunice John 

 ...to prove it was just as good as chicken!

I’m soy excited to share about something I’ve successfully made THREE times this month (it’s become a Sunday tradition)...drumroll please...TOFU!
Neighbor, MK teacher, fellow tofu-lover Erica and me during our tofu making lesson! She is holding okara, soy pulp, which we collected after straining the blended beans.

A little background first -- at Kibuye, aside from the hospital canteen (which serves tasty food, though limited), there are no restaurants for dine-in or takeout. And there are no grocery stores to run to when you’re missing an ingredient or two. However, one of the blessings of team/community life is that you have regular opportunities to lean on your neighbors as well as practice generosity! You and your family just arrived after 24hrs+ of traveling? No problem - there’s already a meal train set up for you! Need a few extra eggs, 1/2c of cheese, a kg of flour, 2 tsp of oregano...or all of the above? No problem - ask your neighbor or just send a message to the ladies WhatsApp group and there’s a good chance someone will be able to help! 

When it comes to preparing food at Kibuye, I would say that it’s a labor of love. Nearly everything we eat is made from scratch -- breads, salads (with homemade croutons...whaat?!), pasta sauce (no Classico or Prego here, folks), yogurt, desserts...you name it. My kids know that at Kibuye, there’s no McDonalds but they do have Mom-Donalds, Mom-fil-A...you get the idea. 

As a Korean-American family, we eat Korean food regularly and wanted to be able to enjoy it in rural Africa. Knowing that it would be near impossible to find Korean ingredients in Burundi, we either brought some essential ingredients with us in our checked luggage or planned ahead and sent them on a team shipping container. Still, there are many ingredients that you just won’t have on hand, so you’ve got to get creative. I am always amazed at how resourceful and creative my teammates are, truly with everything but especially food. From simple foods to fancier dishes, Kibuye kitchens rock! 

Now, if you were to visit a Korean home, you’ll probably find kimchi in the fridge. What else? There’s a good chance you’ll find tofu too -- and 99.9% of the time, it’s store bought. Nobody makes their own tofu...we buy it! Might I mention that tofu is available in various degrees of firmness: silken, soft, medium, firm, extra firm. Moving on...tofu is not only a low-calorie food but it is also high in protein. We love tofu. 

Tofu is made from soybeans which have been soaked, blended, strained, boiled, coagulated, and placed in a mold to get that nice rectangular shape. Sounds simple enough.

I was thrilled to learn that busoma was made of two parts corn, one part SOY, and one part sorghum. To top things off, dry soybeans are plentiful here and very reasonably priced (you can get 1kg of soybeans for 3000 Burundian francs which is about $1). 

Mind you, during our first term at Kibuye, I tried to FIND tofu. Surely our go-to Chinese restaurant in Bujumbura would know where to get tofu, or perhaps they made tofu in house? Nope. Surely, our vegan Burundian doctor would be able to connect us with his tofu supplier in Buja. Unfortunately, he was unable to bring any back to Kibuye. Well, I was determined to make tofu! 

The trickiest part is probably figuring out the coagulant -- there are many options: vinegar, lemon juice, gypsum (calcium sulfate), epsom salts, nigari (magnesium chloride). Each coagulant results in different textures, tastes, and success rates. From that list, we can get vinegar and lemons. I love being able to make food with ingredients we can find locally or in country, so I tried vinegar. I ended up making tofu although it was more like a sorry slab. Basically, it seemed like a lot of work for little return, so I gave it a rest. 

Fast forward two years later. We’re missing tofu again and with our youngest having several food allergies, including milk, I was once again on a mission to get soy based foods/tofu into our home. I did some more reading and learned about a coagulant that I hadn’t considered before: rice vinegar. This is also likely to be found in the fridge of a Korean/Asian household. Rice vinegar is not something you would think you could find in Burundi. In Kenya, maybe, but not Burundi. But sometimes, we find some rare/random treasures here. Back in the summer of 2018, we were on a family trip in Buja. At that time, fellow Serge missionary, Carolyn Bond, graciously took me around to a handful of stores (we were actually on the search for some fish sauce and a few other household items that I was hoping to find). We had lunch at a little cafe called Maison Crèmerie...a hidden gem. I walked into the store afterward to see if there was anything interesting and what do you know? On the shelf were TWO BOTTLES OF KOREAN BROWN RICE VINEGAR! What?!

I saved that bottle of brown rice vinegar in storage while we were away this past year. I’m happy to report that it’s still good and a successful coagulant! One kg of soybeans produces 2 large blocks of tofu, so I’ve been keeping half of the soaked beans in the freezer for the next batch. Who knew I would be making tofu in Burundi, but here we are. Just a small, but personal joy that the Lord has given me!

Korean Spicy Tofu Stew (Soon Du Bu), one of Ted’s favorite meals.

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