Tofu has become a popular ingredient with the growing popularity of vegetarianism and veganism. Today, we’re going to meet a talented young man who is making tofu by hand and keeping the Japanese tradition alive.
Jason Ogata heard that Ota Tofu – the oldest tofu factory in America – was closing down. He knew that this is one of the rare tofu factories which makes tofu by hand. Hence, he couldn’t see it shut down.
Saizo Ota, the founder of Ota Tofu, immigrated to Portland, America from Okayama, Japan, and soon opened the tofu shop in 1911 with his wife Shina. Yep, the factory is that old! Ogata bought the business from Shina’s grandson Ko and his wife Eileen in 2019. They taught him the art of making tofu by hand and how to use the equipment. They helped Ogata carry on the Ota family’s tradition. Ogata still uses the Ota family’s old equipment and recipe. Just three ingredients: water, soybeans, and coagulant (a liquid ingredient that turns milk into curds and then tofu).
Sure, there’s a lot of demand for tofu and it would be easier to make large quantities with machines. After all, with the traditional Japanese method, making tofu requires a lot of time and manual labor. You need to mix the ingredients, then press them to drain away excess water, and then slice the tofu into blocks before selling. In modern factories, all you have to do is press a few buttons and expect tofu with little time and little effort.
But Ogata believes there’s beauty in making tofu by hand and keeping Japanese art alive. And he has an unending list of customers! There are certain restaurants and food trucks that prefer to buy Ota Tofu only, simply because it’s better than machine-made tofu.
It’s great to see people working hard to keep certain amazing traditions alive.
Here’s a fun fact: Jason Ogata, the current owner of Ota Tofu, was actually a professional baseball player!