Tofu Tour: Hodo Soy Beanery in Oakland, California

Many people see tofu as a blank canvas kind of food, something that has no inherent flavor but can act as a vehicle for whatever you introduce it to. So they squeeze it and marinate it and toss it with all manner of spices and aromatics. But people who grew up in Asia may know a secret about tofu that many Bay Area citizens are just beginning to discover: if it's well made, fresh tofu can be a delicious food in its own right. So where can you learn more about this magic stuff and get a taste? The Hodo Soy Beanery!

The founder of Hodo Soy Beanery, Minh Tsai, longed for the tofu of his youth in Vietnam and wanted to introduce this delicious food to the west. So he set out to create an artisanal product that's made in small batches to preserve the fresh taste and texture of real tofu. He sourced beans from the Clay Family Farm in Illinois for their high protein content and creamy consistency and began selling his tofu and tofu products at Bay Area farmers' markets.

In 2009, Hodo Soy moved to their current location in Oakland, a former candy factory, and increased their production. While the beanery is mechanized, much of the process is still hands-on, a happy marriage of art and technology. A sip of Hodo Soy's fresh soy milk, the foundation of all their products, proves the point. The milk is rich and creamy and has a sweet, fresh, slightly beany taste. It's nothing like the packaged stuff from the grocery store shelves. I am not a soy milk lover but I drank this stuff down like it was a glass of milk!

Locals and tourists alike will enjoy touring Hodo Soy's immaculate tofu factory (dates and tickets can be found online.) Here you will see Hodo Soy's special organic, non-GMO soy beans go from dry beans to soy milk, and on to tofu and yuba. You will also get a chance to sample some of the many delicious tofu and soy dishes Hodo Soy produces.

If you don't have time for a tour you can taste Hodo Soy at several Bay Area farmers' markets or purchase their products at many California Whole Foods Markets and other local grocers.

• For more information and directions to the factory, visit the Hodo Soy Beanery website.

Related: How to Make Soy Milk at Home

(Images: Dana Velden and Hodo Soy Beanery)