March 14, 2013

Honda Tofu Factory

Tokyo born and Wahiawa grown, renowned Hawaii chef Alan Wong continually pays tribute to his humble hometown of Wahiawa, a community that still retains its rural magic in a rapidly-urbanizing world.

For Wong, it’s the local family businesses that give his hometown its distinct flavor and unique identity. Over the years he’s watched his favorite mom-and-pop restaurants and family businesses rapidly disappear, and with it the simpler era of his childhood. At his restaurants, Wong is committed to supporting local businesses, not only to get the freshest island ingredients, but also to help keep local traditions alive. As our featured guest in the pilot episode, Wong led us on a nostalgic journey to his hometown to honor the history of his favorite food producers.

We began our shooting day schedule extra early– at Wahiawa’s Honda Tofu– where we were greeted by Dennis, Dulcie and Josephine Honda, already hard at work grinding soybeans for fresh tofu. Wong sources Honda Family Tofu for signature dishes like Pan Steamed Onaga, “Chinese Style” at his Pineapple Room restaurant.

The oldest tofu producer in the country, Honda Tofu traces its origins back to 1917, when Japanese immigrants Eizo and Tsuyo Honda began making fresh tofu in the back of their rural Wahiawa general store. As their homemade tofu gained a following, it became their sole focus by the late 1920s.

Nine decades and three generations later, Eizo’s grandson Dennis Honda continues the family tradition of creating handmade artisanal tofu, with the same recipe that Eizo used. Dennis and his wife Dulcie oversee day-to-day operations, which they took over from Dennis’ parents, Haruo and Josephine. For Dennis, it truly is a labor of love. Those uniform rectangular blocks of tofu you see? Each one is meticulously hand cut from a massive block with a special knife.

We sampled the silky delicacy of warm, freshly made tofu. Because Honda tofu is unpasteurized and made without preservatives, it has a distinctly fresh taste that’s missing from mass-produced supermarket brands. To add to the hometown feel of the small factory, you can buy tofu right there, in your choice of firm, regular, or kuzu varieties, for less than $2 per block— nostalgia included.

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