Is there a food more polarizing than tofu? Many meat-eaters turn up their noses at the bland, jiggly stuff, while vegetarians praise it for its delicious versatility and ability to soak up any flavor.
But tofu was a staple of East Asian cuisine long before it became an object of debate in the U.S. If you want to try one of the area’s finest examples, head to Sun Wah BBQ along the Argyle Street corridor in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood. Their off-menu special is roasted Beijing duck for two, served with plates of fluffy bao and crunchy daikon salad. But they also serve a variety of succulent tofu dishes even most die-hard meat-eaters can enjoy.
At Sun Wah and you’re really buying and eating local: The restaurant makes all of its own tofu right here in town. Co-owner Kelly Cheng says her parents and sisters went on a “literal machine hunt” in Taiwan after their partners of 18 years pulled out of the business that ran their old North Side factory. The Chengs returned with a steam-powered beast of a machine worth almost $500,000, which now lives in the Sun Xien Soy Products factory they opened this year in Back of the Yards.
They only sell their tofu wholesale for now, but you can find some of their other products in a few of the Asian groceries along Broadway Avenue. Or, if you want to go straight to the source, the Chengs sometimes offer tours of the South Side factory. Earlier this month Culinary Historians of Chicago got a look inside and brought a tape recorder with them. You can hear Sun Wah’s specialty go from beans to curd in the audio above.
Dynamic Range showcases hidden gems unearthed from Chicago Amplified’s vast archive of public events and appears on weekends. Kelly Cheng spoke at an event presented by the Culinary Historians of Chicago in June. Click here to hear the event in its entirety.