Aloha By The Block

Aloha Tofu has been making Hawaii’s tofu since 1950 and in its current location since the 70s. Today, you can still get a peak of their operation and purchase fresh local tofu, yudofu, aburage, natto, okara and soy milk.

The factory is tucked away on a narrow one-way street off N. King in Kalihi. It’s open to the public and in production every day except Wed and Sat. Anyone can stop by to purchase direct from the source. Customers, mostly seniors were already in line to get their weekly tofu when we arrived. It’s reminiscent of the days before the supermarket when tofu was delivered door-to-door like the milk man. Call (808) 845-2669 for availability

Open: Daily 7:30a & Close: Wed, Sat 11a; All Other Days 4:30p – 961 Akepo Ln, Honolulu 96817

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The entrance leads directly into the factory where employees are busy producing and packaging Aloha’s many products. That morning we were lucky to be hosted on a special tour by owner and third-generation tofu maker, Paul Uyehara and his lovely wife Misa.

Paul’s grandparents, Kamesaburo and Tsuruko Uyehara immigrated to Hawaii from Okinawa. His grandfather worked as a butcher for Times Supermarket until the age of 50, when he started a second career as a tofu maker. He purchased Aloha Tofu from a friend and with the support of other friends, the Teruya brothers–founders of Times and also from Okinawa–it grew into a successful family business.

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The manufacturing of Aloha Tofu is on display front and center. A long and delicate process, once done completely by hand, is now updated with the help of modern machines. Some factories have completely mechanized their process, but Aloha still finishes their tofu by hand. While much of the soy in the US is genetically modified, Aloha also uses all Non-GMO soy beans–a staggering 1 ton per day.

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The soy beans are first soaked overnight. It’s then ground into a liquid and cooked for 30 – 45 min. Once cooked, the skins (okara) and milk are separated. We were surprised by the taste of the soy milk, very different from store bought. It’s unsweetened and served warm. Very comforting with a creamy but delicate edamame flavor, unusually refreshing.

Difficult to find in stores, the pure okara can be purchased at the factory and a seasoned prepared version can be found at their retail restaurant–Aloha Tofu Town. The excess okara is used to feed local pigs. Paul jokes that like okara, tofu pairs well with pigs in another way…Okinawan food!

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A special mineral called nigari (magnesium chloride) and calcium sulfate is added to coagulate the soy milk. Aloha is one of only two producers to use a special local nigari made from Kona deep sea water. The right amount must be added to get the flavor just right.

When making soft tofu, the nigari is added to cold milk already in its container, then heated to the right consistency. For firm tofu the nigari is added to large batches of milk, then broken into curds. The curds are placed in a mold, covered with a cloth, and formed into large blocks by hydraulic press. The liquid whey is squeezed out and the block transferred to a cooling bath. It’s then cut and transferred to individual containers to cool again.

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Once cooled, the pyramid of tofu is rolled to the packaging line where it’s covered and labeled. The finished product is then loaded into crates and stored in an ice bath, ready for shipment. Aloha Tofu can still be found in Times Supermarkets today and all across Hawaii.

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As part of the tour we were treated to samples of fresh soy milk, tofu custard, tofu mousse, okara cookies, and of course natto.

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If you didn’t grow up with it, tasting natto for the first time is like a right of passage. Of the five in our group, two had never tasted it before. Our friends from Vermont and Pennsylvania were surprisingly receptive, even going in for seconds–no rice! (I knew we were friends for a reason)

From the factory, Aloha Natto is different than what you might find in your grocer’s freezer. Sold fresh, the individual beans have a slightly firmer texture. They’re a lighter brown with a nuttier, less bitter finish. Watch how Aloha Natto is made from start to finish.

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The other highlight was the yudofu or tofu custard, seasoned with a special dashi shoyu. Best eaten at its freshest, it’s only available on production days 9a – 11a $6.45 for a large half scoop. It’s rich like chawanmushi with a smoky umami flavor from the shoyu. It’s the best tofu you will ever have. If you “don’t like tofu,” you haven’t had THIS. Guaranteed to change some minds. Tip: the factory and restaurant sells Kawanaka Shoyu from Japan $8.80 500 ml.

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After you visit the factory, head over to Aloha Tofu Town at Dole Cannery. Their second location duals as a specialty restaurant and production center for fried tofu and aburage (fried tofu skin). They serve both savory and sweet dishes showcasing the flavor and versatility of tofu.

Open: Tue-Sat 11a-2p – 735 Iwilei Rd Ste 304 Honolulu, HI 96817 (808) 845-2669

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The main menu offers tofu hamburger steak, tofu loco moco, and tofu curry. The mini is $6.50 and the regular includes rice, special side salad and their famous savory oboru tofu for $9.

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The hamburger steak is made with half hamburger and half tofu. It’s satisfying and doesn’t require an afternoon nap. It’s finished with onions in a rich demi glace sauce. The curry is a fragrant traditional Japanese curry with chunks of firm tofu. Served with a green salad.

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The menu also offers a vegetarian tofu steak and daily special. Their bento and okazu station has an impressive selection, including musubi and nishime. They also sell cold items like soy milk and tofu poke, and tofu desserts like cakes and tofu mousse.

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If you want to try their specialty items, best to go on Tue or Thu. Fresh fried aburage and atsuage are available Tue, Thu, Fri and special okara cream puffs are available Tue & Thu only.

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If you’re still not convinced, try for yourself–in its simple and purest form. Take a trip down the old streets of Kalihi. Buy some warm yudofu made fresh that morning. Don’t forget your special bottle of Kawanaka shoyu and enjoy. If you agree it taste like Aloha (tofu), tell us below.

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