Mountain View’s Oanh Nguyen and Dang Vu were on a trip to Japan and a bit lost when they stumbled upon a sake bar. What they found inside captivated them: misozuke. “We were hooked from that first taste,’ says Nguyen.
Tofu misozuke, miso-cured tofu, is a staple of izakayas in Japan but is virtually unknown in the United States. The tofu is aged for up to six months and tastes like a sharp, soft cheese. It is salty but is balanced by a creamy texture that’s somewhere between butter and foie gras. Take a bite, and it is difficult to believe you are eating tofu. For vegans, misozuke is the ultimate cheese replacement. Meat eaters would be hard pressed to find something so creamy and rich.
Back home, Nguyen and Vu tried to find misozuke in Silicon Valley, but they came up empty. So they decided to make their own. Trouble was, there were few resources. There is no misozuke cookbook. After two years of trial and error—and help from an 18th-century Japanese book that offered some clues—they had a recipe.
“It’s been a really interesting journey,’ Nguyen says.
Encouraged by friends, they decided to make the stuff commercially under the name Rau Om. Lucky for us, Rau Om is available locally at the Palo Alto farmers’ market on California Avenue, at New Leaf Market and in several San Francisco restaurants. It sells for $7 for 2.5 ounces, and a little goes a long way—at least that’s what Nguyen says. I ate up my sample rather quickly.
Rau Om translates as “rice paddy herb’ from Vietnamese, a name the two used for their Vietnamese cooking blog. When they decided to go into the misozuke business, they kept the name. They also make a few Vietnamese items, such as nem chua (a beef/lamb terrine) and tuong ot (Vietnamese-style chile sauce).
Vu is in a Ph.D. program on the East Coast, while Nguyen holds down a job at Intuit as a manager for corporate strategy. In true Silicon Valley style, they have posted the basics of their misozuke recipe and technical notes on their website (rauom.com), an open-source approach that will allow home chefs to make their own. But the bar has been set by Nguyen and Vu. Their misozuke is delicious.