Five years of soy, five years of joy at Soy and Tofu Fest


Emcees Jana Katsuyama and Mike Inouye with 2015 Cherry Blossom Queen court and mascots Cutie Tofutti and Tofu Panda.

Emcees Jana Katsuyama and Mike Inouye with 2015 Cherry Blossom Queen court and mascots Cutie Tofutti and Tofu Panda.
Emcees Jana Katsuyama and Mike Inouye with 2015 Cherry Blossom Queen court and mascots Cutie Tofutti and Tofu Panda.

Under the auspices of relatively warm weather, the fifth annual Northern California Soy and Tofu Festival celebrated everything and anything related to the “almighty soy bean” at the San Francisco Japantown Peace Plaza and Buchanan Mall June 6. The annual fundraiser for the Nichi Bei Foundation invited attendees to learn about the versatility of the soybean amid games, an eclectic cast of cultural performers and audience participation games.

Kenji G. Taguma, co-chair of the festival and president of the Nichi Bei Foundation, said the event has grown for the fifth straight year, with last year’s attendance figures estimated to be more than 20,000 people. “We had noticeably greater attendance this year, with the Peace Plaza packed throughout the day,” he said, noting greater outreach as a contributing factor. “We also had greater attendance across the street in our new Artisan Alley, as well as the Tiny Tofu Town.”

New to the festivities this year was a tofu eating contest and a broader pan-Asian cast of performers, including the Filipino folk dance group Parangal Dance Company and Lion Dance ME, which previously performed on “America’s Got Talent.” New food vendors served up soy products like crispy dessert waffles, fried tofu balls and ramen burgers and yuba yakisoba. The festival put together a new education booth and exhibit on soy, as well as a new Artisan Alley for vendors.

Curt Yagi
Curt Yagi

The festival, emceed by KTVU Fox 2’s Jana Katsuyama and NBC Bay Area’s Mike Inouye, started with beats by Eden Aoba Taiko immediately followed by Lion Dance ME, which paraded through the Peace Plaza in a shower of confetti. Throughout the day, performers entertained the crowd. Berkeley Genyukai performed Okinawan music, joining returning festival performers Curt Yagi & the People Standing Behind Me and Crywolffs.

“We’ve had our largest offering of entertainment — including several new acts — ending the day with an eye towards the future by incorporating a number of younger performers, including the Nikkei Choral Ensemble and Cal Raijin Taiko from UC Berkeley,” Taguma said. “It’s important for us to engage younger generations.”

Sweet Contest
The annual Soy and Tofu Dessert Competition pitted three diverse, delectable desserts against each other for a $500 grand prize. Two-time winner Masako Nakatani, a pastry instructor from San Jose, returned with a tofu blueberry cheesecake. Facing off against the veteran contestant were Rodney Yano, minister at the Konko Church of San Francisco, and Akimi Furutani-Skovajsa, a homemaker in San Francisco.

While Yano’s Strawberry “Haupia Pie” won the People’s Choice, judges voted Furutani-Skovajsa’s “Tonyu/Tofu no Shichihenge” (Soymilk and Tofu Transformation) for first place.

Judges showered praise on Furutani-Skovajsa’s dessert for both its taste and presentation, which evoked traditional Japanese aesthetics and variety.

The yokan-like soy milk-based gelatin was presented in three different ways: paired with a strawberry garnish and whipped cream, powdered with kinako (powdered soy bean) and with azuki bean.

Xavier Tsang, development director of the Chinese Culture Foundation of San Francisco, didn’t know where to begin on the variety of flavors and styles. Minh Tsai, founder of Hodo Soy Beanery, said the dessert paid attention to detail, with Furutani-Skovajsa cutting the strawberries in the shape of cherry blossom petals and using azuki bean, another legume on top of soy. Maria Katsuta-Townsley, chef of Totally Oishii, said it was “too pretty to eat,” but upon sampling it, was able to taste each ingredient in the recipe. Monica Lo, creative director of Nomiku, said the recipe contained “love and passion.” Sita Kuratomi Bhaumik, artist and food blogger at Foodbolistas, praised the gelatin’s texture.

Furutani-Skovajsa said she set out to make a traditional Japanese dessert using healthy ingredients such as soy milk and tofu. “I’m happy I got to teach about Japanese food and culture today,” she told the Nichi Bei Weekly after winning.

Yano, who won People’s Choice with his Hawaiian coconut pudding and placed third by the judges, said the dessert contest was a lot more work than he had thought. “I thought dessert would be simple, but it isn’t,” he said. However, he was happy that the audience voted for him. “I wanted people to enjoy the dessert, taste the aloha.”

Tofu Entertainment
Tobin Tsuji returned to run ToFun audience participation games on stage, and the festival introduced a new Tofu Eating Contest. Two rounds of six people each competed to scarf down tofu for festival merchandise.

The first-round contestants had to eat a large brick of tofu from Sacramento Tofu doused in wasabi mayonnaise and Sriracha hot sauce. Six contestants took on the challenge. Contestants worked on their respective blocks in various ways. Some pecked away at small chunks cut with their chopsticks, while others picked up the whole block and bit in mouthfuls. In the end, Steven Robertson, a San Francisco State University transfer student from Victoria, Texas, took home the title and a goodie bag.

“It feels great. That was really good tofu,” he told the Nichi Bei Weekly. With regard to the spicy condiments on the tofu, though, Robertson felt it was lacking. “As I am from Texas, it could have used more spice.”

In the second round, another six contestants dived into another block of tofu, this time plain and hands free. Contestants featured both veterans and neophytes of tofu, including a man who said he had never eaten tofu before.

Nhan Nguyen of San Francisco won the second round, “inhaling” the block of tofu as observed by emcee Inouye.

Following its popularity, Taguma said the Tofu Eating Contest — or the “Tofu Throwdown” as he calls it — will likely be coming back in future festivals.

New Food Features
The festival, celebrating the varied uses of soy and tofu, invited vendors to sell their creations. Along with festival mainstays such as Kikkoman, SoyJoy, Sacramento Tofu, San Jose Tofu, Hodo Soy Beanery and other returning vendors, several new vendors joined the festival this year.

Kokio Republic, a Korean-style fried chicken food truck might not immediately bring to mind soy products, but owner Nathan Choi offers a ball of fried tofu he concocted for vegetarian customers. His fried chicken also can be doused in a soy garlic sauce. Choi joined the food truck business last year with a friend after seeing how popular food trucks had become. He serves up fried barbecue chicken, which is popular in Korea. While he’s not particularly experienced within the culinary world, he concocted the kimchi balls — a fried kimchi rice ball with bacon — and vegetarian tofu balls, featuring a ball of fried Korean tofu with minced vegetables covered in his soy garlic glaze. “It was only after we came out with them that we were told it’s similar to Italian arancini,” Choi said.

Nombe, formerly an izakaya in San Francisco, also set up a booth offering tofu ramen burgers, yuba salad with quinoa and yakisoba. The yakisoba featured thin strands of yuba instead of soba noodles. Mari Takahashi, the owner, said she wanted to introduce festival-goers to yuba. While yuba is normally served deep fried in America, Takahashi said it’s not as healthy as serving it fresh. Perhaps owed to its relative obscurity, Takahashi said the yuba dishes didn’t sell as well as the burgers. “Everyone knows about tofu, but I guess people don’t know how to eat yuba,” she said.

Moffle Waffle
Moffle Waffle

For dessert, Moffle Waffle served up crunchy vegan waffles topped with a variety of sweet toppings. The mochi (rice cake) waffles are chewy on the inside and crisp on the outside and topped with a variety of fruits, syrups, creams and a vegan soy-based butter. Winchell and Jennifer Chow started serving up the moffles after a friend with a lactose intolerant daughter shared the basic recipe. “We made it totally gluten free and vegan so that everyone can eat it,” Winchell Chow said. “It turns out it tastes even better that way.”

Building Community
“I can honestly say that we couldn’t have asked for a better five-year celebration,” said Kiyomi Tanaka, the festival’s co-chair. “The festival attendance was beyond our expectation, the vendors were fun and very excited to be at our event, the entertainment was incredible, our volunteers were as hardworking as ever and the participants had a blast! I am so thankful to everyone who contributed to this event!”

While the festival primarily serves as a fundraiser, Tanaka said the festival is a unique and family-friendly event that brings together new and different communities into San Francisco’s Japantown.

“I am so honored to work among a very small but incredibly talented group of individuals who volunteer their time and energy into a cause that we all feel passionate about,” she said.

While the festival charges no admission fee, Taguma has tried to better monetize the festival by diversifying its merchandise. New this year, the festival sold a cookbook highlighting five years of the dessert competition, and launched a Soy and Tofu Marketplace where attendees could buy popular soy products at a discounted price.

The festival is also an educational venue on the benefits of soy, according to Taguma. “Soy and tofu are staples in the Asian diet. Not only are they omnipresent in many forms, but they are also good for you,” he said. “Through our Soy and Tofu Dessert Competition, we’ve helped to push the boundaries of the creative uses of soy.”

Through its dessert competition and educational booths, the festival aims to also teach the public about the benefits of soy and tofu, according to
Taguma. He also said the festival benefits the local economy and aims to help develop new leaders within the community.

“(W)hile at its core the festival is a fundraiser for the Nichi Bei Foundation, we’ve also adopted a vision that includes community-building and leadership development, which is critically important because if we want Japantown and the community to thrive and continue, we need to start to incorporate new energy,” Taguma said. “And I believe we do this, in one of the most fun and creative festivals in Northern California.”

Taguma said young volunteers have grown into leaders “who may help steer the community in generation to come.”

For more information about the Northern California Soy and Tofu Festival, visit



Soy and Tofu Dessert Competition

Tonyu Tofu no Shichihenge (Soy milk and Tofu Transformation). By Akimi Furutani-Skovajsa
Tonyu Tofu no Shichihenge
(Soy milk and Tofu Transformation). By Akimi Furutani-Skovajsa

Tonyu Tofu no Shichihenge
(Soy milk and Tofu Transformation)
By Akimi Furutani-Skovajsa
Homemaker, San Francisco

makes 4 servings

400 cc milk
150 g tofu (silken)
150 g cream cheese
100 g granulated sugar
100 cc heavy cream
20 g powdered gelatin
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp liquor
1 lemon
2 tbsp matcha green tea powder
*for Western style:
strawberries, whipped cream for garnish

*for Japanese style:
kinako soybean powder, azuki beans for garnish

For soy milk yokan bean jelly
400 cc soy milk
100 g sugar
14 g Powdered gelatin
1 tbsp matcha green tea powder

1. Pour boiling water over the tofu. Simmer tofu in milk.
2. Soak powdered gelatin in some milk to soften.
3. Add granulated sugar, egg yolk, cream cheese, heavy cream, and liquor to 1. and 2. Mix it all together in a blender.
4. Divide mixture 3. into half. Add lemon to one half and matcha powder to the other.
5. Pour into molds and chill to harden.

*for Western style:
a. Take out of mold. Top with whipped cream and garnish with strawberries.

*for Japanese style:
a. Create checkered pattern with blocks.
b. Top white blocks with kinako soybean powder
c. Top green blocks with azuki beans

For soy milk yokan bean jelly
1. Add 400 cc of water and powdered gelatin into a pot. Put over medium heat and stir with a wooden spoon to dissolve the gelatin.
2. Add soymilk and sugar to the mixture.
3. Split mixture into half and add matcha to one half.
4. Pour into molds and chill to harden.


Tofu Blueberry Cheesecake
By Masako Nakatani
Pastry Instructor, San Jose

30 g Unsalted butter
30 g Granulated sugar
1 pinch Salt
30 g Cake flour
15 g Whole wheat flour

200 g Cream cheese
60 g Sour cream
60 g Granulated sugar
70 g Soft tofu (strained)
Egg 1 each
80 g Heavy cream
15 g Rum

Topping Cream
100 g Sour cream
15 g Granulated sugar
5 g Heavy cream
5 g Lemon juice

100 g Blueberries
30 g Granulated sugar
35 g Water
5 g Lemon juice
Making the crust:
1. Put all the ingredients into a food processor and mix well. 2. Spread it onto the baking sheet and bake for 10-12 min. at 375 degrees. 3. Pour it into the 6” round cake pan and press it until firm.

Making the filling:
1. Put the cream cheese, sour cream, granulated sugar, and strained soft tofu into food processor and mix well. 2. Add the egg, heavy cream, and rum and mix again. 3. Sift it to make the filling even more creamy and smooth. 4. Pour it into the crust and place the cake pan onto the sheet pan.  Pour some hot water into the sheet pan and steam bake for 35-40 min. at 320 degrees. 5. Cool it in the refrigerator overnight.

Making the topping cream:
1. Mix sour cream, granulated sugar, heavy cream, and lemon juice in a bowl until smooth. 2. Spread it on top of the cheesecake.

Making the blueberry sauce:
1. Put all the ingredients into a sauce pan and cook at medium heat. 2. Once it starts boiling, lower the heat and cook for about 5 min.  3. Cool it and serve with chilled cheesecake!


Strawberry Haupia Pie (Hawaiian Coconut Pudding)
By Rodney Yano
Minister, San Francisco

Makes one 9-inch by 13-inch rectangular pie

1 1/2 cups plain graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup salted butter, melted
1/4 cup granulated white sugar
2 cans coconut milk (regular coconut milk or coconut cream)
2 cups vanilla soy milk
1 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup cornstarch
1/2 pound fresh strawberries
Freeze Dried Strawberry Topper
1 package Trader Joe’s freeze dried strawberries crushed into powder
1 package mint leaves for garnish

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Combine the graham cracker crumbs, 1/2 cup of the melted butter, and 1/4 cup sugar. Mix well until the mixture looks like wet sand. Pour into a 9-inch by 13-inch baking dish and press the crust firmly and evenly onto the bottom of the pan. Tip: Helps to use the base of a Tupperware to press the crust down. Bake for 10 minutes and allow to cool.

In a saucepan, combine the coconut milk, soy milk, sugar, and cornstarch and whisk thoroughly until all lumps disappear. Prepare another saucepan and add 1/3 of the mixture. Set aside. This will be for the strawberry haupia topping later. Place the main mixture over medium-high heat, bring to boil then lower to a simmer. Continue to cook and stir until the mixture thickens, 6-8 minutes. Once the mixture thickens whisk the haupia as if you’re whipping it. This creates bubbles which gives it a lighter texture. Remove from heat and allow to cool.  Speed cooling by placing the pot into a cold water bath and stirring carefully and constantly. Pour the haupia over the cooled crust and spread evenly to cover.

Strawberry Haupia
Wash and cut leaves off the fresh strawberries. Place all berries into the blender and puree. Add the strawberry puree to the saucepan with the 1/3 mixture that you set aside earlier. Add 2 tablespoons cornstarch to the mixture and whisk until there are no lumps. Place the main mixture over medium-high heat, bring to boil then lower to a simmer. Continue to cook and stir until the mixture thickens, 6-8 minutes. Once the mixture thickens, again whip the haupia for the lighter texture. Remove from heat and allow to cool.  Speed cooling by placing the pot into a cold water bath and stirring carefully and constantly.

Pour the strawberry haupia over the previous haupia and spread evenly to cover.

Freeze Dried Strawberry Topper
Crush the freeze dried strawberries in its own packaging using a rolling pin or hands until it becomes a powder. Using a wire sieve over the pie, pour the strawberry powder and coat the top of the pie. Use a spoon to press the uncrushed pieces through the sieve.

Cover with saran wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours. Slice into 15 rectangles, garnish each piece with a small mint leaf and serve. The mint leaf gives the dessert a strawberry mojito flavor twist.


photos by Scott Nakajima/Nakajima Photography, William Lee and Johnny Nagano


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