November 29, 2008
Tofu tamales

I know, I know, it just sounds wrong. But hear them out.

Tofu tamales in Texas?

One family-owned Houston business is making money selling vegan tamales.

Members of the Chiu family, owners of Banyan Foods, don't take themselves too seriously and have heard plenty of tofu jokes.

The business's red chile and green chile tofu tamales package proclaims: Santa Anna, Chiang Kai-Shek and Stephen F. Austin "are rolling over in their graves right about now."

Their path towards tamale-making began three decades ago. Carol Chiu and her former husband and two sons moved to Houston from Taipei, Taiwan, hoping to go into the import-export business.

But shortly after arriving, she bought some tofu at a local grocery store that she discovered had spoiled.

"How about we make tofu?" said Carol Chiu, company president. "The whole family loved tofu."


In 2001, the family began selling tofu-stuffed egg rolls.

"It was a way to put tofu in a customers hands in a recognizable form," said Gary Chiu, Banyan Foods vice president.

They added an assortment of other soy foods and entrees, including tamales. In 2005, they began making tamales of tofu instead of more traditional fillings like chicken, pork or beef.

"There's skepticism," Gary Chiu said of the tofu tamale.

A tamale fan since first tasting one a few years ago, Gary Chiu wanted to make a healthier, yet still tasty, version of tamales.

"I think a lot of them would make the healthier choice," he said.

He doles out samples of the corn husk-stuffed food at local Whole Foods Market stores several days a week.

"I expected people to say, 'This is not bad,' " Gary Chiu said. "People were saying, 'This is as good as my grandmother's tamales from the border towns.' "

We've had their eggrolls. They're pretty good. And though I believe it comes from a different company, Tiffany has bought soy taco meat and soy chorizo, both of which are pretty decent and a whole lot less greasy than the real thing. Both of our girls love tamales, so I feel confident that I'll see these in our fridge sooner or later. And that's all fine.

But I still draw the line at tofurkey. Some things just should not be messed with.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on November 29, 2008 to Food, glorious food

Okay, I'm a vegetarian, and I draw the line at Tofurkey. That stuff is NASTY. It's like a turkey-flavored sponge.

There's a company in Fort Worth called Hot Damn Tamales that does both meat and vegetarian tamales that you can order online that are AWESOME. I will be ordering some this year, I'm sure.

Posted by: Amy on November 29, 2008 11:13 AM

haha, thanks for the open mind, charles!

Posted by: gary chiu on December 8, 2008 10:01 AM

These are fabulous. I get them at Whole Foods in Houston. The tofu lo mein is excellent too. Thanks for making vegan food so tasty! :)

Posted by: Heather on January 6, 2009 5:38 PM

thanks, heather! we'll keep doing what we do!

Posted by: gary chiu on January 10, 2009 1:57 PM
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