National Geographic : 1987 Jul
crushing the beans, co agulatingthe resulting soy milk, and pressing the curds. Today tofu appearsin many guises (left), help ing tofeed the nation's one billion people. It may befashioned into cakes or loaves, made into candy, or shredded, sliced, deep-fried, steamed, smoked, mari nated, orfermented. THE DAY THE FOREIGNER CAME began as had many others in the lives of the Sun brothers, or, for that matter, in those of their father and grandfather. At three that morning they had let themselves into their one-room doufu shop, one of ten that prepared bean curd, the "vegetable meat" made from soybeans, for the villagers of Chao Lang near Shanghai. In the middle of the floor bulked large, dark ce ramic jars full of straw-colored beans that had been left soak ing overnight. The two brothers ladled the beans into a mechanical crusher, strained the mash, poured the filtrate into an iron pan set in the top of a coal stove, brought it to a boil, ladled it into another jar, and added a coagulant salt. After an hour, when the coagulant had taken effect, they ladled the thickened fluid into frames draped with cheese cloth, folded the cheesecloth around the material, squeezed whey out of the frames with weights, and opened their shop window. As the villagers began to arrive to buy their daily supplies, beginning at about 6 a.m., they turned the blocks of doufu, one by one, out of their frames and sliced them up into bricks of close to a pound each. On this particular morning, around ten, the Suns heard a burst of crowd noise, a hubbub of comment and exclamation, moving in their direction. Then a wave of humanity washed into their shop. At its head were the mayor of Chao Lang, an official from the China National Technical Import Corpora tion, and a foreign dignitary of some sort, a Westerner, who began pestering them with one question after another. When did they get up? What did they do first? Behind this party of visitors the citizens of Chao Lang gathered in concentric generations. The youngest and bold est crowded right into the shop and stood among the visitors, staring up at them and smiling brilliantly. Behind them, in the door and spilling out into the street, were the teenagers, and peering over their heads, the parents and grandparents. Back inside the shop the foreigner was still grilling the Suns. "So how long have you been making bean curd?" he asked. How long? Sun Qing-fu stared thoughtfully at the ques tioner. A long time, he said, shaking his head. Then he broke into laughter. Yes, indeed. A very long time. Then the chil dren, who had been following the questions and answers re layed by the interpreter, started laughing themselves. "What did the foreign guest say?" the teenagers asked. "He asked how long we've been making doufu!" And then the teenagers laughed, and passed the remark to the next generation be hind. There must have been dozens of villagers outside, for those inside could hear laughter spreading up and down the streets of Chao Lang for minutes afterward. Doufu, the Chinese name for (Continued on page 75) Fred Hapgood is a Bostonian whose writings often describe the connections between science and ordinary life. Photographer Chris Johns has covered tornadoes, Alaskan glaciers, Canada's Fraser River, and the Dust Bowl in earlier GEOGRAPHIC articles.