This is the first in what may be a series of between 1 and dozens of articles about strange (to me) packaged foods. A lot of the items will come from the fabulous MT Supermarket in Austin.
My son Christopher, who often accompanies me to MT in order to nurture his addiction to mung bean cakes, saw this jar of “Wet Bean Curd” and insisted that I add it to our shopping cart. (Generally at MT I buy one or more packages of excellent shiitake mushrooms, Thai basil, possibly shallots when they have good ones, and random other supplies. Plus, bean cakes.) I don’t know what motivated him, but I said “Ok” because I had half an idea to do what I’m doing right now, and that seemed like as good a start as any.
Wet Bean Curd seems like an honest name for the product; compare it to American product names like Ho Ho’s or Ketchup even, a non-English word whose actual meaning nobody really knows or cares about. However, I feel that Wet Bean Curd should actually be called Salt With Spicy Wet Bean Curd in order to most accurately describe the contents of the jar. Yes, it’s wet – the bean curd and pepper shreds float seductively in a mucilaginous slurry. Yes, it’s bean curd, at least judging by texture. Bean curd itself of course tastes like almost nothing, instead appearing in foods to make sauces and seasonings edible as solid meat-like chunks. In this case, the bean curd has faithfully absorbed the taste and mysterious stickiness of a tank of particularly benighted bilge water. This is one of those foodstuffs whose production really confuses me. How can a whole factory full of people not realize how hideous this stuff is?
I’m jumping the gun a bit. We got the bottle home, and I was of course excited upon noticing that the Chan Moon Kee food packing house is ISO 9001 certified. After stowing all the other purchases, I opened the wet bean curd and snagged a chunk with a fork. The first impression was that it was really salty. The bean curd was slightly toothsome and not mushy; I suppose you could spread it on something if you wanted to, but I doubt that’s what the stuff is intended for. (I have no idea what it is intended for, and I had none even before tasting it.) Though it looked like there were a lot of pepper pieces in the mix, it wasn’t particularly spicy. In fact, the second through fifty-third impressions as I chewed on that chunk of bean curd were predominantly identical to the first: really salty. Oddly, salt is listed as the third ingredient, just ahead of wine (and I really don’t want to find out that there’s gooey wine to be had in Hong Kong).
I tried a second piece of wet bean curd. This time I tried to concentrate on other flavors. There was the spiciness, of a pretty tame sort without much pepper flavor. There was also a strange, slightly acrid tang to it, not pleasant in the least. Overall, therefore, I declare wet bean curd to be a bad-tasting mildly spicy substance that’s overpoweringly salty. Even if you like acrid weird-tasting spicy marinated bean curd, I can’t imagine that you’d like it dosed with ten times as much salt as anything like that should need.
I won’t be buying more of this stuff, but it’ll stand as a cautionary example here at the beginning of this series. It’s not safe to assume that just because something is in a jar, attractively labeled with an image of a wading bird, and placed for sale on a grocery store shelf that it’s worth eating. I accept that somebody might like wet bean curd, just as I accept that somebody out there must be drinking all the Tequiza being produced. I just don’t understand it.