Tofu 101 in Bellevue is much more than a tofu shop. Step inside, and you’ll find a treasure trove of treats one might find at dim sum or a Chinese bakery.
Update: This story was changed at 10:45 a.m. on Dec. 8, 2017. The purple rice roll mentioned below is a traditional Taiwanese breakfast food, a fact that was not represented in the original story.
It’s easy to pass by Tofu 101 without batting much of an eye. From the name alone, I’d thought the store specializes in making tofu. And it does — but it’s much more than a tofu shop. Step inside, and you’ll find a treasure trove of grab-and-go treats one might find at dim sum or a Chinese bakery.
In that way, “Tofu 101” is somewhat of a misnomer. Some of the hot-sellers in the store: an array of both meatless and meat-filled buns, Chinese donuts and shao bing (Chinese flatbread), to name a few. Those and some other warm, ready-to-eat items — prepared in the back kitchen, visible through a glass window pane — are lined up along the far wall of the shop, buffet-style.
12816 SE 38th St., Suite G, Bellevue; open 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday; 425-974-1144
Tofu and other soy products, made in-house from organic soybeans, are certainly omnipresent as well. But they live mostly in the refrigerator by the entrance, to be whisked away and eaten at another time. For hungry patrons, the warmer trays of instant gratification are much more appealing.
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Once you see what you want, you’ll have to act fast. Groups of customers come in waves, and can crowd up the small space quickly. Tongs start snatching up buns left and right. At lunch hour on a Saturday, workers periodically wheeled out new, freshly- steamed batches of those buns to replenish empty buffet trays, and customers descended upon them immediately.
Some trays, however, remained empty. For those, you’ll have to wait for next time.
The menu: The shop is tiny, but its offerings are overwhelming in proportion. The buffet-style setup along the far wall contains a variety of steamed and pan-fried buns with sweet and savory fillings, including red bean, pork and cabbage. They also have chon tzu (or zong zi, sticky rice dumplings), pastries and other carb-ful treats, clearly labeled by name and price. Those seem to be the main attraction during peak hours. A couple refrigerators contain reheatable tofu products, like fried tofu, tofu pudding and soy milk. A freezer contains pre-made dumplings, wontons and chon tzu. And at the checkout counter, you’ll find more ready-to-eat items: small rice and veggie bowls, savory soy pudding and freshly-fried Chinese donuts — a fast seller, judging by a sign that proclaims in all caps that, on Saturdays, donut buyers must be in the checkout line to purchase them.
Don’t miss: The hot soy milk, also made in-house, is some of the best I’ve ever had. Mildly sweet and rich in flavor, it handily outranks store-bought soy milk. The pan-fried onion-and-pork bun was also delicious, striking just the right meat-to-bread ratio.
What to skip: The purple rice roll was made up of purple sticky rice rolled around pork floss, pickled vegetables and a much-too-crunchified Chinese donut. But it was also pretty filling.
Prices: The salty soy pudding ($3.95); mustard green, bamboo, pork steamed bun ($1.75); steamed pork bun ($1.75); mung-bean-and-pork chon tzu ($4); pan-fried onion-and-pork bun ($1.75); purple rice roll ($3.95); and two hot soy milks ($1.75 each) amounted to $20.65 before tax, enough for three people.