Taho: Soft Tofu, Sugar Syrup and Tapioca

Taho is soft tofu mixed with sago pearls and syrup slightly flavored with vanilla served in a glass.  Oh, and it's our breakfast. 

That was how I explained what this taho is to my husband after I came back to our room early in the morning on our first morning in the Philippines. Poor guy almost died of a heart attack after I sprung out of the bed with surprising speed and ran out the bedroom without giving any explanation. He knows that nothing, even shaking of the bed or dousing of cold water can make me stir out of my morning sleep.  He diligently takes me my coffee to bed every morning to help me clear up the morning cobwebs in my head.  He couldn't believe that there's something more powerful than coffee that can make me jump up like that and it doesn't even contain caffeine.   

He stared at the glass I was handing to him. Surely it wasn't everyone's preferred dish as soon as they open their eyes. I was quite sure he wouldn't like it but I told him that he needed to try it to get a feel of what the Philippine kitchen is all about.  He loved it.  You don't get them at the restaurants.  You get them from the streets.  Specifically from a man who shouts taho in the morning walking along the streets, balancing on one shoulder two large aluminum buckets attached to a long and thick bamboo stick. One bucket contains warm freshly cooked soft tofu and the other bucket with a division inside, contains the syrup (or arnibal) and sago pearls.  

Growing up, we would have our own mugs (not glasses, because mugs are easier to hold), shouting back to the vendor taho to call him while each one of us would have the money in one hand and a mug in another. Then we retreat to our own corners in the house to enjoy the warm sweet tofu breakfast.

The first time I tried to make this was a few years ago after I found out from the internet that I can actually make it at home.  I was so excited that I practically run to the bio supermarket.  However, there are never sago pearls around here so I used tapioca pearls which are almost the same except that they come from different plants.  Sago pearls come from sago palms and tapioca pearls come from cassava.  Refer to this site for more explanation.

A normal glass of taho is composed of soft tofu until almost at the rim with a few sago pearls and a dollop of syrup.  All throughout my taho eating days, I have always asked, begged, pleaded, intimidated (Believe me, I've tried everything!) the vendors to put more sago pearls than what they usually spoon in the glass.  I always count less than 10.  

On my first trial in preparing it, I made it 3/4 tapioca pearls and 1/4 tofu.  It was revenge time!  Finally, after so many years, I got to enjoy the taho my way.  It was lovely.  It was childhood.  It was sad.  It's ambivalent.  With so much commotion just to get a mug of this, it's a vivid trip to my childhood again.  I think if I hear someone shouting taho, I would be a child all over again, jumping out of the bed, grabbing a mug and running outside.

Taho: Soft Tofu, Sugar Syrup and Tapioca

Serves 2

  • 300 grams soft or silken tofu
  • 4 cups water + more for soaking tapioca
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 50 grams tapioca or sago pearls (Sago is the real ingredient but tapioca is so similar that it doesn't make a difference.)
  • vanilla extract
  1. Soak the tapioca pearls in water for an hour then drain. Discard the water.
  2. Meantime, make the sugar vanilla syrup.  Put 1 cup of water and 3/4 cup sugar in a small saucepan over low heat.  Simmer until it is reduced to half.  Add a few drops of vanilla extract.  Set aside.
  3. Boil 3 cups of water in a saucepan.  Add 1/4 cup sugar when it boils.  Then add the tapioca pearls.  Cook until they become transparent, about 15 minutes.  Cooking time varies between the sizes of the pearls and kinds.  You will just have to make sure that the center of the pearls are transparent too.  If the center is still white, it means that the middle part is still hard.  Turn off the fire.
  4. Put the silken tofu in a heat resistant bowl and pop it in the microwave for a few seconds. You can also steam it for about 10 minutes.  With a spoon, discard the water that came out from the cooked tofu.
  5. While still warm, spoon the tofu in a glass.  Add the tapioca pearls.  Then spoon some syrup.  Amounts of these three ingredients depends on how you want it. 
  6. Serve warm.

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