There used to be a Thai place in Santa Ana called Siam Taste of Asia that made the best fried tofu. It was—to borrow the description I wrote back when it was still open—tofu made into candy. It may have looked like the usual deep-fried tofu cubes common to Chinese/Vietnamese/Thai restaurants—the kind you dip into a sauce—but it had a craggly, crunchy shell with the same DNA as a tater tot and a coating of a sticky glaze that might as well be a Willy Wonka confection.
I was reminded of that dish when I encountered its Vietnamese sibling at Ha Long Vietnamese Cuisine in Irvine. Each cube was covered in the same crunchy cocoon that you could rap with a spoon. And though the dish comes with a thick and savory dipping sauce with hints of hoisin, you didn’t need it. Ha Long’s chefs toss a flurry of seasonings, wilted onions, and whole dried peppers with the tofu cubes that they could easily stand in as the protein in a Lenten Friday meal with just a bowl of rice.
Still, I must tell you that it’s not exactly the same dish as Siam Taste of Asia’s. The tofu used here is firm instead of custardy. But it’s the McCartney to its Lennon. And it’s got wings.