Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Tofu containers: an essential storage item for every Asian?

If you are of East or South East Asian heritage and live in my part of the world, there is a very strong chance you have one of these in your home. Or possibly twenty or so.
Not necessarily this same brand. But these kind of bean curd containers are ubiquitous in Asian households in Melbourne. Generally they are used to store left over food, but I've seen them used for storing other items as well.
I used to think this was just something my family did; after all, my mother is one of those people who is obsessed with not throwing things away. ("Don't be so wasteful, you can wash this and re-use it" was a frequently-heard phrase in my house growing up)
But then one day, while at a dinner party at a Malaysian-born friend's house, it came time to pack away some of the left overs, and she opened a drrawer to reveal a treasure trove of tofu containers. "Oh, you use these too?" I asked.
"Of course!" she replied. "Doesn't everyone?"

Well, perhaps not; I wonder if this is one thing that separates the Asians from the non-Asians. See, white folks buy tofu as well, albeit in smaller quantities than Asians. But they are likely to buy it in a regular supermarket, in which case it will probably come in vaccuum packaging or something like that, and be quite expensive.

If you are Asian, however, you are more likely to shop in an Asian grocery, which is where you will find fresh bean curd in these sorts of plastic containers. They are also about half the price of the supermarket variety, which is probably a large part of the reason that Asians shop there. Many white folks find Asian groceries a bit intimidating in their foreignness and don't go there.

So aside from the value of the tofu that comes inside these containers, they make for a cheap and easily stored substitute for tupperware, and it seems Asian mothers just can't get enough of them. My own mother must have at least 50 of them (alongside another 50 Chinese take-away containers, the other tupperware substitute).

But I've never lived outside Melbourne, so I want to know; is this a strictly Melbourne thing to do? Does tofu in other cities, and indeed countries, come packaged in this way? And if so, do the Asians there collect them obsessively? Or alternatively, are you a non-Asian who has a big stash of these somewhere?


  1. Definately not a Melbourne thing. I've lived in Sydney, Canberra and Changzhou in China and Asian supermarkets/ markets in these places sell tofu in these containers. My mother is of Chinese descent and collects all sorts of plastic containers, avoiding the need to ever 'buy' storage containers. I too have lots of them in my cupboard - both from my mum when she thinks I'm not eating well and from my own collecting habits.

  2. @ kls: I hear ya. What kind of person actually pays money for tupperware anyway?

  3. My family doesn't buy storage containers either. Someone at my mother's work gave her meatballs in a plastic eclairs container--it's been recycled and used over and over in my house since then. We also like to keep the plastic containers that Chinese restaurants use to package leftovers in.

  4. We've grown up with it, too, in our Malaysian-Chinese-Oz household(s). We've started rotating some containers out to the recycle bin, though, after all the scaryscary stuff about the plastic breaking down after repeated microwaving, etc. We're all up for a medical panic every month or so...

    Also - rubber bands. We have so many rubber bands in our household (which is shared with my mother). They never get thrown away. Ever. I think we still have every rubber band that has ever graced a bunch of asparagus we've bought.

  5. @ tseen:
    who said anything about microwaving them? I'm pretty sure that ain't safe. So I guess that's the one aspect in which proper tupperware might have a place.
    And on rubber bands - I'm with you 100%! I collect a few of them myself, usually from bunches of green vegetables. My mother has so many she could supply the post office.

  6. We never buy tofu in containers like that, we buy the vacuum packed style stuff and even that's not very often (probably cos we're only half Asians?) .. but we have a whole cupboard full of margarine, icecream, yoghurt and any other plastic container you can think of, they never get thrown out!
    By the way, in Japan I never saw tofu sold like that, it was always in a packet that you peeled the top off and the bottom was like a tray. It was the one item in Japan that was not packaged perfectly... meaning that it didn't have a perforated top or something, you had to cut into the pack. Such a mystery why they can't make easy-open tofu containers in that country where you don't even need to own a pair of scissors, most packaging is so well thought out.

  7. Im Asian and my partner's Latin and both our mums keep the plastic take away containers to store left over food for us to take home!

  8. My international students keep every single tofu/yoghurt/takeaway/ice cream container they can get their hands on, and now we have a cupboard full of them. :(

  9. As a non-Asian, I also have a whole stack of these. Not only is the tofu cheaper but it's frequently a better/softer texture than the vacuum packed stuff.

    Love Asian groceries. Sometimes I walk through Safeway just so I can internally gloat at the fools buying mangoes for $3.00 each when the same amount would get you a kilo at Springvale or Footscray.

  10. Your blog post is almost a year old, I'm writing you from Texas, USA, and this is one of only two websites I have found on google that ponders this conundrum of all of these tofu containers! I have a stack of about 30 that I have finally decided to let go to the recycling bin. I usually wash and save them hoping I can find somebody who wants to use them for something but I never do. What can I do w/ these containers?! They are very sturdy and I have used them for a few uses but nothing incredible. Any ideas would be appreciated. I use three tofu containers at a time to cook dinner, that adds up quickly!

  11. @ Abner463:

    Store leftover food in them. You can keep re-using them until the fragile bit around the lip of the container inevitably breaks. Curry and other oily foods are harder to wash out of plastic, so I usually discard the tofu container after I've stored curry in it.

    I also store dried beans and grains in them as well.