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The Secrets Behind Why Tofu Always Tastes Better at Restaurants

Why tofu always tastes better in a restaurant

Kitchen tips

Tofu can be delicious, but it’s hard to get right without the right techniques. Maybe you’ve tried tofu in a couple of restaurants and loved it. Then you come home and try to make it yourself, only to end up with something bland, soggy, or otherwise underwhelming. You may ask yourself, “What am I doing wrong? Well, there are several reasons why tofu always tastes better in a restaurant.

Restaurants know what kind of tofu to use

When you’ve cooked tofu in the past, you may have just grabbed the first brand and variety you came across. But there are several types of tofu, and some are better for certain dishes than others. The difference is that restaurants know which type of tofu to use, while not all home cooks have that advantage. Fortunately, this is easily remedied with the right information.
So what kind of tofu is there, and which one should you use? Let’s start with regular or firm tofu. It holds its shape well when sliced and diced, and is moderately firm but not overly dense. It’s often used in stir-fries, curries, soups, and grilled or fried dishes. It absorbs flavors well and can be marinated or seasoned as desired. Then there’s extra firm tofu. It’s the densest type of tofu with the least amount of water. It holds its shape exceptionally well and is quite firm. Because of its firmness, Extra Firm Tofu is perfect for grilling, frying or baking. It can be diced and added to salads, used as a meat substitute in sandwiches, or even sliced and marinated for barbecue-style dishes.
And let’s not forget the delicate silken tofu. It’s great for blending into creamy dressings, sauces and smoothies. It can also be used in desserts such as puddings and cheesecakes. Some people enjoy using it as an egg substitute in certain recipes because of its creamy texture.

You use more salt

There’s a simple reason why tofu tastes better in a restaurant – it’s made with a lot more salt. In many restaurant kitchens, chefs are trained to carefully balance flavors. They understand the importance of seasoning and use salt liberally to bring out the natural flavor of the dish. Tofu, which is relatively mild and neutral in flavor, benefits from the right amount of salt.
On the other hand, when preparing tofu at home, some cooks may be more cautious about using salt, especially if they’re health-conscious or trying to reduce their sodium intake. While there’s nothing wrong with that, it can result in tofu dishes that taste a bit bland compared to their restaurant counterparts.
The good news: There’s a simple solution: use more salt when cooking tofu. Of course, it’s wise to eat salt in moderation, so you shouldn’t be eating piles of super-salty tofu every night, but don’t shy away from seasoning. However, it’s important to strike a balance when using salt. Too much salt can overpower the dish and even mask the delicate flavors of tofu. There are several ways to add salt to tofu, from brining the entire block for a few hours before rinsing off the salt, to soaking sliced tofu in a salty brine. You can also simply add more salt to coatings and marinades.

You use more oil

Have you ever wondered how restaurants get their tofu so crispy and delicious? One of the culprits behind this delicious phenomenon may be the generous dose of oil they add to the mix. If the tofu at your favorite restaurant has a crispy, golden-brown exterior that’s just begging to be devoured, oil is the magic behind that fantastic texture. The thing is, oil isn’t just there for crunchy indulgence-it’s also a flavor carrier. When tofu hits the hot oil, it forms a beautiful caramelized crust that seals in all those wonderful flavors. The result is tofu that’s bursting with rich, savory goodness.
When making tofu at home, you may be concerned about how much oil you use. Just remember that oil is not the enemy, and it’s okay to use it with abandon once in a while. You don’t even have to fry your tofu to get it crispy and delicious. Just use about a quarter-inch of oil in the pan so that it comes up slightly around the sides of the tofu, and flip your tofu a few times for even browning.
So the next time you’re at a restaurant enjoying the heavenly taste of tofu, remember the role of oil in this culinary love story. And don’t be afraid to experiment in your kitchen – a touch of oil can take your homemade tofu from good to gourmet.

Chefs use cornstarch for a crispier exterior

Another secret to the irresistible crunch of restaurant-style tofu is the use of cornstarch. Cornstarch is a versatile ingredient that helps create a light and crispy coating when applied to tofu before cooking. It adds a delicate crunch that enhances the overall eating experience.
To get a crispy cornstarch exterior, first drain and squeeze the tofu to remove excess moisture. Then cut the tofu into bite-sized pieces or slices. In a bowl, sprinkle the cornstarch over the tofu and toss gently until all the pieces are evenly coated. The cornstarch will adhere to the tofu, creating a thin layer that will turn golden and crispy when cooked.
When it comes to cooking, you can pan-fry, deep-fry, or bake the tofu with the cornstarch coating. Pan-frying is a popular method that uses less oil and produces excellent results. Heat a small amount of oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Place the cornstarch-coated tofu pieces in the pan, leaving space between them. Cook until the bottom is golden and crisp, then flip and cook the other side. The cornstarch helps create a nice crust that adds a delicious crunch to every bite.
By using cornstarch, you can replicate the crispy goodness of tofu often found in restaurants. It’s a simple yet effective technique that can make a significant difference in the texture and overall satisfaction of your homemade tofu dishes.

Marinating for enhanced flavor

One of the secrets that chefs use to enhance the flavor of tofu is marinating. Marinating tofu allows it to absorb the flavors of the marinade, resulting in a more flavorful and delicious end product. Restaurants often marinate tofu for an extended period of time, allowing the flavors to penetrate deeply into the tofu.
To marinate tofu, start by choosing a marinade that complements the dish you’re preparing. It can be as simple as a mixture of soy sauce, garlic, ginger, and a touch of sweetness, or you can get creative with different herbs, spices, and sauces. Place the tofu in a shallow dish or resealable bag and pour the marinade over it. Make sure the tofu is completely coated with the marinade. Cover the dish or bag and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, but preferably several hours or overnight for maximum infusion.
When it’s time to cook the marinated tofu, you have several options. Grilling, frying, and baking are popular cooking methods that allow the tofu to develop a flavorful crust while retaining its tender interior. The marinade not only enhances the flavor, but also helps keep the tofu moist and juicy during cooking.
Experiment with different marinades and flavors to find your favorite combinations. Marinating tofu can add depth and complexity to the flavor, bringing it closer to the restaurant-quality tofu you love.

Professional Texture and Presentation Techniques

Restaurant chefs have a wealth of professional techniques up their sleeves to make tofu not only taste better, but look better too. These techniques add to the overall dining experience and can be easily replicated at home with a little practice.
One technique is the process of pressing the tofu. Pressing tofu helps remove excess moisture, allowing it to better absorb flavors and achieve a firmer texture. To press tofu, place the block of tofu between two plates or cutting boards lined with paper towels. Place a weight, such as cans or a heavy skillet, on top and let sit for at least 30 minutes. The weight will gradually squeeze out the excess water, resulting in drier and firmer tofu.
Another technique is the art of presentation. Restaurants often take the time to cut tofu into nicely shaped pieces or arrange it on the plate in an aesthetically pleasing way. You can achieve similar results by using a sharp knife to cut the tofu into even slices or cubes. Pay attention to the presentation of your tofu dishes, as visual appeal can enhance the overall dining experience.
In addition, professional chefs often garnish tofu dishes with fresh herbs, sauces, or toppings to add an extra layer of flavor and visual interest. Consider adding a sprinkling of chopped green onions, a drizzle of sesame oil, or a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds to your tofu creations.
By incorporating these professional techniques into your tofu preparation, you can enhance the texture, flavor, and presentation of your homemade tofu dishes, making them more reminiscent of the restaurant-quality tofu you love.


Tofu is a versatile and delicious ingredient that can be enjoyed in a variety of dishes. While it may seem challenging to replicate the delicious taste of restaurant-quality tofu at home, with a few tricks and techniques, you can take your homemade tofu to new heights.
Understanding the different types of tofu and their best uses, using more salt and oil for enhanced flavor, incorporating cornstarch for a crispy exterior, marinating for added flavor, and using professional techniques for texture and presentation are all key factors that contribute to the superior taste of tofu.


Is there a specific type of tofu that restaurants use to make it taste better?

Yes, restaurants often use regular or firm tofu for stir-fries, curries, soups, and grilled dishes, while extra firm tofu is preferred for grilling, pan-frying, or baking. Silken tofu is often used in dressings, sauces, and desserts.

Why does tofu taste better in restaurants even when I follow the recipes at home?

Restaurants tend to use more salt, which enhances the natural flavor of tofu. They also often use more oil, which contributes to a crispy and flavorful texture. These factors, along with professional techniques and experience, create the superior taste.

Can I get the same taste at home by using more salt and oil?

Yes, using more salt and oil in your home-cooked tofu can help improve the flavor. However, it is important to strike a balance and not go overboard. Experiment with moderate amounts of salt and oil to find the perfect balance for your taste preferences.

What role does marinating play in improving the flavor of tofu?

Marinating tofu allows it to absorb flavors, resulting in a more flavorful end product. Restaurants often marinate tofu for an extended period of time, which enhances its flavor. Marinating tofu at home can also significantly improve the flavor of tofu dishes.

Are there any professional techniques I can use to improve the texture and presentation of tofu at home?

Yes, pressing tofu to remove excess moisture, cutting it into uniform shapes and arranging it aesthetically on the plate can improve texture and presentation. In addition, garnishing with fresh herbs, sauces, or toppings can add an extra layer of flavor and visual appeal.

Can I get restaurant-quality tofu without frying?

Yes, you can achieve crispy tofu without frying. Pan-frying with a small amount of oil or baking with a light coating of oil and cornstarch can give you a deliciously crispy exterior. Experiment with different cooking methods to find the one that works best for you.

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