You’re probably telling yourself, “Tokwa is just Tagalog for tofu,” and you’re not wrong. Tofu is tokwa and tokwa is tofu, but there is a big difference if you don’t realize that tokwa is very specific while tofu is more all-encompassing.
Think of it this way: if you’re at the palengke and you ask for tofu, you’ll most probably get tokwa or extra firm tofu. If you go the supermarket and ask for tofu, you’ll have choices of tofu with differing kinds of firmness as well as a choice from what country that tofu originated.
That is telling of the vast expansion of our culinary world. From a mere 20 years ago when almost all tofu was tokwa, tofu has become a broader term to also mean the different kinds of tofu available that you can use for different cuisines.
Tofu is no longer just tokwa.
Here are the differences you need to know about tokwa and tofu:
1 Tokwa is always firm. Tofu can be different levels of softness.
Tokwa is always the firm kind of tofu. This makes it the ideal kind of tofu to fry and add to such dishes as tokwa’t baboy, tokwa’t tausi, and even adobong tokwa. This firm texture is essential in these dishes because it absorbs the sauce that it is simmered or tossed in, leading to a super flavorful mouthful each time.
Tofu on the other hand can be several degrees of softness as well as firmness. There is silken tofu (which we may recognize as taho), semi-firm tofu, and firm tofu. Extra firm tofu is what we know as tokwa.
2 Tokwa is commonly already pressed dry. Tofu can be.
Both tokwa and tofu are stored in water or in the whey it was cooked in to keep it in storage longer. However, since tokwa is more firm than other kinds of tofu, most of its moisture is already pressed out. Storing it in this liquid is just an agent for longer storage time.
Tofu meanwhile has more moisture, hence its lack of firmness. The softer kinds of tofu need to be pressed to release or squeeze out any extra liquid it contains to become extra firm.
3 Tokwa is firm enough to be sliced. Tofu is easily crumbled.
Soft tofu and even semi-firm tofu can be crumbled easily because of its moisture content. Think about taho and how easy it is — using a spoon no less! — to “crumble” the soy into bits.
This is the opposite of tokwa. The firmer the tofu, the more it is able to hold its shape, making it easier to slice into blocks and cubes without worrying about it falling apart during cooking. Tokwa is known for being firm but these squares can still be crumbed if desired for your dish.
4 Tokwa is best served fried. Tofu can be served as is.
While you can serve tokwa uncooked because technically it has been cooked already, it’s no longer as fresh as soft taho and other kinds of tofu. For this reason alone, it’s fantastic fried so you develop that signature crunchy outer crust. You can even air fry tokwa.
Softer tofu on the other hand are fresher than tokwa and can be served as is, chilled, or simple heated through.