How many fried chicken sandwiches does Bakesale Betty sell on a typical day? Maybe nine hundred, reckons Betty, aka Alison Barakat. But if you're vegetarian, your options at Betty's two Oakland shops pretty much consisted of egg salad, or a heap of jalapeno-spiked coleslaw alone, heaped on an Acme torpedo roll. Until about two months ago, that is.
In April, Bakesale Betty unveiled a new sandwich to offer the daily crowd queued up on Telegraph: deep-fried tofu. It takes the form of the chicken sandwich — buttermilk and seasoned flour breading, the same slaw, same roll, same price, too ($8.20). What's less obvious is its connection with Oakland artisan tofu company Hodo Soy, source of the crispy breaded protein at the heart of the thing.
After approaching Barakat in 2010 with the idea of featuring tofu at Bakesale Betty, Hodo founder Minh Tsai spent the better part of a year working with Barakat on a tofu that would seem worthy in its own right, not some bland, slippery substitute whose main value was that it wasn't chicken.
"The first time we worked with the tofu it got lost in the sandwich, especially with the spiciness of the coleslaw," Barakat told What the Fork. "We talked with Minh and said, 'Can you maybe put some salt in the tofu?'" Tsai went one better, eventually developing a whole new Hodo product he's calling Savory Tofu, destined to make it to retail shelves.
Tsai declined to say exactly how it's made, though he did say it involves a two-step brining and seasoning process similar to the way Hodo makes its Tea-Infused Tofu. "We basically have developed a way to add flavors inside the tofu, as opposed to just the outside, like most people do," Tsai said.
Barakat says it's been great working work with Hodo, not least because they're an Oakland business. And the sandwich? Bakesale Betty sells about fifty per day, even without any media attention. "It's been a hit," Barakat said. "It's a chance to taste the chicken sandwich if you don't eat chicken." It's true: The tofu tastes seasoned all the way through, with a texture that seems, well, juicy, and big flakes of breading skiving off into the sandwich wrap.
As for vegans — sorry, dudes. Even if Betty came up with a substitute for buttermilk in the breading, there's still the issue of milk and butter in the Acme roll. "If it took us a year to come up with the tofu sandwich, it would probably take us two years to come up with a vegan one," Barakat said with a laugh.