Facade of the New York tofu shop Fong On
Courtesy Fong On

The Evolution of the Fare at Fong On, New York’s Oldest Family-Owned Tofu Shop

Paul and Marina Eng put a contemporary twist on family recipes that date back to 1933.
By Chelsea Steinauer-Scudder
May 22, 2021
3 minute read

We’re typically told not to mess with family recipes—but for Paul Eng, an artist and the third-generation owner of a storied tofu shop in New York, doing so can be an act of both respect and self-expression. In 1933, his grandfather opened Fong Inn Too in the city’s Chinatown district after immigrating to America from China. The store specialized in tofu, but was also known for its herbal jelly (leung fan), rice cakes (bak tong gou), and other traditional fare. When Eng’s parents closed the space, in 2017, it was the oldest family-owned tofu shop in the city, and one of just two places in Chinatown where customers could buy blocks of freshly pressed bean curd. Eng decided to shift his focus to bringing the business back to life, but faced a steep learning curve: No one could tell him any of the shop’s beloved recipes, which had never been written down.

Eng set about re-creating the original dishes by trial and error. “My husband remembered those childhood flavors,” Eng’s wife, Marina, says of the painstaking experience. He tried tracking down former employees, only to discover that they’d worked with an impenetrably obscure measuring system and were reluctant to convert to updated machinery. Eng ultimately turned to YouTube, synthesizing tofu-making methods with what he heard from his staffers, and, to engage a new audience, added his own touch to his culinary inheritance. The couple reopened the shop two years later in one of the family’s original manufacturing buildings under its original name, Fong On.

Today, a significant portion of the store consists of a bar filled with toppings for tofu pudding (doufu fa), a dessert served by Eng’s family that he’s adapted into an intriguing treat. One popular pudding, Snap, Crackle & Pop, features tapioca balls, rainbow jelly, and lemony aiyu jelly, made from the seeds of a fig plant, while garnishes including pickled radish and dried shrimp crown a savory version. Customers now enjoy a wider range of options in other offerings, too, such as ginger, brown sugar, and matcha rice cakes, in addition to the traditional white variety, each packaged in a convenient (and delivery-friendly) to-go box. For the Engs, Fong On’s evolution isn’t an affront to its history, but rather, a way of faithfully carrying the family’s tofu legacy forward. Along with patrons from outside of Chinatown, some customers, Marina notes, are the grandchildren of the shop’s original clientele. “We need places like this in New York,” she says. “It’s a link from the past to the future.”