This lunch dish I had at Play, Food & Wine in Ottawa marked another first for me… this time, it was the Indonesian fermented soy bean cake known as Tempeh. I have read about it many times, but this was the first time I had ever seen it in a restaurant, or anywhere else.
The menu described the tempeh as being served with pear kimchi, mushrooms, and almond oil. The mushrooms, which were the ‘oyster’ type, also came with green beans and pea shoots (not mentioned on the menu) and, together, these formed a bed for the tempeh. I am not sure where the almond oil came into the picture as I could neither see nor taste anything along those lines and I suppose it may not have been used on this occasion. The pear kimchi, of which more in a moment, was the little amber pools you see at the edges of the vegetables.
The pieces of tempeh, as you can see, rather have the appearance of granola bars and, indeed, this is very much what the cake was like. It was much softer in texture than granola, but with a similar contrast of consistencies, and the taste was a lot like light toast with hints of nuts. Many people are cautious around anything fermented as such things are often very strongly flavored but this was very mild and inoffensive, and I would say that very few will take a strong dislike to it.
The tempeh was dry to the point that it needed a little something and this was where the pear kimchi came in… I had to enquire as to what exactly it was, and I was told that it was a puree of spiced, fermented pear. It tasted, in my opinion, a bit like miso to which a little garlic and chili had been added. It was excellent and a really well-chosen accompaniment to the tempeh.
My only criticism of my experience with this dish was that it had lingered a little too long between the kitchen and my table and was almost cold. For the tempeh, the beans, and the pea shoots this did not matter too much but it rather spoiled my enjoyment of the mushrooms a little. Still, that was only a minor flaw and I was very pleased to give tempeh a try. I may also try turning my hand to fermenting pears myself …