A long time ago, before food stores were invented, great herds of tofu once thundered across the earth. And great tofu hunters, dressed in tofu fur coats and horned hats, followed them to the ends of the earth, and even to New Jersey.
You won’t find tofus in any animal books, for they were shy and hated publicity. And they would never allow their bones and skins to be placed in museums. Tofus were funny that way.
But around camp fires in China, it is said, you can sometimes hear a bearded old man in battered horned hat speak reverently of the tofu. Close your eyes, he will tell you, and imagine an animal one meter tall, with the head and tail of a rabbit and the horns and body of a small buffalo. Then give it a tapir’s trunk, and soft golden fur down to its hooves. And a pair of the biggest, brownest, most melancholy eyes you ever did see.
Tofus always traveled in herds because they loved to laugh and tell each other jokes. They could easily be frightened, however, by strange and sudden noises. It is said you could stampede a whole herd with just a Boo!
They ate only kumquats and kiwifruits, which used to be found all over the earth. But then for reasons that still aren’t clear, the fruit trees suddenly disappeared almost everywhere. And so did the great herds of tofus that once fed upon them.
It would have been sad to watch the tofus, with their big brown melancholy eyes, chewing upon such things as bamboo shoots, broccoli, and beetle grubs simply because they couldn’t decide what else to eat. For as long as they could remember, tofus had always eaten kumquats and kiwifruits and that was that. Dreaming of their delicious fruits that could no longer be found at any price, the tofus one by one died away, till all that remained were three.
Though not much of a herd, the three tofus still went around calling themselves one, and who can blame them? At one time, there were herds of tofus so vast that the earth’s axis would tilt a little every time they passed. (Some people say this is what caused the Ice Ages.) But now the tiny herd couldn’t make anything tilt, even when they all ran together as fast as they could.
But they were a tough, stubborn bunch, these three. They knew that life doesn’t always give us kumquats and kiwifruits. To survive, they would have to find other things to eat.
So the little herd thundered (at least they thought they were thundering) around the world in search of new foods. They went to France where they tried Brie cheese and béarnaise sauce. They went to Mexico where they tried tacos and frijoles. They went to India and tried saffron rice and pakoras. They even went to a ball game and tried peanuts and hot dogs.
While the tofus found these things all right, they still didn’t taste anywhere near as good as their beloved fruits. So the hardy herd kept on thundering to one country after another, tasting all kinds of foods, until one day they came to China. And there they found a food that tasted better than anything they’d ever eaten. It was called soybean.
For a while, the tofus lived happily in China. There was plenty of wild soybean growing everywhere, more than enough for three hungry tofus. To them it was a slice of tofu heaven.
But then three hunters came to China. Their names were Ming, Bing, and Frank. They were tofu hunters who, like their ancestors, wore tofu fur coats and horned hats as they followed the great herds across the earth. For many months, they had tracked these tofus all the way to China, and didn’t know that both they and the tofus were the last of their kind.
“Why, these must be the biggest tofus that ever lived!” said Ming. “Just look at the size of those tracks!”
“Yes,” said Bing, his mouth watering, “Just think of all the steaks and tofu burgers they’ll make.”
“But first we’ll have to kill them,” said Frank, who had extra long tofu horns on his hat because he was the leader. “Do either of you remember how it’s done?”
“Gee,” said Ming, scratching his head, “we’ve been eating beetle grubs and bamboo shoots so long now that I can’t even remember what a tofu looks like.”
“Neither can I,” said Bing. “Can you give us a clue—is it animal, vegetable, or mineral?”
“I think it’s animal,” Frank said smartly, “since it’s hard to imagine a vegetable, much less a mineral, making tracks such as these.”
“Wait a minute, I’ve got it!” Ming said. “It’s right here on page 24 of the Tofu Hunter’s Handbook. It says that tofus are best hunted by frightening them to death.”
“Now we’re getting somewhere,” Frank said. So the three hunters thought up the most horrible faces and noises they could make and set off to frighten the tofus. Hiding behind a big rock where they thought the tofus would pass by, they waited for just the right moment. And sure enough, the three tofus soon lumbered by. They had grown big and strong from eating so much soybean. They were almost turning into soybean, in fact. As they neared the rock, the hunters all jumped up at once and began to make faces and shout awful things.
But the three hunters looked so funny shouting and making faces that the tofus began to laugh. They laughed so hard that their big bodies quivered like custard and all their soft golden fur fell off. And they laughed and laughed until they shook and turned themselves into three tofu-shaped cakes of soybean curd.
The three hunters, who later became great comedians, feasted for many weeks on the tofu cakes. They were amazed at how good these tofus tasted, especially with a little soy sauce sprinkled on top. But when they finally realized that these were the very last tofus on earth, they became sad and wept bitterly over what they had done.
“I have an idea,” Ming said. “Since there does seem to be plenty of this stuff that the tofus eat, why don’t we try turning it into something that we can eat as well?” And so they took the soybean and made it into cakes shaped like little tofus, in memory of the great animals they once hunted.
Nowadays, people still hunt tofus, though mostly in food stores and without having to make funny faces or noises. The small cakes are usually square rather than tofu-shaped. But if you pick one up and put it to your ear, you might still hear the faint sound of great hooves that once thundered across the earth. © Gene Twaronite 2012
Originally published in Read (Weekly Reader) 2003 and just one of the 21 wacky stories included in my upcoming book Dragon Daily News. Stories of Imagination for Children of All Ages. Coming soon to online bookstores everywhere.