Nearly three decades ago, Vyan’s parents arrived in Melbourne as Vietnamese refugees and noticed a lack of good tofu available in the shops.
They figured this was a perfect business opportunity, so decided to learn all that they could about the craft of making tofu by hand.
“Duc is my dad’s name and Nga is my mum’s name,” their daughter Vyan explains. “They simply combined it with tofu to get our business name, Duc Nga Tofu.”
Duc and Nga found an old rundown milk bar in Sunshine and with the help of Vyan’s Nan, an Australian woman who adopted Duc and passed on her Balkan surname Ostojic to him, they opened their own tofu shop.
Word quickly got around the Asian community that it was the best place for tofu in Melbourne, with Duc and Nga making and delivering their sought-after products to Asian grocery stores in Sunshine, St Albans and Footscray.
Thinking back to her childhood, Vyan remembers her parents’ impressive work ethic.
“They worked really, really hard. You could only fit five people in the shop and in summer it’d be so hot,” she recollects. “Dad would wake up at 5:30am and go to work, staying until 9pm. Mum would leave the shop to pick us up from school, doing deliveries on the way, while Dad was frying the tofu in the kitchen.”
What is it that makes their tofu so irresistible?
“It’s handmade,” Vyan answers simply. “We’ve always had the same basic recipe, but we’ve refined elements to suit people’s tastes. We’ve noticed that everyone loves the freshest ingredients, so we incorporate that as much as possible.”
“A customer favourite is the silken tofu pudding dessert with ginger syrup. That’s my mum’s recipe – hands down to her!” she says proudly.
After twenty-seven years operating in the humble Sunshine premises, Duc and Nga realised it was time to expand and moved to a bigger production site and retail store in Maidstone.
The much-needed upgrade has provided Duc and Nga with more space and the opportunity to experiment and expand into new products. There’s also a window where customers can witness the products still being handmade with care.
“At first our customers were predominantly from the Asian community but after jumping on Instagram, we’ve started to have more of the Western customers, which is really fun.”
“We now make a lemongrass chilli tofu which is a big hit – add it in a boring salad and it totally revamps it – plus it’s gluten free, vegetarian, and vegan. Dip it in soy and chilli and eat it with rice, and it becomes a meal. It’s my favourite product – I could go on and on!”