Tofu in Chinese Cuisine: An Introduction


I do not know how familiar you are with tofu. It is made from soy, and it is widely used across the whole of China. I still remember when I was little back in China, my mum would put a coin on my hand, and ask me to go to the street's corner to buy a piece of tofu.

The tofu was stacked in layers by wooden boards and because it was just freshly made, I could see the hot steams coming out from it. I started loving all sorts of food made from soy, and my mum felt a sigh of release: I never liked meat very much, and soy products could make up all the protein I might miss.

Many different kinds of tofu can be found in the markets in China. Although their taste is not very distinct, their texture varies very much. Different kinds of tofu can be cooked differently, and combined with different things.

Firm to medium-firm Tofu

If you want to make the tofu firmer, you can quickly boil it or steam it. This kind of tofu is well-suited for preparing Chinese salads. If you only just want the surface to get firmer, you can fry it with a little bit of oil.

Deep fried tofu is called 'tofu pao' (literally, tofu with bubbles). Tofu prepared this way could get 'spongy', and can easily absorb sauces, so it is good for soup. It can be purchased in the shops, but since it is easy to make, I normally prepare it myself.

If your tofu gets accidently frozen, do not throw it away. Frozen tofu (called 'dong tofu' in Chinese) is widely used in the North of China. The Northern provinces in China get really cold in winter, so tofu could easily get frozen outside. Sometimes I miss this kind tofu, so I just leave the fresh tofu in the freezer for a few hours, until it is completely frozen, then take it out to defrost it for getting ready to cook.

Frozen tofu is traditionally cooked with pickled Chinese leaves. Its taste and texture is very similar to 'pickled cage' and nowdays it is very commonly used for Chinese hot pot.

Silken tofu

This kind of tofu is really soft, almost impossible to pick up by chopsticks. In the North of China is it often used in salad, soup, or together with preserved duck eggs.

Tofu nao

It is a kind of 'homemade' silken tofu and it is very traditional it the North of China. I still remember my grandma making it, and she used to tell the me many stories of having Tofu Nao when she was young.

Traditionally, it is made from soya milk. Add coagulant to get it firmer, then pour prepared soup on top of it, have it with a spoon. The common soup to go with it is eggs, Mu'er (Black Fungus) or Chinese mushroom. It is another common breakfast dish.

Dry tofu sheet

At least this is the literal translation from Chinese. It is very similar to tofu, but it comes as a sheet rather than a soft cube. It is one of most common soya bean products in the North of China, along with firm tofu.

It is normally made into salad or stir fried. The easiest way to use it is to spread some soy paste and put a piece of spring onion on the tofu sheet, roll it up; then, just enjoy !!