Green Queen Living: Wet Market Series Part 5 – Guide to Chinese Tofu Products (Dou Fu)

The Chinese have been making and consuming tofu in all its various forms for more than a thousand years! Tofu, also known as beancurd, is made from soya beans. High in protein, low in fat, and most of all, relatively cheap when compared to other protein sources- tofu is a nutritional powerhouse that doesn’t send you to the poorhouse and a vegetarian/vegan’s best friend. 

Tofu is often called the Chinese cheese as the process to make it is similar to that of soft cheese. Soya beans are first boiled, then mashed and strained, resulting in soya milk. A coagulant (a substance like vinegar or magnesium sulfate that enhances the clotting process which is what solidifies the milk) is added to curdle the milk, which creates tofu curds. Once drained these curds are pressed into various kinds of tofu products. You may have seen the many different types and forms of tofu on your visit to the wet markets around town and you may have wondered how to make use of them. They all have their very own textures, flavors and features and they all require different cooking techniques. We’re here to teach you tofu newbies everything you need to know. 

Fried Tofu – Dau Paau

Fried tofu are cubes of beancurd that have been pre-fried in vegetable oil (so suitable for vegans and vegetarians).  Their golden yellow roughly textured skin is known as “bean bubble” in Cantonese because of the sponge-like texture of the inner part and the fact that it floats when dropped in water. Fried tofu doesn’t have a smooth texture like firm tofu. Most of the water has been extracted out of it, so it is much drier. As such, it is always prepared in sauce-heavy dishes.

High Season: Available all year

How To Eat: Usually heated slightly before being eaten, fried tofu’s chewy, airy and slightly crunchy texture makes it a favorite as a garnish ingredient in salads. Steaming it slightly is a quick and easy way to heat it up. Fried tofu works as a main ingredient in a stir fry too (no need to heat first in this case). The pieces absorb sauces really nicely so work well in stews too.  We love using fried tofu to make vegan BLT sandwiches! Slice the cubes, heat hem on a hot dry grill (they already contain oil) and insert them into GF sandwich bread with crunchy romaine lettuce, homemade mayo and juicy tomatoes.

What To Look For: Usually found in the refrigerated part of supermarkets, at the wet market they are sold

Storage: Keep it dry in a sealed container. It can last for a week in the freezer and three to four days in the fridge.

firm tofu

Firm Tofu/Tofu – Ngaang Dau Fu

Firm tofu is probably the most common type of tofu for non-Asians. It is made from pressing soy bean curds and then separating out the whey. Anyone familiar with Szechuan food has most probably encountered the famous Mapo Tofu dish made with firm tofu. The bland taste and porous texture of firm tofu blocks make them ideal candidates for taking on any flavour. Note for tofu connoisseurs: firm tofu is our blanket term for all regular/firm tofu. Actually, firm tofu is available in varying degrees of firmness- firm, extra firm and super firm.

High Season: Available all year

What To Look For: Firm tofu is sold in creamy white blocks. Ensure it is as fresh as possible by speaking to your tofu merchant as it spoils easily.

How To Eat: Sliced and cubed it is an ideal ingredient for stir fries. Grilled pieces make a great addition to salads. Large cubes can be skewered and barbecued for your non meat-eating guests. Use anywhere you would plain chicken breast to make a recipe vegetarian. Make sure to use a sharp knife to ensure the firm tofu keeps it shape. As mentioned above, firm tofu responds extremely well to any and all types of marinades/spice rubs/herb blends.

Storage: Firm tofu goes bad quickly but when stored covered in water in the fridge, it will keep for up to a week. Make sure to change the water often, at least every two days.

silken tofu

Silken Tofu/Soft Tofu  –  Bou Baau Dau Fu

Often mistaken for mozzarella balls, silken tofu is quite different from firm tofu. It is soft and smooth in texture with a delicate, silky feel and a creamy taste. Unlike firm tofu, silken tofu does not entail any whey separation.

High Season: Available all year

What To Look For: Again, ensure it is as fresh as possible when buying it at the wet market. It can also be found in sealed vacuum packs- these do not need to be refrigerated and can last a long time.

How To Eat: In Cantonese cuisine, silken tofu is most often used in desserts, sweet dishes and sauces/dips/dressings. It is a great alternative to cream/butter in vegan cuisine and is often used as a replacement for eggs. Vegan mayonnaise can be made using silken tofu for example, as can vegan Caesar salad dressing. People on a dairy free diet can use it instead of yoghurt- add berries and granola for a non dairy take on a breakfast! Silken tofu does not require cooking though we recommend soaking it in filtered water for 30 minutes just as a precaution – for example the Japanese add sliced spring onions, soya sauce, bonito flakes and fresh ginger to cubes of silken tofu as a refreshing summer snack. Silken tofu falls apart easily, so it is not ideal for dishes where keeping the tofu shape is required, like stir fries. Note: you do need to drain silken tofu before usage- just let the water pour out.

Storage: Store in the fridge in filtered water. Silken tofu needs to be consumed within a couple of days if fresh or once you have opened the airtight packaging.

fermented tofu

Pickled Tofu/Fermented Bean Curd/Tofu Cheese – Fu Yu/Naam Yu

Fermented tofu is a type of preserved beancurd made by drying tofu, marinated it in a combination of salt, alcohol (usually rice wine), vinegar and spices (often chili) and then storing it in a brine for a minimum of six months in sealed earthenware urns. Various herbs and spices can give fermented a wide variety of flavors and different regions in China and other Asian countries all have their own flavor traditions. Some of the main types of fermented tofu are: red fermented tofu (pictured, known as Naam Yu) which gets its deep hue from red yeast rice and which is quite quite glutinous and sticky; white fermented tofu (known as Fu Yu), which is usually quite spicy due to the addition of chilli and is the most common amongst the different fermented tofu varieties; and stinky tofu (Chou Dou Fu), which is an acquired taste for most and get its strong scent from its brine of fermented milk and herbs.

High Season: Available all year

What To Look For: Usually sold in brine in jars. make sure they have been aged appropriately and that the spices used fit your flavour and spice profile (some pack a lot of heat!)

How To Eat: Fermented tofu is essentially a condiment, added to stir fries, stews and other dishes as a way to impart flavour. The Cantonese tend to cook naam yu while fu yu is eaten raw.

Storage: In its unopened container, pickled tofu can be stored for up to a year but it is best to check the dates listed.

died tofu sheets

Dried Tofu Sheets/Tofu Skin Sheets – Fu Zuk

Dried tofu sheets is made from the skin formed on the surface of boiling soy milk in an open shallow pan; the skins are then dried into sheets. It has a much softer texture than the tofu skin sheet sticks (covered next). Dim sum lovers will recognize these sheets as the wrapping of sin jok guen. Technically, tofu sheets are not strictly a tofu product as they are produced from soya milk to which a coagulant has not yet been added.

High Season: Available all year

What To Look For: Make sure they are very dry. If moistened, they go bad quickly.

How To Eat: Soften the sheets by soaking them in water first. The length of soaking time differs depending on their use. If you want them to retain their shape for wrapping, soak them for no longer than 20 minutes. For other uses, soak up to two hours though they will disintegrate to mush. For sweet soups and desserts, soaking is not necessary. Dried tofu sheets are an ideal gluten-free alternative to tortillas, flatbreads and wheat wraps of any kind. They are also a great vegan alternative to making turnover/pasty/pierogi/ravioli dishes. Add your preferred filling and fold into desired shapes. Finely sliced tofu sheets is also an easy way to add protein to a salad.

Storage: Kept in an airtight container, the sheets will last last for up to six months. 

dried tofu sticks

Tofu Skin Sticks/Dried Tofu Sticks/Bamboo Tofu/Yuba – Zi Zuk

Similar to tofu skin sheet, dried tofu sticks are also made by skimming the skin that forms when boiling soy milk, then hung to dry and shaped into tight, long stick like bunches. They have a chewy (and some say meaty) texture. They are harder and more leathery than dried tofu sheets so they require a longer period of soaking before usage- some extremely dry tofu sticks can even be brittle and almost crispy. They retain their shape far more than dried tofu sheets do.

High Season: Available all year

What To Look For: Like the dried tofu sheets, make sure they are very dry. If moistened, they go bad quickly.

How To Eat:  Some insist on soaking tofu sticks for up to 24 hours while others simply soften them by soaking in boiling water for a couple of hours. In our experience, at least eight hours of soaking is a must. A great trick is to soak the sticks in broth- this imparts great flavor to the mild tofu sticks. Once soaked, chop into bite size pieces and add to stir fries, stews and soups.

Storage: Like the dried tofu sheets, kept in an airtight container, the sticks will last last for up to six months.

 

pressed tofu

Pressed Tofu – Dau Gon

Pressed tofu is regular tofu (firm tofu) that has been compressed in a wooden press until most of the liquid has been removed. It is extremely firm and has a solid, smooth texture. There are a couple of different varieties: plain white pressed tofu, which has nothing added to it, and the flavored kinds like brown pressed tofu that has been soaked in soya sauce or the five-spice powder.

High Season: Available all year

What To Look For: Make sure you buy the freshest possible, speak to the tofu merchant about when it was pressed.

How To Eat:  It is very simple to make your own pressed tofu- simply cover firm tofu with a cheesecloth and add a heavy weight on top. Leave it sitting for an hour, until the cheesecloth has absorbed all the excess liquid. Pressed tofu works well in dishes that require a firm texture. Ideal for grilling, as a sandwich filler (works great in pita pockets) and of course, as a simple addition to stir fries.

Storage: As with firm tofu, keep it refrigerated for up to a week.

 

 

Join us next week for the Wet Market Series Part 6 where we explore the world of Chinese dried products. Or try the previous entries in this series:

Green Queen Living: Wet Market Series Part 4 – Guide to Chinese Herbs & Spices (Heng Liu)

Green Queen Living: Wet Market Series Part 3 – Guide to Chinese Root & Tuber Vegetables (Gan)

Green Queen Living: Wet Market Series Part 2 – Guide to Chinese Melon & Gourds (Gwaa)

Green Queen Living: Wet Market Series Part 1 – Guide to Chinese Leafy Greens (Choy)