June 18, 2014

Chinese Fermented Beancurd 腐乳

chinese, preserved beancurd, fermented beancurd, fermented tofu, preserved tofu, 腐乳, how to buy, how to choose

This is me at our local Hong Kong wet market, trying to talk to my grumpy old egg vendor.  "How much is that?" I ask, pointing to jars of chinese preserved beancurd half hidden behind hanging bits of this and that.  "What?" he grumps, not even bothering to look where I am pointing.  "Umm...that," I repeat, having inconveniently and momentarily forgotten what Chinese Preserved Beancurd is called in Chinese.

I wait.  And wait.  He finally looks and snorts in disgust.  "Oh, that."  he says.  "Is that a good brand of preserved beancurd?"  I ask, and immediately regret asking this question.  (I always forget and ask these type of stupid lecture inspiring questions at the wet market.)

I am then subjected to a long lecture on the lost art of food purchasing, our present generation's lack of food knowledge, the meaning of customer loyalty, etc., while the original object of my question, the lovely golden bottle of chinese preserved beancurd, remains cradled gently in the vendor's gnarly old hands.  

In the end it was worth it all, though, because not only did my grumpy egg vendor graciously give me some great tips on how to buy Chinese Preserved Beancurd, or 腐乳,  but also his recommended preserved beancurd was really, really good!

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Chinese Preserved Beancurd is basically fermented beancurd (also called tofu.)  Fresh tofu is fermented in a brine of rice wine, salt, spices, sesame oil and often times chilli.  Some people called it Chinese cheese.  I guess it has similarities to cheese, since both are fermented and both are smelly.

Preserved beancurd is really yummilicious, but, just as when one first meets cheese, it may seem strange and smelly at first.  But once you put by your preconceptions and taste it, you will find a spiced yet sweet, firm yet soft, deliciously flavorful food.  It's so tasty that you can't really eat it in bites, you have to nibble at it, plucking a bit off the fermented beancurd brick with your chopsticks to enjoy.  (My sisters and I used to fight over this stuff when I was little!)

We often carefully pluck out a brick or two (using clean and dry chopsticks) and serve it as a side dish to our main dinner.  So you can just pluck a small bit with your chopsticks and eat it with a bite of rice.  Yum!  You can also use like a condiment when stir frying veggies or marinating meats.

Pssst..Try making your own Chinese Fermented Beancurd Tofu at home!  It's easy and fun.

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But now back to my grumpy egg vendor's tips on how to buy Chinese Preserved Beancurd.  Two things to check.  First of all check the color.  It should be a lovely golden yellow color 金黃色.  Second of all check that the beancurds inside the bottle are loose and not stuck together.  Preserved beancurd should be light and fluffy and not compressed.  (If they are stuck together it means they are compressed.)  

Check this by holding the bottle firmly upright and swivelling so that the beancurds inside start turning in a circular motion.  You will then be able to observe if the beancurds are separated or attached.

We tested these tips out at the supermarket the other day with another famous brand of chinese preserved beancurd that we had previously tried (much more expensive!) but had been disappointed in.  Guess what! It failed both test one and two!  So my grumpy egg vendor was right on the money.  But then of course he was...



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