Various cooking methods of Chinese Tofu

Khai DoveFebruary 23, 2023
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The exact origins of tofu in China are unclear, but it is believed that the practice of making soy milk and tofu began during the Han dynasty (206 BCE - 220 CE). During this time, soybeans were used primarily for making soy sauce and fermenting them to make a paste called "doujiang". However, it is believed that someone discovered that by adding a coagulant to the soy milk, the liquid could be turned into a solid, which was later known as tofu.

Photo by Polina TankilevitchPhoto by Polina Tankilevitch

Initially, tofu was a food of the poor and was consumed as a meat substitute. In fact, the Chinese character for tofu (豆腐) is made up of two characters: "豆" meaning beans, and "腐" meaning decayed or rotten. This is because in ancient times, people used to let soy milk ferment and curdle naturally, creating a kind of decayed bean paste. Eventually, people learned to coagulate the soy milk using various substances such as vinegar, seawater, or gypsum, which led to the creation of tofu.

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During the Tang dynasty (618-907 CE), tofu became more popular and was introduced to Japan and Korea. During this time, it was also used as a vegetarian food for Buddhist monks. As Buddhism spread throughout China, so did the consumption of tofu. By the Song dynasty (960-1279 CE), tofu had become an important part of the Chinese diet, and many different types of tofu had been developed, including "stinky tofu" (fermented tofu with a strong smell), "tofu skin" (made by boiling soy milk and skimming the film that forms on the surface), and "tofu pudding" (a sweet dessert made with soft tofu).

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During the Ming dynasty (1368-1644 CE), tofu was enjoyed by people from all walks of life, and became a common ingredient in many dishes. In the Qing dynasty (1644-1912 CE), the production of tofu became more commercialized, and tofu shops began to pop up in cities and towns across China. Tofu was also introduced to the West in the late 19th century, where it was initially seen as a health food.

Today, tofu remains a staple in Chinese cuisine, and is enjoyed in many different forms and dishes, from savory stir-fries to sweet desserts. Tofu is also popular around the world and is used as a meat substitute for vegetarians and vegans, and as a healthy and protein-rich ingredient in many different cuisines.

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Tofu is also a versatile ingredient that can be cooked in many different ways, depending on the desired texture and flavor. In the following, we will explore various cooking methods of Chinese tofu and the dishes that result from them.

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Stir-frying is one of the most common cooking methods used in Chinese cuisine, and it is also a great way to cook tofu. In this method, tofu is cut into small pieces or cubes and then quickly fried in a wok or frying pan with oil, vegetables, and seasonings. Stir-fried tofu can be served as a side dish or as the main protein in a stir-fry dish. Some popular stir-fry dishes with tofu include Mapo Tofu, Stir-Fried Tofu with Vegetables, and Kung Pao Tofu.

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Boiling is another common method for cooking tofu. In this method, tofu is simmered in a pot of boiling water or broth until it is heated through and infused with the flavors of the broth. Boiled tofu is often served as a side dish or added to soups and stews. One popular dish that uses boiled tofu is Hot and Sour Soup, which is a classic Chinese soup made with tofu, bamboo shoots, wood ear mushrooms, and a spicy and sour broth.

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Deep-frying is a cooking method that involves immersing food in hot oil until it is crispy and golden brown. Tofu can be deep-fried in a similar way to make crispy and delicious tofu bites. The tofu is usually cut into small pieces or cubes, coated in a batter or breading, and then deep-fried until crispy. These crispy tofu bites can be served as a snack or added to stir-fry dishes for added texture and flavor.

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Braising is a cooking method that involves cooking food in a small amount of liquid over a long period of time. Tofu can be braised in a flavorful sauce until it is infused with the flavors of the sauce and has a soft and silky texture. Braised tofu is often served as a main dish and can be accompanied by vegetables, rice, or noodles. One popular dish that uses braised tofu is Ma Po Tofu, which is a spicy Sichuan dish made with ground pork, tofu, and a spicy bean sauce.

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Steaming is a gentle cooking method that involves cooking food in a small amount of water or broth in a covered pot or steamer. Steamed tofu is soft, silky, and delicate in flavor, and is often served as a side dish or added to soups and stews. One popular dish that uses steamed tofu is Steamed Tofu with Soy Sauce, which is a simple and classic Chinese dish made with steamed tofu, soy sauce, and scallions.

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In conclusion, tofu is a versatile ingredient that can be cooked in many different ways in Chinese cuisine. Whether you prefer your tofu stir-fried, boiled, deep-fried, braised, or steamed, there is a dish out there for everyone. With its high protein content and mild flavor, tofu is a healthy and delicious ingredient that can be enjoyed by everyone, regardless of dietary restrictions.