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Friday, October 19, 2012

Yong Tau Foo 酿豆腐

Yong Tau Foo, of which a direct translation will be "stuffed tofu" is probably a name very well depicting the dish itself. While the history may have started with just that, the dish must have evolved over the decades, tested against time, influenced by the food customs of different nations around the world, modified and molded along the way bringing us the versions that we actually see and savor today.  

My personal history of yong tau foo started with the very version featured here stuffed with fish paste, served on top of a bowl of curry noodles back in my hometown. And then there were these served on the side with a plate of smooth rice noodle roll 猪肠粉 bathed lightly in a sweet sauce, or served topping a bowl of plain noodle soup and not forgetting the one served in a big combination platter on its own to go with rice. 

Fast forward a few years dining at a relative's place was when I had my first try of the Hakka version of yong tau foo. While the choices of vegetables and soy products used for stuffing are generally the same - eggplant, bitter gourd, okra, red chilies, tofu, bean curd sheets and tofu puffs being the most common few, the main difference between this posted here and that of Hakka will be the stuffing used. Instead of plain fish, the stuffing includes two other ingredients that are often incorporated into Hakka cuisines - pork and salted fish. Served in gravy made with fermented bean paste, Hakka version of yong tau foo, infused with the aroma and taste of salted fish has a flavor distinctly different to this other version. I must however say that either version is nevertheless just as awesome in their very own specific ways.

Growing up in Malaysia with yong tau foo so easily found everywhere throughout the country, this is something that I must have taken for granted all along unknowingly. It was only after moving here to the States that I really do begin to appreciate this heavenly dish. The closest thing we have here is probably the stuffed eggplants often served at dim sum places with the stuffing made of pork and shrimps instead. Not as good maybe, but they do keep my occasional cravings in check most of the times.

Back at home in my younger years, I did know that making this from scratch was indeed very time-consuming and labor-intensive involving bouts of literally throwing, slapping and pounding all in the pursuance of a springy and bouncy stuffing in the end. I had personally seen mom in action making this every now and then and it indeed is a shame on me that never once had I got myself involved to learn from her back then. A spoiled brat I sure was lol! To make one from scratch over here is definitely made difficult with the limited choice of fresh, whole fishes available in the market. I may have seen some Atlantic Spanish mackerel every now and then in the Chinese grocer, but one single bad experience here with its freshness was more than enough to stop me from ever getting near it again. So with that coming to an end, my hope and dream for a homemade yong tau foo eventually got halted too. Right until the day I spotted this - frozen Cha Ca fish meat emulsion at the Chinese grocer.

Skeptical I indeed was initially of especially the quality but this being probably the only option to reliving my dream again, I bought one and gave it a try anyway. And - well lets just say that my dream came true soon after! While this may never be on par with those homemade ones done from scratch, this has indeed become my best choice since.

Yong Tau Foo 酿豆腐
Serves 4-5 
1 tub fish emulsion (1lb)
3 stalks spring onion, finely chopped
1/2 tsp sesame oil 
3 dashes white pepper powder
1 Chinese eggplant
1 bitter gourd
2 pcs fried square firm tofu
5 sheets bean curd sheets measuring 4"x6"
cooking oil for frying

Dipping sauce

2tbsps hoisin sauce
2tbsps Sriracha chili sauce

1. Begin with preparing the fish paste. Add in the chopped spring onion, sesame oil and white pepper powder. Keep folding in with a spoon to mix well. This can be done in advance and left refrigerated until stuffing time. Likewise the stuffing can be done in advance and kept refrigerated until cooking time. Just be sure to bring them back to room temperature before the cooking process begins.

2. Cut the Chinese eggplant at a 45-degree angle into slices of about 1" thick. Create the opening for stuffing by gently slicing through the center of each piece, halving the thickness and stop right before reaching the edge.

3. Similarly cut the bitter gourd at a 45-degree angle into pieces of about 1/2" thickness. Scrape off most the white core with a small knife carefully.
4. Halve each of the tofu diagonally then make a small slit down the center of all the triangular pieces. 
5. Trim off any irregular sides of the bean curd sheets and lightly dampen with a wet cloth.
6. Using a butter knife, work gently on stuffing the eggplant, bitter gourd and tofu with the fish paste.
The amount of paste required to fill the different ingredients will differ, generally in this sequence bitter gourd > eggplant > tofu.
7. As with the bean curd sheets, spread a thin layer of fish paste on the sheet. Fold in about 1½cm each from both the longer sides of the sheets. 
8. Starting with one of the shorter ends, roll the sheets up, sealing the end with a tinge of additional fish paste.

9. Heat up about 4 tbsps cooking oil in a frying pan. Once heated, turn the heat down to medium and pan fry the stuffed eggplant, bitter gourd and tofu in a few batches until brownish, and cooked thoroughly.

10. With a small frying pan, heat up just enough cooking oil to deep-fry the rolled bean curd sheets. Make sure the oil is well heated before turning down the heat to medium-high. Put in the bean curd sheets rolls into the hot oil and let fry. Turn occasionally to get even heat distribution and browning. Drain on a plate lined with a paper towel. 
12. Serve with the dipping sauces side by side in a sauce plate.

Using the whole tub each time, I will usually get them stuffed all at once. While only half of the stuffed yong tau foo will probably be used at most for a meal, the rest can be kept refrigerated. Having them readily stuffed, serving them in the next day or two will just involve the pan frying part making things relatively more convenient, plus you get to try them served in a different way too.


  1. may i know where i can buy frozen Cha Ca fish meat emulsion??


    1. Hi Raymond, sorry it took me so long to get back to you. I got mine from the Asian grocery store here. Even the Vietnamese grocery store here carries them too. They come frozen. I have seen three different brands so far. Trying asking the person manning the store?


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