Friday, October 28, 2011

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Best of Taiwanese food: Tofu 豆腐

10/28/2011 Taiwan Explorer
Taiwan's soul food


Tofu is one of the most popular foods in Taiwan. It's popularity swapped over from China with the first immigrants (three to four centuries ago). The word 豆腐, romanized as tofu and pronounced somewhat like dòufǔ, consists of two characters: 豆 meaning "bean" and 腐 meaning "rotten". These rotten soybeans commonly shaped in squares (and sometimes spheres) are every person's favorite here. Believed to be mild in flavor and rich in nutrition, its appeal to the general population of Formosa is beyond obsession. I personally like tofu, but beware, eating it too much might cause you to uncontrollably flatulate 放屁. Other than that, it's pretty harmless.

Tofu is often served at wedding banquets. That shows what a special place it holds for Taiwanese people, as weddings are very important to them.

My wife loves tofu! And so far I have not met a Taiwanese person, who was not enamored with this fine product of the soy family. And therefore I have decided to share with you some of the most popular tofu variations for the very likely case, that you'll find yourself in Taiwan and stand in front of a tofu vendor and don't know what to choose. Your choice:

1. Stinky tofu 臭豆腐


The smelliest brother of the tofu family and like the name indicates: He stinks. But he looks deliciously cute. And guess what: It tastes really good! And he only stinks, before he takes a bath in hot oil, so don't worry. In Taiwan you'll pass by a lot of smelly streets where this hero is being prepared, but even the hottest Taiwanese girls will queue for a while just to get a bite of it. It's my wife's favorite. And whenever I eat it at a stall, Taiwanese look at me with a "wow, that foreigner eats stinky tofu" kinda look. I don't bother, I keep eating. The arguably best stinky tofu in Taiwan is found in Taitung City in a heavily popular stall.

2. Black tofu 香酥黑豆腐


This brother is not as popular and not as common. If people order a lot of different tofus, he's usually the only black one in the bunch. It's not like Taiwanese have something against him, it's just that they prefer the white one a little more. But he tastes great, definitely a must try, if you have the chance to spot him. He's got a pepper-ish flavor to him.

3. Fried tofu balls 炸豆腐丸子


You gotta try the fried tofu balls! Not only are these balls hard on the outside and soft on the inside, they taste really good. The funny thing is, they are so tempting, that you wanna put a whole one in your mouth. But when you do that, you will realize, that it's very hot inside and then you'll chew 'em like a cow. And it never looks good on a non-Taiwanese.

4. Barbecue tofu skewer 烤臭豆腐


This is one of my favorite tofu dishes. These brothers end up on wooden sticks after they've been barbecued for a while and coated with a spicy sauce. This fella is divine! I have nothing more to say: You just gotta try it, if you're in Taiwan. No but-ing allowed!

5. Sautéed tofu 煎豆腐


This lovely dish looks like a delicacy and it actually is one. This relatively uncommon tofu is rich in texture, moisture and flavor and should be eaten as a starter or a side dish. But don't be fooled by his shy persona: He's "da bomb" on your taste buds.

6. Tofu salad 涼拌豆腐


This guy really loves to be covered in vegetables and soy sauce, but underneath he's completely naked. He loves to be eaten together with cabbage and prefers female eaters.

7. Dry tofu snack 滷黑豆干


This one is usually served as a side dish, be it next to an abundant array of Chinese food or just as a small snack in a tea shop. He doesn't want to make you full, but he'll arouse your taste buds and tickle your stomach. Go for it, if given the chance!

8. Marinaded tofu 滷豆乾


This dry tofu loves to spend his time with marinaded broccoli and pig skin, usually found on night markets and eaten on the go. Not my favorite way to eat tofu, but very simple and fulling: Simply fulling.

9. Cooked tofu 紅燒板豆腐


Please skip these fellas, I could not stomach them. They are very soggy and the taste is really not something I'd like to experience once again.

10. Soup tofu 豆腐羹


This is not my favorite way to eat tofu. The soup is very rich, a little bit too rich for me. I would not recommend it to foreigners.

11. Sour and spicy soup 酸辣湯


This is my favorite Taiwanese soup and I swear my wife would confirm this. The soup is usually served with fried dumplings and it's a must, let me repeat, a must to try it, if you come to Taiwan. The soup is very rich, it includes several vegetables, bits of tofu and duck or pig blood. It's a little sour, but very smooth: This must be the Taiwanesesest soup available here. Frankly, I could not live without it anymore. I love it.

12. Douhua 豆花


Douhua is my wife's favorite! It's sometimes called tofu pudding and it's a popular dessert. The one on the photo above is a little soupy, but a lot of douhua desserts look like jelly and can be very sweet. I like this dish a lot and it's also one of the must try desserts of Taiwan.

13. Tofu pudding 豆腐布丁


This dish is also called tofu pudding, but wants to be like the real one: The Chinese word for pudding 布丁 is just a transliteration of the English word, which shows, that the famous English dessert was tried to be made in a Taiwanese way. It's truly a yummy little dessert, but not cheap.

14. Tofu ice cream 豆腐冰淇淋


Oh yeah! There's even a tofu flavored ice cream in Taiwan! And guess what, it's pretty yummy as well. I definitely recommend it to those of you, who are sick of vanilla and banana: Tofu ice cream is good for your stamina and bad for your enemies, because it will also enhance your kung fu skills (that's what I heard from a vendor).

Now you know everything about one of Taiwan's most delicious culinary secrets. If you want to eat the best tofu in Taiwan, go and visit Shenkeng 深坑, a small district south of Taipei with an old tofu street. Another famous tofu village is Tai'an 泰安 in Miaoli County. All I can say is bon voyage and bon apetit. Or Mahlzeit!

How do you like your tofu the most?

[My TAIWAN FOOD page][All photos by MKL, 2011]