Hakka stuffed tofu

I have been following The Sandy Food Chronicles as she explores Hakka heritage recipes. In a recent post, she discovers the complexities of Hakka stuffed tofu (釀 豆 腐 nyiong tiu fu, yong dau foo) in Singapore.

Cantonese stuffed tofuI remember eating this Hakka classic there in 2004. On our first day, we wandered into a food court and tasted the Singapore style of stuffed tofu. The filling goes into many options besides tofu–chilies, eggplant, bean curd skin, bitter melon. This vendor used the Cantonese filling, a rather bland, smooth fish paste.

Singapore Hakka stuffed tofuA few days later, we ate lunch with a Hakka family. The Hakka version of stuffed tofu appeared on the table. The filling, pebbled with ground pork, boasted a deeper, more robust flavor and coarser texture than what we had eaten a few days earlier. Doreen Ho explained that the Hakka version always contains some pork. Since the Hakka originally lived inland with no access to seafood, they used pork for the filling. As they migrated to coastal areas, some adapted to local ingredients and often added seafood to the filling. There are as many variations to this filling as cooks. Some fillings contain all pork, some add fish, fresh or salted, and some add shrimp, fresh or dried. For recipes in The Hakka Cookbook, see pages 31 to 34, 76, 215, 106. What’s your favorite filling?

In her post, Sandy mentions The Food Canon’s recipe for Auntie Ruby’s Hakka Yong Tau Foo. The recipe looks mouth-watering, as well as authentic and achievable. The blog’s author, Terry Wong, has a new cookbook, Mum’s Classics Revived coming out soon. It is about home-cooking in Singapore and Malaysia. The book looks promising, check it out.

New ways with Hakka pork belly

Pork Belly with Preserved Mustard Greens

Pork Belly with Preserved Mustard Greens at the Hakka Restaurant in San Francisco

One of the most popular Hakka dishes is Pork Belly with Preserved Mustard Greens ((扣 肉 梅 菜 kiu ngiuk moi choi or kou rou mei cai). In a recent post on The Sandy Food Chronicles, Sandra Lue writes about the version she tasted at The Hakka Restaurant in San Francisco. I  also love Chef Li’s version–dark, soft, succulent, salty, and a bit fatty– he captures the Hakka flavor.

img_4046In my book research, I found every cook seemed to have their own version of this dish. Lue shares a few recipes she discovers which I am eager to try. Her post reminded me of another version from Fah Liong, a Hakka from Indonesia. I used many of her recipes in The Hakka Cookbook, but did not have room for her variation on Pork Belly with Preserved Greens. She replaces the salt-and- sugar preserved mustard greens (moi choy) with a more natural salt-free option, sun-dried bok choy (also called cole). She layers the pork slices in the center of the greens so the meat juices can travel through the greens more evenly. Since the pork hides in the center, there’s no need to unmold the dish; just dig in. Serve this homey dish with plenty of rice.

 Hakka Pork Belly with Dried Bok Choy

Makes 4 to 6 servings as a main course or 8 to 10 servings as part of a multi-course meal

3 ounces dried bok choy (also called cole), about half a package
1 piece (1 to 1 1/2 pounds) boneless pork belly with skin, preferably with a high proportion of meat
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
1 1/2 cups Chinese rice wine (shaoxing) or dry sherry
3 tablespoons dark soy sauce (or 2 tablespoons light soy sauce and 1 tablespoon molasses)
2 teaspoons sugar

1. In a large bowl soak the dried bok choy in hot water until soft and pliable, changing water occasionally, at least 2 hours or up to overnight. Drain and rinse vegetable. Gather the stem ends together, wring out the water, trim off and discard tough ends, and cut the vegetable crosswise into 1 inch pieces.

2. With a knife tip or fork, prick the skin of pork belly all over. Place a 14-inch wok or 12-inch frying pan over high heat. When pan is hot, about 1 minute, add the oil, and rotate the pan to spread. Set the pork, skin-down, in the pan. Cook, pressing down on pork, until the skin is well browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and continue cooking on all sides until well browned. Lift out of pan and cut the pork across grain in 2- to 3-inch sections. Then cut each section with the grain into 1/2-inch wide slices.

3. Remove all the fat from the pan except for 2 teaspoons. Return the pan to medium-high heat. Add the garlic and stir until soft, about 30 seconds. Add the wine, dark soy sauce, and sugar. Bring to a boil. Add the bok choy and pork. Simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until 1/2 to 3/4 cup liquid remains, 15 to 25 minutes.

4. With a slotted spoon, lift out and arrange half the bok choy in a shallow 5- to 8-cup bowl. Arrange pork slices, overlapping slightly, if needed, in an even layer over vegetable. Cover with remaining vegetable. Skim off and discard fat from any remaining pan juices and pour evenly over vegetable.

5. Set the dish on a rack over 2 to 4 inches boiling water in a steamer (at least 1 inch wider than dish) or wok (if bottom is round, place on a wok ring to stabilize). If the steamer lid is metal, wrap the lid with a towel to reduce condensation dripping on the food. Cover and steam over high heat until the pork is very tender when pierced, about 2 hours. Watch the water level, adding more boiling water as needed. Carefully remove the dish from steamer and serve from bowl. Or if desired, set a plate on top of the bowl and invert. Lift off bowl.

Hakka pork-stuffed tofu

pork stuffed tofuLast weekend, Lorraine Witte, The Chinese Lady and author, invited me to her kitchen to cook some dishes from The Hakka Cookbook. We cooked a famous Hakka classic, stuffed tofu (niong dou fu). This dish was invented as a result of migration. When the Hakka migrated to the south, they wanted to make the dumpling they had eaten in the north. They could not find the wheat flour needed to make the dumpling wrappers so they improvised and stuffed the meat filling into chunks of tofu.

You can watch us cooking pork stuffed tofu here. The full recipe appears on page 33 of The Hakka Cookbook and originally came from Natalie Com Liu who taught me in her kitchen in Lima, Peru.

IMG_3774There are many variations to stuffed tofu. The original filling was pork because the Hakka lived inland. As they migrated to the coasts, they often added seafood. The tofu could be steamed, deep-fried, poached, or pan-browned and braised. This steamed version is one of the simplest. Feel free to embellish the ginger-scented pork filling to your tastes.

Hakka radish dumpling

-2At the end of my talk at the Toronto Hakka Conference someone asked me if I had a recipe for Radish Dumplings (lo pet ban 蘿蔔粄). She described it as a steamed dumpling filled with shredded daikon radish that her Hakka grandmother had made in Jamaica. She had been trying to recreate it. Unfortunately, I did not know this dumpling.

Later another new friend Sandra Lue, author of the The Sandy Food Chronicles, also asked me about the dumpling. She, too, tried to create the dumpling but had problems with the dumpling skin.

When she mentioned dumpling skin, I recalled that I did develop a recipe for a Hakka steamed dumpling I had seen in Singapore. I could not recall the filling but remember testing it many times but left it out of the final manuscript because I wasn’t sure if it was good enough. It was a long recipe and a bit tricky to make, so I decided to omit it. I promised Sandra I would look for my recipe and perhaps she could make it work. I finally found the recipe and find it isn’t the same dumpling. My version does not contain the key ingredient–daikon radish.

However in my search, I discovered I had saved a couple of links to blog posts with recipes or descriptions of this Hakka Radish Dumpling. I am sharing these links so those who know this dumping can refine these recipes to recreate their grandmother’s dumpling.

http://morethanonemoreday.blogspot.ca/2010/07/jamaican-hakka-chinese-lo-pet-ban.html

http://alittlebitofplumleaf.blogspot.ca/2011/02/hakka-steamed-radish-dumpling-law-pet.html

Please share your recipe if you do!

Hakka in Toronto

Poster#1 THC2016 copyI’m working on my presentation for the upcoming Toronto Hakka Conference. Of course, I will be talking about food.

I will be in Toronto a few extra days and wonder where to eat. Do you have any suggestions for restaurants with Hakka chefs in the Toronto area? Would love to know where you eat and what your favorite dishes are. What’s new? I know many Hakka chefs come from India but have heard there are some with Jamaican roots. Please share your suggestions with me!

Visit Toronto Hakka Conference to register and see the program. From July 1 to 3, participants have a chance to meet Hakka from all over the world. Listen to experts speak about subjects ranging from Hakka genealogy, food, dialects, history, and much more. The Toronto area holds a concentration of Hakka from that spans the globe. At my first conference in 2008 I connected with many Hakka and interviewed them for The Hakka Cookbook, Chinese Soul Food from around the World.

Stir-fried Chinese lettuce

Chinese lettuceLast weekend, I saw the whole stalks of Chinese lettuce (芹 萵) sold in San Francisco Chinatown. With leafy greens sprouting from a long, thick stem, it looks like a little tree. This vegetable goes by many names–A-choy, stem lettuce, Taiwan lettuce, celtuce, won sun, ching woh, qin woh sun. The tops resemble romaine lettuce, which makes a good substitute. The thick stems have the texture of broccoli stems or kohlrabi with a lettuce flavor.

In China, I saw the vegetable sold with leaves attached to the stalk. In America, I find the tops and stems are often sold separately. The thick stalk-like stem resembles a broccoli stem in texture. Peel it deeply reach the tender interior. Slice the stems to use for pickles, stir-fries, and soups. The leaves can be cut and stir-fried or added to soups.

Stir-fried Chinese LettuceOn page 57 of The Hakka Cookbook, try the recipe for Stir-Fried Chinese Lettuce, Garlic, and Black Beans. If you can’t find the Chinese lettuce, use romaine lettuce but cut the leaves in half lengthwise if wider than 3 inches. The process is simple. Cut the lettuce leaves into about 3-inch lengths. Wash and drain well. In a hot wok, stir-fry sliced or small whole garlic cloves, fermented black beans, and minced fresh ginger in oil until aromatic. Then add lettuce pieces, a splash of water, and a little soy sauce to taste. Stir-fry just until leaves are slightly wilted. Enjoy!

Cooking classes at home

grokker videoInterested in watching cooking, yoga, and fitness classes at home on demand from your computer or other device? I cook Chinese dishes (including some Hakka recipes) on a subscription food and fitness website www.grokker.com  You will find 59 experts teaching cuisines from all over the world plus other topics such as healthy eating, baking, gluten-free, vegan, and techniques. After all that eating, choose from over 2000 yoga and fitness videos with topics that range from pilates to Hatha yoga.

Grokker is offering a special promotional price to my friends. For $99 for a 1-year subscription (45% off normal price) you have full access to the site. If you’re interested in this special price, use these codes: Checkout code: lindaa99 OR https://grokker.com/create-account/lindaa99 OR http://grok.kr/yhr9da  Cancel anytime.

For a preview glimpse, check out this video on how to cook Hakka Noodles with Pork and Mushroom Sauce.

Hakka in Suriname

Bitter melon braised with Madame Jeanette pepper, 5-spice powder, star anise, garlic

Bitter melon braised with Madame Jeanette pepper, 5-spice powder, star anise, garlic

Before I met Stuart Lee at the Toronto Hakka Conference 2012, I did not know Suriname, his home country. I learned this former Dutch plantation colony is located on the northeast Atlantic coast of South America with Guyana to the West and Brazil to the south. Many Hakka, as well as many other ethnic groups, live there.

Recently Stuart shared photos of the diverse food culture of his home country. Here are some of his photos and comments.

Stuffed tofu (ngiong fukah) by Surinamese Creole

Stuffed tofu (ngiong fukah) by Surinamese Creole

The Hakka placed their footprints on Suriname in 1853. Their contribution to the New World is huge. Chinese medicine, foods, kite flying, fireworks, mahjong–all ethnic groups in Suriname use these gifts from the Chinese. Their influence is seen in many Surinamese dishes, often blended with local ingredients, and multi-cultural tastes.

Chicken in hoisin and wine sauce with ever-present yellow pepper

Chicken in hoisin and wine sauce with ever-present yellow pepper

 

 

Dutch split pea soup with Chinese dumplings

Dutch split pea soup with Chinese dumplings

 

“As Suriname is probably the third most ethnic diverse country after USA and Canada,” says Lee, “ it is not uncommon for us to eat a lunch or dinner plate with boiled or fried cassava, plantains, ham choy with chicken and a sambal made with chicken hearts, gizzards and livers.” Dutch, Indonesian, Jewish, Hindustan, and African also play a strong role in this multi-cultural cuisine.

Pom, national dish of Suriname

Pom, national dish of Suriname

All cultures also embrace the Suriname national dish Pom. It is only available in Suriname, Holland and the Netherlands Antilles. “I have to thank the Jews who came to Suriname 400 years ago for inventing this dish!”

This baked casserole is made with root called pomtayer, similar to taro used to make poi. “I think the root is only grown in Suriname by the descendants of African slaves or the Creoles. My Mom marinates it with orange juice for the nice orange color, fills it with braised chicken and salted cured beef. The salted beef is also a Jewish influence. My grandfather and father would import shiploads of salted beef that were packed in wooden barrels similar to the wine barrels. Hakkas like my family were the ones who got the salted cured beef from New Brunswick. We also imported salted cod from Halifax that were the size of a small desk and came in jute bags and also salted pig tails, salted herring from Holland, and cured hams from Virginia. All these were poor man’s foods.”

Thanks to Stuart Lee for sharing a glimpse into the Surinamese diverse culinary history.

Chinese New Year

IMG_7650Khiung Hee Fat Choy! Wishing you a prosperous new year! Welcome to the Chinese year 4714 on the lunar calendar which begins on February 8, 2016. This is the year of the monkey.

Last night, I gave the first of four presentations for the San Mateo County Libraries on Chinese New Year and Hakka Soul Food (click here for event schedule). In my talk, I showed slides of many foods eaten during the two-week celebration.

Many dishes served for the Chinese New Year dinner have ingredients with auspicious meanings or symbolism. The Chinese word for fish sounds like abundance. Spring rolls look like gold bars and kumquats resemble gold coins. Green vegetables suggest growth in business. Noodles symbolize long life.

taro abacus beadsI also included photos of Hakka new year specialties such as Taro Abacus Beads (芋 頭 算 盤 子 Hakka: wu tiuh sun pan jue) that I tasted in Malaysia and Singapore. These chewy disks made from mashed taro and tapioca flour are shaped to resemble the counting beads on a Chinese abacus. Boiled and stir-fried they likely represent wealth. In Hong Kong, the popular multi-course banquet layered in a wash basin known as Basin Feast (盆 萊 Hakka: puhn choi) represents unity.

Last year I conducted an informal survey in Facebook Hakka groups and found many people serve humble family favorites such as Steamed Minced Pork with Egg or steamed fish. Others opt for more labor intensive Hakka specialties such as Pork Belly with Preserved Mustard Green (扣 肉 梅 菜 Hakka: kiu ngiuk moi choi).

I am still planning my menu.  What are you cooking for Chinese New Year Dinner?

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Hakka restaurants

Anthony Lin, chef/owner at Danforth Dragon in Toronto

Anthony Lin, chef/owner at Danforth Dragon in Toronto

Where are the Hakka restaurants?

I am surprised there are so few. In San Francisco, I only know of a couple—The Hakka Restaurant and Ton Kiang. Both are owned by Hakka and serve some Hakka dishes as well as other popular Chinese dishes. But in a city with such a large Chinese population why are there so few?

I suspect some restaurants may be Hakka-owned but to attract more customers they may promote a more recognizable Chinese cuisine or generic Chinese dishes. The scarcity of Hakka restaurants may exist only in North America. Although I did find more Hakka establishments in S.E. Asia, China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, the numbers still seemed rather minor. Since I don’t live there, perhaps I may not be aware of them.

Because Hakka chefs come from all over, there are variations on the cuisine they serve. Some serve Hakka-Indian, Hakka-Caribbean, or Hakka Chinese food.

Do you know any Hakka restaurants anywhere in the world? If so, please share. Provide the restaurant name, address, phone, website, email address, type of Hakka food (Chinese, Indian, etc.), house specialties, your favorites, and any other comments.

I am happy to share the information here. Looking forward to your recommendations. Thanks!