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.

Stuffed tofu deconstructed

stuffed tofu, deconstructedIn my last post, I wrote about one of the Hakka classics stuffed tofu (nyiong tiu fu in Hakka). Although it is a beloved Hakka favorite, it doesn’t appear often on the weeknight dinner table simply because it does take time to carve cavities into the tofu and to fill them.

Amy Wong from Malaysia showed me a quicker alternative with the same flavors. Her deconstructed version goes together in minutes. She makes a typical pork filling but instead of stuffing it into chunks of tofu, she stir fries the meat and adds the tofu chunks to make a crumbly savory hash. It has the flavors of stuffed tofu but takes a different form in a loose random presentation.

Look for my version of her recipe on page 123 of The Hakka Cookbook. However, it is easy to make this Stir-fried Tofu and Pork Hash without a recipe. Prepare your favorite mixture for the tofu filling or Fah’s Pork and Shrimp Filling. Cut the tofu into chunks and drain for about five minutes. I use about one pound tofu to eight ounces filling. Stir-fry the pork filling in a little oil with garlic until the mixture is crumbly and lightly browned. Add the tofu and soy sauce to taste. Stir-fry until tofu crumbles slightly and begins to brown. Garnish generously with sliced green onions. Vary seasonings to your taste. This fast version will soon become a family favorite in your weeknight line-up.


Hakka classic: stuffed tofu

stuffed tofu, Hakka Restaurant

One of the Hakka classics, stuffed tofu (nyiong tiu fu in Hakka), was a creation of migration. When the Hakka came to Southern China, they wanted to make the dumplings they had eaten in the north. However, they couldn’t find the wheat flour needed to make the dumpling wrappers. So they improvised and placed the filling into what was available—chunks of tofu (aka bean curd). The stuffed tofu was cooked many different ways: browned and braised, deep-fried, steamed, or poached.

The original filling was pork because that was what was available to these inland-bound people. When they migrated to the coast, seafood was sometimes mixed with the pork. Hakka versions of stuffed tofu almost always contain some pork that deepens the flavor. This pork addition distinguishes it from Cantonese versions which commonly use a light fish mousse-like paste as a filling. One Hakka from Singapore told me that by comparing the Cantonese and Hakka versions of stuffed tofu, you can see the differences between the two cuisines. The Hakka like stronger, more robust flavors and heartier dishes. The Cantonese profile is lighter with more subtle, delicate flavors.

Singapore stuffed tofu, chiles, and bitter melon in broth

Stuffed tofu, chiles, and bitter melon in broth as served in Singapore

The highly versatile savory filling for stuffed tofu appears in many guises. Cooks fill chiles, bitter melon rings, mushrooms, and eggplant with pork mixture. It is even used to fill wonton. There are endless variations.

In The Hakka Cookbook look for Braised Pork-Stuffed Mushrooms (page 61), Stuffed Bitter Melon in Tomato Sauce (page 163), Stuffed Bitter Melon Soup (page 24), Braised Fried Tofu with Pork (page 76), Singapore Stuffed Vegetable and Tofu Soup (page 106), Uncle Henry’s Stuffed Tofu Triangles, and Natalie Com Liu’s Tofu Topped with Pork.

Fah's Pork and Shrimp FillingOne of my favorite fillings comes from my friend Fah Liong, who migrated from Indonesia to California. In Fah’s Stuffed Tofu Triangles (page 215), she mixes pork with chopped shrimp, shiitake mushrooms, green onions, and fish sauce. She stuffs the filling into slit-like pockets cut into triangles of tofu and steams or poaches the triangles in broth.

You could also mound the filling onto tofu squares or fill vegetable cavities. Vary the seasonings and proportion of pork and shrimp to suit your tastes.

Fah’s Pork and Shrimp Filling

Makes about 1 cup, enough to fill about 1 pound tofu

2 dried shiitake mushrooms, each about 1 1/2 inches wide

4 ounces peeled, deveined shrimp

4 ounces ground pork

2 tablespoons thinly sliced green onion, including green tops

1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon white pepper

1. Rinse the dried mushrooms and place in a small bowl. Cover with hot water and soak until soft, 20 minutes to 2 hours, depending on thickness. Squeeze out excess liquid. Remove and discard mushroom stems and finely chop the caps.

2. Finely chop the shrimp. In a bowl, mix the mushrooms, shrimp, pork, green onion, fish sauce, cornstarch, salt. and white pepper. Use to fill tofu and vegetables. Pan brown and braise, steam, poach, or deep-fry as recipe suggests.

Hakka Restaurant in Hong Kong

Stuffed tofu topped with fried egg with pork as served at Kong Hing in Hong Kong.

A couple of weeks ago on the way back from China, we stopped in Hong Kong for a couple of days.  Professor Sidney Cheung, whose interview appeared in The Hakka Cookbook, invited me to dinner at a Hakka restaurant, Kong Hing in Tai Wai. In this modest restaurant, we sampled several Hakka specialties such as salt-steamed chicken, stuffed bitter melon, and steamed pork belly with preserved mustard greens.

One of my favorite dishes that night was the stuffed tofu. The chef’s version came capped with fried eggs laced with bits of fried ground pork. To recreate, make the Fried Eggs and Chives (page 80) except replace the chives with bits of fried ground pork. Place the eggs over stuffed tofu (page 31, 33, 76, or 215) in a little broth in a clay pot or other small pan. Heat until bubbly, then shower with chopped green onions and cilantro. The eggs add an extra savory element to the tofu and stretch the number of servings.

Chef Lau Chung Khong

After dinner, Chef Lau Chung Khong stopped by the table. We learned he originally came from the village of Shinling, also home of the Lau Family Association. His village was a neighbor of Moiyen, where my family was from, in Guangdong province. He came to Hong Kong as a teenager and worked in some Hakka restaurants. In 1988 he started his own restaurant. At his restaurant he serves homey Hakka dishes. At lunch, the rice plates are popular with local workers.

I asked my host, Professor Cheung, if there were many Hakka restaurants in Hong Kong. He said there aren’t many because of the high rents. Hakka food has modest ingredients and most are not able to charge high enough prices to cover the rent. Too bad, since the food is so delicious.

 Kong Hing Restaurant G/F,  79-81 Tsuen Nam Rd, Tai Wai, Tai Wai

大圍村南道79-81號地下   Tel. 2691 6726 / 2601 2982