(part 2 of 3)
Most American grocery stores sell just 3 types of tofu: firm, soft, and silken. It’s a shame! China has 24 other varieties!
Here are 5 of the most popular, 5 other rare and unusual varieties, followed by the complete list. In our third post, we will describe how to cook a few of them.
5 Popular Chinese Tofus
Pressed tofu (dougan):
Dougan is a category of extra firm tofu, pressed very dry and then smoked, stewed, or salted. While low in water content, many varieties are tender, rather than tough. The ingredient is eaten in most major regions of China, in stir fries, dumpling filling, or on the grill.
Youdoupi is the high protein film that collects atop heated soymilk, eaten as sheets or rolled into “tofu sticks” (fuzhu). Youdoupi sheets are often used as a wrap for other fillings, then fried and/or steamed, and are also eaten with hotpot. It’s most common in Cantonese and Shanghainese regional cuisines. “Tofu sticks” are usually sold dried and are used in cold salads or light stir fries. They are widely eaten throughout the country.
Thousand Sheets (qianzhang)
Qianzhang are cardstock-thin sheets of ground then pressed soycurds. Due to its minimal moisture content, qianzhang is the most protein-dense tofu. It also has very little beanyness. It’s most commonly eaten sliced in cold salads but is also used in China’s northeast in fresh vegetable rolls and stir fries.
Q-Tan Tofu (qianye)
Qianye is a special type of tofu, made directly from soy protein, not whole beans. Its more uniform texture is tender, chewy, and fishcake-like, which is described in Mandarin as simply the letter “Q”. One of the most forgiving tofus, it can be frozen indefinitely with no change to its structure, and it rarely breaks apart when cooking. Qianye tofu is usually stir fried, but it can also be baked. It’s most common in northern China.
Fermented Tofu (furu)
Furu is the flavor king of tofu. Made by fermenting cubes of firm tofu in the wintertime, alongside spices, alcohols, and seasonings, it can develop notes ranging from provolone to blue cheese, salty and astringent to warm creaminess. Furu is also extremely rich in umami. Due to its softness and potent flavors, it’s usually eaten as an accompaniment to other foods, rubbed on pastries, spooned on top of gravies, or mixed into dipping sauces or stir fries. It’s eaten all over China, and every city, town, and village makes it their own way.
5 Rare Chinese Tofus
Stinky Tofu (choudoufu)
Lovers say it “smells stinky but tastes fresh”. The most famous type of stinky tofu comes from Changsha and sports the black/deep blue color of mold. Taiwan also has several popular varieties. Both tend to be fried, grilled, or stewed, served street-side on a stick.
“Vegetarian Chicken” (suji)
China has a long history of mock meats, but this is not one of them. Rather, it’s just a type of tofu that is often cooked, in Shanghai styles, like chicken. Suji is made by grinding and pressing qianzhang into a log structure, giving the old ingredient a completely new set of textures and cooking properties, while maintaining the ultra-high protein and low beany taste. It’s usually fried and stewed, which gives it an indulgent creamy juiciness. Suji is rarely eaten outside the Shanghai region, except occasionally in Taiwan.
Juicy Tofu (baojiangdoufu)
Inland Yunnan Province has some of China’s most unique tofu varieties. One of the them, from Jianshui County, melts. Grilled or fried, the tofu’s exterior will harden into an air-tight shell, the hot air inside will expand, and the curds will explode. You won’t believe it until you try it.
Charcoal Tofu (qiaohuidoufu)
Guizhou is the unofficial tofu capital of the world, with 6 of its own unique varieties. This one is made by rubbing fresh tofu with charcoal ash and smoking it in the embers. The ash’s alkalinity gives the tofu a unique chewy exterior, while the inside stays remarkably tender. This is one of the tastiest tofus to stew. It’s unfortunate that no one is making it outside of Guizhou.
Bubbly Tofu (paodoufu)
Another variety only available in Guizhou Province. Thin paodoufu sheets are dried in the sun until dry and brittle, then baked in hot stones so that they puff up. When reconstituted, they maintain their firm, bubbly structure, which resists breakage and allows for maximum flavor absorption. An incredible, versatile ingredient that’s entirely shelf stable.
If you want to know the rest of China’s tofus…
1. 老豆腐 — firm
2. 嫩豆腐 — soft
3. 内酯豆腐 — silken
4. 豆腐干 — pressed tofu
a. 卤豆干 — stewed
b. 烟熏/腊豆干 — smoked
6. 千张/干豆腐/干豆皮/ — pressed tofu sheets
a. 豆腐丝 — shredded tofu
7. 素鸡 — Shanghai-style vegetarian chicken (not actually a mock chicken)
8. 千页豆腐 — fish-cake style tofu
9. 冻豆腐 — frozen tofu
10. 豆腐乳 — fermented tofu
11. 臭豆腐 — stinky tofu
12. 毛豆腐 — hairy tofu
13. 大方手撕豆腐 — hand-ripped tofu
14. 荞灰豆腐 — charcoal tofu
15. 烟熏豆腐 — Guizhou smoked tofu
16. 菜豆花 — vegetable tofu pudding
17. 爆浆小豆腐 — exploding juice tofu
18. 青岩豆腐 — Qingyan village tofu
19. 泡豆腐/脚板豆腐皮 — puffy tofu
20. 石屏豆腐 — Shiping (Yunnan) tofu
21. 腊八豆腐 — Anhui salted and smoked tofu
22. 建水包浆豆腐 — Jianshui (Yunnan) Juicy Tofu
23. 脆豆腐 — dried, porous tofu
24. 麻豆腐 — stir-fried mung bean okara
25. 黑豆豆腐— black soybean tofu
26. 花生豆腐 — peanut tofu
27. 鹰嘴豆腐 — chickpea tofu