Hong Kong Recipes: Cold Tofu on a Hot Day

It is a hot summer day, and while you are hungry, you barely feel like turning on the stove for any length of time: what to do? Here comes in handy one of the most satisfying cold dish recipes, that can be ready in minutes with ingredients at hand – and that allows your best soy sauces to really shine.

Cold tofu (jyun5 dau6 fu6 軟豆腐) is a summer staple, ready in seconds with the most easily available ingredients, and a dish with a neutral enough base to be like a refreshing and just slightly nutty canvas on which to add savoury delights to your heart’s content.

As part of our series on soy sauce, Hong Kong soy sauce producers and the best and easiest local soy sauce recipes, here are three versions of cold tofu, from the simplest one, which allows the rarest soy sauce in Hong Kong to shine to its fullest potential, to a topping extravaganza version, where you can play with a medley of delicious flavours. 

You can find soft tofu everywhere, packaged in a flimsy plastic container with a thin plastic peel on top, with a photo of the plated soft tofu, and they are available from the smallest supermarkets to special tofu shops at the wet market. Organic blocks of tofu, or Japanese-style ones, are the most suitable for these recipes – they are very soft and silky but not too crumbly, and they keep their delicate taste even at the coldest temperatures. 

Simple luxury

First off, let’s try cold tofu with Yuan’s Royal Soy Sauce (ji4 wo4 jyun2 jyu6 ban2 zoeng3 jau4 頤和園御品醬油), a very special ingredient. This super deluxe type of soy sauce is manufactured in Hong Kong by Yuan’s, the only Hong Kong producer that uses the Fujianese method of soy sauce fermentation, also called SSF or Solid State Fermentation. This means that the soy beans are fermented with salt and their specific mould without the addition of water, which is mixed in only after the beans are fully matured. (The other method, which adds brine to the beans as they are left out in the sun to develop the sauce’s aroma, is the one more commonly used in Hong Kong, like local producer Koon Chun does).

This is Yuan’s top product, one that takes up to four years to prepare, is produced in limited batches and costs around HK$200 for a small 125ml bottle. Is it worth it? Yes, it is. You have never tasted anything quite like it, and you should only use it raw, to be able to savour it to the fullest.

For this first version, we are going to simply get the soft tofu out of its packaging, lay it on a plate, cut it and pour just enough Yuan’s Royal Soy Sauce over it to impart maximum flavour. As you pour the sauce, you can see its thick, syrupy consistency as it drapes over the white flesh of the tofu, colouring it a very dark amber reminiscent of heavy caramel. Just a scattering of spring onions is all you will ever need to add to this, and you have made yourself a snack in under a minute. This soy sauce is not too salty, and it has a rounded, earthy, beany taste that is truly unique, and shows how much variety there can be to such an apparently mundane condiment as soy sauce. Tofu, with its close to neutral yet fulfilling taste, is even better than steamed rice to really bring out all the depth of this special condiment.

Classic delight

Next up, another prestigious soy sauce product: Kowloon Soy Co. Ltd. Gold Label Light Soy Sauce (gau2 lung4 zoeng3 jyun4 gam1 paai4 saang1 cau1 wong4 九龍醬園金牌生抽皇), Kowloon Soy’s top range light soy sauce. The company has its own shop at 9 Graham Street where you can also pick up their other products, from pickles to fu6 jyu5 (腐乳). This is a more classic light soy sauce, with a taste that is sharp and salty yet also mellow and deep. Just from smelling this soy sauce you can tell it contains nothing artificial, only the heat of the sun over the fermenting beans, which makes it a good soy sauce for dipping (it would be a waste to use it for cooking). It makes for a very good pairing with soft cold tofu, but its more usual soy sauce flavour allows for greater initiative when mixing it with other condiments.

Again, plate your block of soft cold tofu, cut it into slices, and pour two generous spoonfuls of soy sauce over it. Add two teaspoons of grated ginger, with its juice, a sprinkling of spring onions (green and white parts, finely chopped) and a little bit of scallion slices which will give it yet more bite, and, if you like it a little spicy, you can also add a teaspoon of chilli oil, or black bean chilli sauce, making sure to pick up the red oil from the jar with your teaspoon.

This is a more classic version of soft cold tofu, a recipe that has very few hard rules, and only requires your imagination to dress it with the most savoury items in your kitchen.

All the flavours

Our third cold soft tofu recipe is a much more heavily dressed version, one rich with aromatics and full of diverse textures that give it an interesting mouthfeel. For this version, you can mix up to three soy sauces – choosing from the top range at Pat Chun (baat3 zan1 八珍), another one of Hong Kong’s own traditional soy sauce brewers. This brand has a vast range of products that pair well with every Hong Kong dish, and its premium products are once again worth the effort of finding them in Pat Chun’s three shops or in some of the best stocked supermarkets around town.

For this third, richer version, it’s advisable to mix one spoonful each of the company’s top range sauces: Soy Sauce Supreme (nung4 joeng6 saang1 cau1 農釀生抽), which comes in an elegant square bottle, along with Gourmet Light Soy Sauce (dak6 kap1 saang1 cau 1wong4 特級生抽王) and Gourmet Dark Soy Sauce (zoeng3 jau4 wong4 醬油王). The combination of light and dark soy sauce is a Hong Kong characteristic, one that allows the saltier taste of the light sauce to blend with the sweet-salty flavour of the dark one. 

Then, give free rein to your own taste. This particular version adds a teaspoon of slivered ginger, some chopped coriander, a few drops of chilli oil and sesame oil, and a generous sprinkling of spicy peanuts roughly broken in a mortar. You will not be able to detect the flavour of the individual soy sauces, but your mouth is going to be met with a rather rich taste, in which the sharp and savoury and sweet aromas of the three soy sauces meet the freshness of the ginger and the coriander, the hot kick of the chilli oil, and the nutty crunch of the peanuts, with the heavier, deeply aromatic flavour of the spring onion. The cold tofu will deliver a refreshing bite, to distract you from the muggiest days of Hong Kong’s wet season. 

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