Savory Tofu Soup is a traditional breakfast which a lot of people in China and Taiwan grew up eating. Most people know of soy milk as a drink but when soy milk is heated up with vinegar, it curdles into chunks of soft delicious tofu swimming in a salty, vinegary broth (tastes kind of like a hot and sour soup).
It is often eaten with scallion pancakes, Chinese egg pancakes (Dan Bing) and crusty buns filled with pork, vegetables or sweet egg cream (Shao Bing).
There is a famous market stall in Taipei, called FuHang (阜杭豆漿) in HuaShan Market, across the road from Shandao Temple that sells freshly made soy milk as well as this savory tofu soup and traditional buns made fresh on the premises. They have an open kitchen where you can watch them knead the dough and bake the buns in huge earthen jars …. it’s great fun to watch the kitchen workers make the Shao Bing while you are in line, inching towards the cashier. It is such a popular place that there are always lines running outside the stall, down the stairs to the first floor, and sometimes snaking around the outside of the building! The queue starts from the minute the stall opens at 5:30 am to around noon when they sell out.
The savory tofu soup is actually quite simple to make it yourself at home. The ingredients can be bought ahead of time. If you live in western countries, you can find ready-made scallion pancakes and Chinese fried dough crullers at the freezer section of most Asian supermarkets. Whether homemade or ready-made, scallion pancakes go really well with this tofu soup, and you are sure to impress your family with this traditional Chinese Sunday breakfast!
Unsweetened soy milk
Chinese black vinegar
preserved vegetables 榨菜
a few stalks of spring onions, chopped
Chinese fried dough crullers 油条, toasted and cut into slices
chili oil (optional)
dried shrimp or dried Sakura shrimp (optional, may be omitted for a vegetarian option)
Heat the soy milk in a saucepan.
In a small bowl, mix together a few teaspoons vinegar, salt, pepper to taste, a drizzle of sesame oil, a few teaspoons picked vegetables, chili oil and dried shrimp, according to your own taste.
Pour the mixture into the hot soy milk and let stand for a minute, without stirring.
Ladle out the tofu soup into a serving bowl.
Garnish with chopped spring onions and Chinese fried dough crullers. Serve hot.
The first time I tried this wild vegetable which Taiwanese call Shan Su Cai (山稣菜) was in Hualien’s Taroko National Park. I was told it is rarely available because people have to climb up hilly slopes to harvest it in the wild. To my surprise, I found it in the local market this morning, so naturally, I had to buy 2 bundles (ntd 60 which is about usd 2) to try.
On Googling this vegetable’s Chinese name, I discovered its English name is Bird’s Nest Fern! Imagine that, eating a fern. I wonder if this is the same Bird’s Nest fern that is ubiquitous in South East Asia. It can be found growing on the trees by the roadside, or in forested areas in countries like Malaysia and Singapore where I come from…. Well, nobody I know in Singapore has ever bothered to harvest the Bird’s Nest fern to eat. I wonder if this Taiwanese Shan Shu vegetable is the edible kind and the Bird’s Nest Fern of my Singaporean childhood is the inedible kind.
In any case, they don’t know what they are missing – a delightfully crunchy vegetable stir fried with fresh cut chili and small fish, done in the Taiwanese way.
2 bundles of Bird’s Nest Fern – washed and cut into bite sized pieces
1 chili – cut into slivers
5 Tbsp small fish (anchovies or ikan bilis)
2 cloves garlic – peeled and sliced
2 Tbsp preserved black beans or garlic black bean sauce
3 Tbsp oyster sauce
1 -2 Tbsp cooking oil
1. Blanch the Bird’s Nest Fern in boiling water for 5 seconds, drain and keep aside.
2. Rinse and pat dry the small fish. Stir fry the small fish, chili, black beans and garlic in 1 to 2 Tbsp cooking oil, using low heat.
3. Add in the Bird’s Nest Fern. Mix in the oyster sauce. Stir fry quickly using high heat. Add a few tablespoons of water if it is dry. Do not overcook the Bird’s Nest Fern as it will turn brown.
4. Dish up and serve with rice.
See stunning pictures of Taroko National Park here:
Last week I went to a wedding banquet at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Taipei and they served this simply lovely cold tomato appetizer. It was 89 degrees outside … this was very refreshing indeed for a hot summer day! A fellow guest gave me her recipe for it. I went home and tried it. It was very easy and I must say pickling really improves the flavor of the tomatoes!
1 cup of cherry tomatoes (washed and drained)
2/3 cup of water
2 tsp brown sugar
2 Tbsp dried plum (話梅) (about 4 whole dried plums)
1 cup of rice vinegar
3 small and fresh mint leaves (optional)
Using a sharp knife, make a plus (+) score on the side of each tomato.
Fill a pot half way with water and 1/3 cup of vinegar and bring to a boil.
Put the tomatoes into the pot of hot water and let them sit for 5 seconds.
Drain the water, remove the skins of the tomatoes and leave them in the refrigerator to chill.
In a separate pot, heat up 1/3 cup of water, rice vinegar, brown sugar and dried plums and simmer for 5 minutes.
Allow the liquid to chill, then place the tomatoes in the liquid, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least half a day.
Note: I wanted to keep the tomato skins on, so I skipped steps 2,3 and 4
It’s been one year since I moved to Taiwan. In a previous post, I promised I will write about my food adventures in Taiwan. Taiwanese cuisine is many things. It’s not just the ubiquitous beef noodle, or the fried oyster omelet, or the sweet and vinegary three cup chicken. It is also the sweetest mango shaved ice, the refreshing pearl milk tea and many more regional specialties.
One of my first meals in Taipei was at a restaurant that served classic Taiwanese food. The food was very good and the dishes were delicious. I loved this fried, small fish with peanuts best. It was good to eat alone or with rice or porridge. It was addictive! When I came across these small fish sold fresh at the local market, I just had to buy them to experiment how to make this dish at home.
80 g (3 oz) tiny white fish
50 g (3.5 oz) peanuts
6 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 red chili, sliced into small slivers
1 stalk spring onion, chopped into small pieces
3 cloves garlic, chopped roughly
1 tsp rice wine
Pinch salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp sugar (optional)
1. Heat 4 tbsp oil in a frying pan, and stir fry the fish for a few minutes, until it is cooked. Remove and drain.
2. Heat the frying pan, add about 2 tablespoons of the oil and stir fry the chili, garlic and rice wine for a minute. Add the fish, peanuts, salt, pepper and sugar (optional) and stir fry for 5 minutes.