Saturday, July 11, 2009

From "I Don't Do Doufu" To "I'm A Big 'Fu-Fan'"

I've never been much for soy products. Back in the States, tofu never even gets a second glance from me, on menus or in grocery stores, because of its look and texture, which don't seem to agree with my palate. Even when it's disguised as a "Boca Burger," or even better (at Ninth Street Bakery in Durham all those years ago), "Fakin' Bacon" or "Soysage," I've never had the desire to even try it.

But here, the use of soy beans is prolific. And while I was slow to appreciate the diverse ways that tofu can be prepared and served, I have definitely become a "fu-fan" this year.

Perhaps one of the most interesting dishes we have seen and enjoyed all year was in Chongqing, when we visited Southwest University. Their specialty is large bowls of soft tofu that have an indescribable consistency. The tofu is spooned into individual serving bowls, and a rainbow of condiments of varied tastes and textures (sugar, pepper, garlic, ginger, etc.) allow the aficionado to experiment with a seemingly infinite combination of flavors.

Two everyday tofu dishes that we order regularly are as follows...

Riben doufu, kind of a strange one for China because it makes use of tomato sauce, which is uncommon here, features cylindrical chunks of tofu that taste similar to custard and are lightly fried and covered with sauce. It is called Riben (Japanese) because each piece of yellow tofu looks like the sun against the red backdrop. Riben is the name for Japan because, in ancient times, that is where the sun came up.

Zhu rou si consists of julienned strips of pork, and strands of raw leeks (at least I think they're leeks...or some type of onion), and served with squares of paper-thin tofu called dou pi, or tofu skin. The first time we ordered this, we had no idea how to eat it. In fact, we had never seen tofu like this before, and weren't even sure it was food! Steve tried it first (of course!) by wrapping pork and leeks and rolling it like a little fajita. After he survived, I tried it, and haven't stopped ordering it since! It is one of my favorite dishes in Beijing.

All things considered, I guess I'll have to stop saying, "I don't do doufu," much to Steve and Julie's delight, as they keep reminding me every time we order a tofu dish, "You do do doufu, and it's OK!"

~Desi

PS: What a pity that we did not have pictures of riben doufu and zhu rou si for this blog! We had to go out for lunch to get them. Call it a working lunch!

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