Shiping Tofu in Yunnan

Shiping Tofu in Yunnan(石屏豆腐)

Tofu made in Shiping town 石屏县城 in south Yunnan is something special, famous throughout China’s southwest. We get lots of it fresh here in Kunming, but I’ve also had the privilege of enjoying it at its source, in the green mountains of Honghe Prefecture 红河州,not far from ancient Jianshui 建水 and scenic Yuanyang 元阳。They say the difference is mainly in the water, and verbal battles are still fought about which deep well has the sweetest tofu-making nectar; but since it has been around over 400 years, it’s not surprising that supernatural claims also exist, the main one having to do with a fiery dragon and three wise tribal kings or chiefs.

Here’s what it looks like in the market.



The difference in appearance of these two forms gives a clue as to how it is usually cooked and served. The kind in sheets, upper left, can be steamed, boiled, roasted or pan-fried. The small packets, upper right, are usually slowly toasted on a grate over coals. Both provide a serious taste treat for visitors to Yunnan and residents alike.

The kind I bought this morning at my neighborhood wet market was the kind that comes in sheets, I bought one piece and it cost 3.5 Yuan about half a dollar (US.) It comes in two styles: a drier one, called 老豆腐,which is what I got today, and a very moist and somewhat fragile one that is mainly used for making a delicious snack called 包奖豆腐, in which the tofu is lightly sauteed on a sheet pan and served with a spicy sauce. This latter has a runny center. I love it dearly and will prepare it for you another day.




I cut my single piece crosswise in half, and then in half again, so you could see the edge. The sheet is about 2 and a half centimeters thick. It can be cooked up as a snack 小吃 or as a side dish for a meal. In Jianshui, where I have enjoyed it often, it is frequently sold in street stalls that just grill it to order for you over coals and serve it beside a dish of dipping sauce. These places usually also sell roast duck and beer, sometimes noodle soup.




It’s not at all uncommon to sit down near dusk on one of the low stools around the fire mainly to give your feet a rest, still a bit too early to properly consider supper, and just munch few pieces of tofu kind of as a warm-up. But after a beer or two you decide those crispy, lean roast ducks hanging overhead on hooks really do look great, so why not. Then someone suggests a bowl of rice noodles in savory broth 米线, and before you know it, the clock is striking midnight and you walk home to your hotel in the company of three or four new friends. I speak from first-hand experience; it’s the Jianshui magic. You have been warned.


Back now in my Kunming kitchen, lets chop the extra ingredients 配料 before dealing with the tofu. If you like things really hot, use the tiny red peppers, bird’s eye chilies 小米辣椒。If you prefer a mild to moderate approach, use the larger ones and remove most of the seeds. Also mince some ginger and a clove of garlic.



Set out some Haixian Jiang 海鲜酱 (aka Hoisin) and about a teaspoon of sesame seeds, toasted 黑 or plain 白。



IMG_1338.thumb.JPG.573e203ce73cca5f32e7cecef8834e71.JPG Reserve 备用 the cut up garlic 蒜, pepper 红椒, and ginger 酱。 Cut the tofu into bite sized rectangles or squares, put them into a preheated flat-bottom skillet 平底锅 with a little oil. The one I’m using here is non-stick, and works well for this application since only medium temperatures are required.

When the first side starts to brown 金黄,turn the tofu and cook the other side the same way, never letting the skillet get too hot. You do not want it to burn or get dried out and tough.




When side two is also golden, take the tofu out. Saute the pepper, ginger, and garlic in a little oil, then add two or three large tablespoons of Haixian Jiang diluted half and half with water.




After a minute or so of stirring this sauce mixture, add back the cooked tofu and gently flip it over a few times with your spatula to coat it well with these complimentary flavors. Plate it up and sprinkle on the sesame seeds.




You now either have a very nice snack or you have part of a meal. I think it goes real well with a bowl of soup and a cucumber salad 拍黄瓜。Those three things together do the job for me just fine on a summer evening. And I even usually have room for a piece of fruit afterwards.

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