Tofu, traditional Chinese vegetarian food

Nowadays there are some alternative products of meat, like plant-based meat or cultured meat. In Poland, I once ate vegan kebab, but the taste made me miss tofu very much. In China, tofu is a kind of food that can make people forget meat.

Tofu brain

Tofu brain is called Dou Hua in some areas. In the dialect of my hometown, it is called tofu. It is a soft white semi-fluid food.

A common way of eating tofu brain is to add salt or soy sauce and chopped thin green onions or coriander. Dried seaweed and dried little shrimps may be also added. In my hometown, people like to eat tofu brain with white sugar, or cook it as a soup with salt or soy sauce and chopped thin green onions.


This kind of tofu is a soft white soybean product which looks like cheese or jelly. It is the typical Chinese tofu. It can be fried as a dish or cooked as a soup. Ma Po tofu, which is cooked with Sichuan peppers, is a featured Chinese dish.


(Two kinds of soft white tofu)

(A good tofu is soft, compact, smooth, and flexible.)

In the dialect of my hometown, this kind of tofu has a special name. When I was a little child, my mother’s mother said to me, „The taste of the tofu I cook is better than that of restaurants’.” I can’t remember the taste of meat she cooked, but I am deeply impressed by the taste of fried tofu.

In addition to frying tofu like frying meat, sliced tofu is also cooked in fish soup. In both of China and Japan, there is a traditional dish which is called the soup of loaches and tofu. My hometown is near the Poyang Lake, so we often eat freshwater fishes. Fish soup with tofu is a common cooking way.

Dried tofu

In my hometown, there are various kinds of dried tofu. A kind of dried tofu is processed with soybean sauce, so it is also called tofu with soybean sauce. Because of the aroma of soybean sauce, the vegetables fried with dried tofu are always tastier. Chopped dried tofu may be mixed into chopped vegetables as the filling of steamed buns.

Dried tofu processed with soybean sauce

(Dried tofu processed with soybean sauce)

(Cooked noodles with dried tofu)

Tofu skin

Tofu skin is a big-size thin piece of tofu product. It can be folded like paper. When cooking it, It is generally sliced into slender pieces, as an ingredient for making vegetable soup or frying a vegetable like pak choi.

Tofu skin

(Tofu skin)

Tofu bubble

The color of a tofu bubble is yellow, because the product is made by a frying way. In my hometown, people like to stew meat with tofu bubbles. After absorbing meat soup, tofu bubbles become juicy and very delicious.

Tofu bubbles

(Tofu bubbles from my hometown, a southern county of China)

Tofu bubbles and chili peppers

(The green chili peppers are a well-known local agricultural product of my hometown)

Vegan meat

Buddhism is the main religion of Han Chinese. Buddhists are vegetarians. In addition to vegetables, they always eat bean products. In 1992, my parents took me to visit Lingyin Temple which is a famous temple in Hangzhou. We ate a kind of food which was called vegan goose. The food was poached bubbled tofu. The soybean products may be named vegan meat, vegan goose, vegan chicken or vegan duck in a temple.

Soybean products other than tofu:

Soybean milk

It is said that most of Chinese adults suffer from lactose intolerance. I am one of them. Ancient Han Chinese could get few milk from native cattle, female water buffaloes or goats. Drinking milk was regarded as a foreign custom in ancient China, and milk has been regarded as a nutritious food in traditional Chinese medicine for a long time. In daily life people traditionally prefer to drink soybean milk. Soybean milk is vegan milk which is made from soybeans and water.

Traditional soybean milk is called Dou Jiang. There is another product that is named Dou Nai. Dou Nai may refer to a refined product of Dou Jiang, or refer to the product of the mixture of Dou Jiang and supplements like milk.

Bean paste

Bean paste is called Dou Sha. The common bean paste is made from red beans, and generally mixed with sugar. It is always used as the filling of steamed buns or festival foods like rice dumplings (Tangyuan and Zongzi) and moon cakes. The paste of mung beans are used for some traditional cookies.

Fermented tofu

Fermented tofu is a traditional condiment. It is commonly called Dou Fu Ru or Fu Ru. In the dialect of my hometown, this product is called mildewed tofu. Traditionally it is home-made, but currently people always buy the product from stores. In my childhood, I once saw how my relative made fermented tofu. At that time, she was opening dry rice straw which wrapped tofu. After being coated with red chilli powder, tofu was put into sealed bottles. Dry rice straw can make tofu mildew for fermentation.

Some condiments are added during the production of fermented tofu, so fermented tofu does not have unpleasant smell but have good looking and taste. When people eat rice porridge, fermented tofu is a tasty condiment.

There is another kind of fermented tofu which is called smelly tofu. Its looking and smell are not good, but some people like to eat it.

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