Among the many East Asia
n foods produced from the "great bean
", the soybean
, is Chinese fermented bean-curd
. The Chinese
name is dou4-fu3 ru3
, translatable as something like "bean-curd milk
" or "bean-curd cheese
", although it bears no relation to soy milk
Fermented bean-curd is made using whole bean-curd, subjected to a fermentation process involving salting, exposure to sunlight, and a starter similar to that used in making rice wine. In Taiwan, fermented bean-curd is still widely made by rural housewives, who often add grains of uncooked rice and whole raw soybeans to the mix. When the food is ripe and ready to eat, it has the texture of a soft clay and the liquid around it has become a thick and fragrant sauce. The grains of rice will have dissolved, leaving only a moist rice-shaped shell, and the soybeans will have become soft and delicious.
The flavor is salty with a mild sweetness, and a rich fermented taste that may remind you of certain blue cheeses. Some varieties are made with a little hot pepper, and some have an undercurrent of rice-wine. Some varieties I have tasted in imported jars smell almost like gasoline, but I have no appetite for such things and would recommend you try a different brand before giving up. It is an acquired taste, but one that should not be too hard for the adventurous eater to accept.
Because of its strong flavor, we usually eat it with congee. A tiny amount is picked up with the tips of the chopsticks and eaten with a large mouthful of congee. It is also delicious when stirred into a green vegetable such as watercress, parsley, or "ong choy" (also known as kong1-xin1 cai4, the "empty-heart vegetable"). Add a teaspoonful or two (to taste) of the bean-curd when the vegetable is not quite done, and wait until it is pretty much dissolved by the heat and stirring. Clumps of the bean-curd should not remain, otherwise the flavor will not be even throughout the dish.
There are many recipes, and many different styles of fermented bean-curd all over the Chinese world. The colors range from white to yellow-brown to a lascivious dark red.
(There is a paean to one variety of this food noded at Sze Chuan Preserved Chilli Beancurd.)