Yong Tau Foo is a traditional Hakka dish served in many households. It usually consists of tofu that has been stuffed with minced pork that is first fried then braised in a sauce. It is said that the Hakka people used to eat dumplings made from wheat flour when they were still living in the Central Plains of China. But when war and famine forced them to migrate down south, they couldn’t get hold of wheat any more and so they replaced the wheat based buns with soy bean based tofu.
The Hakkas arrived in Singapore in the 19th century and brought with them their Yong Tau Foo. In the early days, the dish consisted of only five items: white tofu, fried tofu, tau pok, fish balls and tofu skin rolls. Then in the 1950’s the Cantonese started selling their version of Yong Tau Foo, using fish paste instead of pork. They also introduced stuffed vegetables like brinjal, chillies and bittergourd. This style of Yong Tau Foo has since become the more popular version. The Hakkas like to differentiate their own version by adding either the word “Hakka” or “Traditional” to the name which essential means that they are still using pork stuffing.
There are a few differences though. Traditional Hakka style Yong Tau Foo is supposed to have minced pork filling and secondly, it’s a much simpler dish with mainly tofu items. After all, it is called “ngiong” tau foo, “ngiong” being the Hakka dialect word for “stuffed”. So, the main ingredient of the dish should be tofu.
Today, from traditional Hakka-style to laksa-broth yong tau foo, it is a well-loved dish for Singaporeans.
It is found in many hawker centers, and so I enjoyed it today for lunch. I like coming to this hawker center in Tanglin Road as it is really old and authentic. The architecture is particular and reminds me to the arched of a church. There are plenty of little shops around, selling traditional Chinese medicine and snacks.
The owners of the stalls have inherited them from their parents or in some cases it is still the old generations running them. They all master and prepare with passion and precision their speciality, in their tiny basic kitchens, and so the taste of love remains in their dishes.
Today I had the Chinese soup version of Yong Tau Foo. Others prefer to have it dry with sweet chilli sauce but I needed some comforting food, to cope with the rain and with the disappointing experiments.
Nothing better then than a warm soup to refill energies, like my grandma’s one used to do when I was a kid.
For my portion I picked fried stuffed eggplant, fried pumpkin, stuffed hard tofu, spinach and enoki mushroom. With rice noodle to keep away my demons’ advices. And to make them even more raging, I chose the fried eggplant because I love it pipping hot and bitter and crunchy and soft inside. And fried pumpkin because my eyes were glued to its provoking orange and because I never had pumpkin in Yong Tau Foo Before. Oh yes, and the biggest piece of tofu, with overflowing stuffing fish paste.
For the first time since I have been eating Yong Tau Foo, the woman topped it with soy beans, minced spring onion and fried chopped garlic.
This gesture of tradition and authenticity disturbed me. Never before the added toppings to my bowl. It was more than planned!
Moreover, I was afraid of the garlic, that I thought it was chopped peanuts. But I was ready to eat them too. Like I was with the soy beans, after a couple of deep breaths. After imagining how devotedly this woman added them into my bowl, like her mom taught her many years ago, and like her grandma probably taught her mom.
When I ate the first soy bean, I felt it didn’t taste great so I considered not eating them. Anyway, they didn’t belong to my meal, I didn’t pick them. But again I grounded myself. Hi there, that was my Eating Disorder voice talking and deciding for me. Even if the beans didn’t mean much, they were a bit more, an unexpected more.
I had to eat them, so that I could feel proud of winning this battle.
I didn’t like Yong Tau Foo previously. I always chose the lowest calorie items, the non-fried, the non stuffed one, the clearest soup. Today I absolutely enjoyed it and I am convinced I will come back for more.
“What is important is not to fight, but to fight the right enemy”
― Bangambiki Habyarimana,