Rose fermented tofu. (Photo/Shine.cn)
Highlighting the original, simple taste of fermented tofu, plain baifang is most often eaten with rice congee, pancakes or steamed buns as a daily staple in southern China.
There are other varieties of white fermented tofu. The spicy Guilin-style fermented tofu with chili oil is very popular nationwide. It is briny, spiced and firm. While the Yangzhou-style white fermented tofu, known as zaofang, is much lighter and milder, because the addition of distilled grain brings sweetness to the salty brine.
In Yunnan, there’s the renowned Mouding furu that has a bright red-colored spicy chili coating wrapped outside the creamy and soft white fermented tofu.
The Guanghe furu from Guangdong Province is another iconic fermented tofu label in China created in 1893 by Fang Shoutang. A special culture is used to create the smooth and lingering flavor.
Originating in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), this glistening delicacy is only produced from November to March every year, because the air drying and fermentation require certain weather conditions. If it’s too humid and hot, the fermented tofu wouldn’t have its strong fragrance and firmness.
To neutralize the saltiness in white fermented tofu, drizzling a little bit of sesame oil and sprinkling some granulated sugar can help a lot, but not everyone can accept this sweet and savory combination.
Hongfang is another popular fermented tofu that gains its red color from the red yeast rice added in the brining liquor. The inside of the red fermented tofu, however, is actually yellow. It has softer texture and sweeter taste, which is especially appealing to children.
“The red fermented tofu is great in stews and rich braised meat dishes because the flavor is not straightforwardly salty but has a hint of sweetness. The bright color can also make the dishes look more vibrant and appetizing,” said Zhou.
Classic recipes include pig trotter braised in red fermented tofu sauce, braised pork belly with red fermented tofu and water spinach stir-fry.
Qingfang is enjoyed by fewer people because of its distinct stinky smell, the origin of which is credited to Wang Zhihe in the Qing Dynasty.
It is told that Wang once stored leftover tofu in a jar in the hot summer and forgot about it. In the fall, he opened the jar to find that the smelly tofu cubes had gone greenish colored, but the taste wasn’t bad at all. Rather, it was very creamy and smooth.
Wang expanded his business selling the stinky furu. Empress Dowager Cixi favored the condiment and named it qingfang.
Qingfang is like the Chinese blue cheese. It’s eaten as a spread on pancakes and steamed buns. People seldom cook with qingfang because it’s difficult to incorporate the strong flavor in common dishes.
“It’s either love or hate, my father likes qingfang and used to keep a jar at home but my mother never touched it. He said it was smelly yet tasty, but I cannot overcome the stinky smell, too,” said Zhou.
Other fermented tofu you can find
Chinese cabbage fermented tofu (baicai furu, 白菜腐乳): A Sichuan-style condiment that wraps tofu cubes in Chinese cabbage leaves to ferment in a clay pot with soy beans. It’s a duo of pickled cabbage and furu.
Ham fermented tofu (huotui furu, 火腿腐乳): A specialty from Zhejiang Province that combines fermented tofu with the famous Jinhua ham, which is dark in color and has richer flavor.
Rose fermented tofu (meigui furu, 玫瑰腐乳): A variation of hongfang that seasons the tofu with sugared rose petals. It’s even sweeter than the original.
Sweet wine fermented tofu (tianjiu furu, 甜酒腐乳): A Taiwan-style fermented tofu that’s much sweeter than common baifang. It’s fermented with sweet wine and comes with soy beans that add some texture to the soft tofu. The alcohol fragrance is also strong.