Bean curd might be one of the most versatile edible substances on Earth, but using it as the main component in a dessert is still relatively novel – unless you’re vegan, or immersed in the thriving hawker markets of Asian countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, and China, that is.
With a mouthfeel like no other and a slippery, jelly-like consistency, tofu pudding is a poster child for adding a touch of sweetness to the soy product eaten in various forms all over the world. It’s made by mixing soybean milk with a coagulant, such as gypsum or gelatin, before being left to solidify. From there, it’s topped with different accompaniments, depending on where you are in the world; it can often look like a soupy crème caramel. In Kwai Chung, Hong Kong (where silken tofu pudding is part of the city's intangible cultural heritage), for example, bean curd pudding comes with a splash of sugar syrup. In Taiwan, it might be served with ginger syrup and a scattering of red beans.
At Mother Chu’s Taiwanese Gourmet in Haymarket, Sydney, tofu pudding is served as sweet soybean jelly, laden with soft peanuts, sweetened red beans, sago pearls or lotus seeds. Alan Chu, the self-proclaimed “grandson of Mother Chu,” explains why it’s so popular.
“It’s basically found everywhere in Asia,” he says, “People eat it all throughout the year as breakfast or dessert. It’s got an amazing texture, and because it’s made from tofu, there’s more nutritional value to it than your average dessert.”
There’s another reason: as the “king of beans”, soy doesn’t discriminate. It grows abundantly in both temperate and tropical regions, and global production of the crop has increased 15 times over since the 1950s. Today China is the world’s leading importer of soy beans, having been the first to develop the production of tofu during the Han dynasty (206-220BC).
When a product is relatively easy to access, the price comes right down, making it readily available to almost everyone – which explains why tau huay goes for the grand price of one Australian dollar on the streets of Singapore.
“People eat it all throughout the year as breakfast or dessert. It’s got an amazing texture, and because it’s made from tofu, there’s more nutritional value to it than your average dessert.”
In Australia, the cost of a medium-sized bowl of tofu pudding is slightly dearer – but only just. At Mother Chu’s Taiwanese Gourmet, a bowl of the slippery snack will set you back around $5.
“We don’t use gelatine to make our pudding,” Chu says. “We’re using natural ingredients and traditional Chinese herbal powders that help coagulate the soybean into jelly. Then we use an instrument to slice it up by hand.”
Ubiquitous, inexpensive and even nutritious – should we be making all our desserts with tofu? There are any number of non-Asian recipes for silken tofu chocolate pies, puddings and mousse cheesecakes online, suggesting tofu’s entrance on the 'Western dessert' mainstage may have already come around. Search #tofucheesecake on Instagram and you’ll find more than 8000 (delicious-looking) posts – a figure that speaks to the growing demand for plant-based alternatives to our favourite treats.
But if you can’t go past a classic, $5 bowl of tofu pudding, head to Mother Chu’s Taiwanese Gourmet in Sydney.
Or, if you’re handy with soy beans, try Luke Nguyen’s Indonesian take at home.
For more sweet Asian eats, watch Donal's Asian Baking Adventure, Sundays 8.30pm on SBS Food Channel 33, then on SBS On Demand.
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