Braised Shredded Dried Tofu (Da Zhu Gan Si)

Braised Shredded Dried Tofu (Da Zhu Gan Si)

SINCE ancient times, people in the Jianghuai area (between the Yangtze and Huaihe rivers), have been producing a dazzling variety of dishes made of bean products. The most renowned of these is surely Braised Shredded Dried Tofu (da zhu gan si).

As the story goes, the Qing Emperor Qianlong made six tours to southern China, transiting Yangzhou every time. On the last occasion, local officials racked their brains trying to come up with new dishes, since the emperor had already tasted all Yangzhou's signature dishes. They recruited a number of chefs to create dishes for the emperor, one of which – Soup of Nine Threads (jiu si tang) – pleased the picky imperial palate. This dish was adopted by the general populace, and in the process acquired its current name.

In the Soup of Nine Threads, apart from shredded dried tofu, other regular ingredients include shredded ham, bamboo shoots, silver fish, edible fungus, mushroom, seaweed, thin omlette and chicken, but other ingredients like shredded sea cucumber are added occasionally. Given the thin flavor of the dried tofu, additional savor must be introduced via deep and delicious chicken stock and the use of multiple seasonings. During the cooking process these flavors penetrate the tofu. The resulting dish tastes incredibly dainty.

Braised Shredded Dried Tofu has come a long way since the prototype described above. Shrimp, cordyceps, scallops, mushrooms and ham are now added to the basic ingredients. For a successful dish, only dried tofu of dense and fine texture will do; otherwise it will collapse during the demanding cutting process. This calls for great knife skills. The cook is required to slice a cube of white tofu into 18 pieces, and then again, making 270 cuts in all. The fine shreds of tofu must all be neat, even, and no thicker than a matchstick.

The chef can ring seasonal changes: in spring, the addition of seafood will intensify the flavor; in summer crispy shreds of eel will be braised with the tofu; in autumn, when the crabs are heavy with roe, they add this part to produce a thick golden colored sauce; in winter, the dish may be supplemented with wild vegetables, their greenery bringing fresh flavor and visual appeal to the dish. But whatever the seasonal variations the basic nature of the dish endures – eye pleasing, soft, tasty, and fine as thread.

In Yangzhou there is a boiled variation on the braised dish. To make Boiled Shredded Dried Tofu the shredded tofu is soaked and cooked in boiling water several times. Once the water has been squeezed out, the tofu is plated, soy sauce poured over, and garnished with a sprinkling of dried shrimp and shredded ginger. This too is quite delicious.

Where to eat it:

1. Wumingju, Xizhimen Head Restaurant

Address: 19 Gaoliangqiaoxiejie Street, Haidian District, Beijing

Tel: 010-62228200

2. Kelihuaiyangcun Restaurant, Beijing West Railway Station Branch

Address: 2nd floor of Zhongche Building, 11 Yangfangdian Road, Haidian District, Beijing

Tel: 010-51933573