Today is the 25th day of the 12th month of the Chinese lunar year (腊月二十五), five more days till Chinese New Year’s Eve. Today most people start with their food preparations for the Spring Festival, because according to old traditions one is not allowed to use knives to cook on the New Year’s Eve and the first day of New Year, thus people need to prepare food early in advance.
A common folk saying is: “腊月二十五，推磨做豆腐。” layue ershiwu, tui mo zuo doufu. (Meaning: On the 25th day of the 12th month we make tofu). The second character of the Chinese word for tofu 豆腐 doufu, has the same pronunciation as the fu 福 for “Luck” and the fu 富 for “Wealth”.
So, making tofu means welcoming happiness and wealth into your home.
The origins of “Grinding Tofu” 磨豆腐*
(* A note on the side: be careful with using the term 磨豆腐 modoufu, as in modern days it can mean something totally different.)
There are many theories regarding the origins of tofu. One of the most popular is the claim that King Liu An of Huainan invented tofu in the early Han dynasty (about 164 BC). Zhu Xi wrote about this process in a poem in the early Song dynasty: “种豆豆苗稀，力竭心已腐，早知淮南术，安坐获泉布。”Meaning: Growing bean seedlings, doing the best to make tofu, this skill was early known in Huainan.
But this claim has been refuted by many Chinese food historians. The exact origins of tofu will remain speculation or legend. No matter how tofu came into being, the practice of eating it on the 25th day of the 12th lunar month has a long tradition.
Traditionally, people always wanted a New Year’s dinner with lots of meat, but back in the old days most people could not afford meat, so they turned to tofu. Tofu was considered a great substitute for meat, and made for many delicious dishes.
Another reason for eating tofu on that particular day was that after the Kitchen God 灶王爷 had gone up to report back to the Jade Emperor 玉皇, he himself would come down on that day to see what the Kitchen God had told him about the family was true. Seeing the family eating tofu would prove that they are modest people.
Tofu, tofu, everyday
My Chinese mother-in-law has a saying “吃豆腐，每天至少一块” Eat one piece of tofu a day. Before coming to China I was never a big fan of tofu, maybe because I had never had the chance of tasting a really good tofu dish. But now I have come to appreciate tofu in all forms. Plus, the research speaks for itself:
“Tofu provides 44% of daily calcium needs, 9% of magnesium, and 40% of iron and also contains small amounts of vitamin K, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B-6, folate, choline, phosphorus, manganese and selenium.” (Medical News Today)
Tofu being named one of the healthiest foods in the world comes in all kinds of varieties. Here are four of the most common preparation methods:
1. Frozen tofu 冻豆腐
This tofu is most commonly used for Hot Pot and soups. When freezing the tofu, the water content inside gathers together and expands into large ice crystals that result in the formation of large pockets throughout the tofu. Frozen tofu does not lose any of its essential nutrients.
2. Fresh tofu 拌豆腐
Usually served with green onion or a kind of preserved egg. It’s the easiest way to cook tofu and has the smallest loss of nutrients. It is important to know that fresh tofu can go bad really quickly, so it should be cooked and served right after buying it fresh at the market.
3. Roasted, stewed, cooked tofu 烧、炖、煮豆腐
Mapo tofu麻婆豆腐, fish tofu soup鲫鱼豆腐汤or minced tofu 肉末豆腐 are the most popular dishes with this form of preparation. This involves braised tofu in a beef, chili, and a fermented bean paste sauce. Soft tofu can also be broken up or mashed and mixed with raw ingredients prior to being cooked. It’s one of the most popular cooking methods, and the process keeps most of the nutrients in the tofu, but the use of too much cooking oil and salt make this form of tofu less healthy.
4. Fried tofu 煎、炸豆腐
A common cooking technique is deep frying tofu in vegetable oil, sunflower oil, or canola oil with varied results. After frying the tofu surface turns yellowish, crispy and becomes rich in taste. The problem with deep-fried tofu is that it loses a huge amount of nutrients during the frying process.
In fact there are so many different ways to prepare tofu, so many different dishes that there must be some version for everyone.
Have you ever heard of the “Tofu Day”? Do you like tofu?
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