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East West Lifestyle

Recipes of China: Hairy Tofu In The Mountains of Anhui

May 17, 2016
Clarissa Wei discovers hairy tofu in the mountains of Anhui
Hairy Tofu is a delicacy made in the mountains of Anhui, China

Food blogger Clarissa Wei finds tofu and respite with Chinese hipsters in the countryside.

I knew I had to leave the city.

After a considerable amount of time in the metropolitan clusters of China, I started to become lethargic, depressed and confused. Most people I had met were able to list their favorite restaurants, but few people were passionate about their food and it was difficult to find inspiration. Recipes seemed standard and, quite honestly, I could have just gotten the same information online.

Desperate for something new, I chose to retreat to the Qingheyue International Youth Hostel, which is in the time capsule that is Hongcun, an ancient walled village in the Anhui province of China. Think winding alleyways, red paper lanterns, cobblestone streets. The town is a reflection of the China that existed between the 14th and the 20th centuries. The walls are whitewashed and the village is entirely devoid of cars — they wouldn’t be able fit in the narrow streets. The village is surrounded by water and, in the off-season, when the crowds are gone, it’s truly a miniature throwback to an older China. It has maintained its pristine architecture and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Clarissa Wei travels the alleys of Hongcun in the Anhui Province of China
The walled alleyways of Hongcun
"The town is a reflection of the China that existed between the 14th and the 20th centuries."

Hongcun is located just at the base of Huangshan, a mountain known for its grandiose peaks nestled in the clouds.

A scenic view of Hongcun across a body of water at the base of Mount Huangshan
Hongcun is located just at the base of Mount Huangshan

Immediately, I knew staying at the hostel was the right decision. The couple who owns the hostel, Xudu Chuang and Benyan Miao, are masters at their crafts. They have their own farm and they make their own herbal brews and liquor. During the spring, they’re particularly adept at roasting green tea.

Xudu and Benyan are from Anhui and Jiangsu, respectively, and worked at office jobs before retiring to the countryside. They visited Hongcun for a family vacation and knew immediately that they wanted to leave the corporate grind and start a hostel. It would be a place where they could indulge their culinary curiosities and have time to pursue their crafts. They did just that. They are mainly self-taught and divide their time between managing the hostel and traveling.

"They knew immediately that they wanted to leave the corporate grind and start a hostel."
Xudu and Benyan retired to the countryside to start a Hostel
Xudu and Benyan inside the Qingheyue International Youth Hostel

Though I was only there for a week, I now consider the couple my family. They took me to their village in the mountains and taught me how to kindle a fire with bamboo. They said I am free to head back there whenever I want as a guest.

At the end of it all, I spent a wonderful afternoon with Xudu, who taught me how to make a beautiful plate of “hairy tofu.” Hairy tofu is tofu that is left outside to spoil until it grows hairs. It’s a specialty of the Anhui region and, during my time there, I spotted many people cultivating the tofu outside of their houses.

Xudu shows Clarissa Wei, step by step, how to make hairy tofu
Xudu preparing hairy tofu

The texture is akin to blue cheese. It’s not eaten raw; it’s deeply coated in a batter of egg yolk, fried and then coated with sauce.

Here’s her recipe:
Xudu’s Anhui Hairy Tofu
Prep time: 5-6 days
Cooking time: 30 minutes
Servings: 3
  • 1 pound of fresh tofu Salt, a sprinkle
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1 1/2 cup soybean oil
  • 1 small red chili pepper, diced
  • 1 small green chili pepper, diced
  • ½ small white onion, diced
  • ¼ cup light soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons MSG (optional)
  • Splash of sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
  • Diced scallions for garnish
  • Directions:
    1. Cut fresh tofu into strips – about one inch thick and four inches long. Soak the strips in water for two hours and then sprinkle with salt. Cover the strips with a thick cloth. Put them in a cool, dry place for five to six days. White hair will grow on the tofu.
    2. Coat each piece with egg yolks.
    3. Heat up wok on high heat and put in one cup of soybean oil. When the oil starts smoking, deep fry the tofu strips until they are a golden hue. This will take around five minutes. Take out tofu and put on a paper towel to drain out the excess oil.
      Filling to make Xiaolongbao Soup Dumplings
    4. In a separate wok, add in ½ cup of soybean oil. When hot, throw in the chili peppers and the onions. Sautee briefly until fragrant.
    5. Add in the fried tofu.
    6. Now gently put in the light and dark soy sauce and the MSG, and stir without breaking the tofu pieces.
    7. Turn off the heat, plate and garnish with scallions.
    8. Serve while hot.
Hungry for more? Follow Clarissa’s journey through China as she uncovers authentic dishes and cultural insight.