Sunday, December 16, 2012

Lovers' Tofu

恋爱豆腐果 (Liàn Ài Dòu Fŭ Guŏ) literally means "lovers' tofu." The provenance of the name is not immediately clear when you look at it.
Unless you have a very different notion of love than I do.

One story behind the name says that it was invented in Guiyang during World War II. Air raid sirens were common; citizens frequently found themselves waiting for the all-clear. These long hours in close quarters were fertile ground for two things: love and hunger. Love has a way of taking care of itself. The hunger was staved off by the creation of this dish. As new romances flourished, the lovers ate this tofu, giving it its distinctive name.

Whether or not this story is true, lovers’ tofu remains a popular dish to this day in Guiyang. Other than the name, the distinguishing characteristic of this variation of tofu is that it is stuffed chock full of other ingredients. The tofu itself is somewhat unremarkable: crispy, yellow exterior; very soft, white interior. This relative blandness is probably wise, as the stuffing packs a powerful punch. Each vendor’s recipe for the stuffing is different, but most will include chili powder (typically of the málà variety), ginger, scallions, soy sauce, garlic, and a generous handful of zhé ĕr gēn. (Zhé ĕr gēn is both common and distinctive in Guiyang's cuisine. It is the root of this plant and it has a powerful medicinal taste.) Notice that each of those ingredients has a strong taste on its own. Put them all together in one concentrated mélange and it is very strong indeed. Honestly, it was almost too powerful to eat. Remember that this is not a sauce or a seasoning—it is a pile of these ingredients inside the tofu. Like I said above, you become thankful for the basic non-flavor of the tofu. 

Thanks, tofu.

To be sure, 恋爱豆腐果 is a powerfully flavored street food. And that's good--it's nice to have a strong flavor sometimes. For roughly 3 - 5 RMB it makes a nice snack, the memory of which will stay with your taste buds for a good long while.  Eaten alone or shared with a lover, you can't go wrong with lovers' tofu.