From Doufu to tahu

Suryatini N. Ganie, Contributor, Jakarta

Tofu is said to have been invented more than 4,000 years ago and in all those years it has been a very nutritious foodstuff in China, its land of origin, where the byproduct of soybeans became known as tofou and later on was more popularly called doufu.

Nowadays tofu or bean curd is known worldwide and many recipes have been created to present tofu as a delicious food item. Here in Indonesia, tofu became known as tahu and it exists here in many forms, tastes and flavors.

A common type of tahu is the rather small, 5 cm x 5 cm white tahu, made daily and available in traditional markets and supermarkets. Another popular one is tahu Cina about 15 x 15 cm large and of a softer consistency. Many regions have their own specialties.

In Jakarta, the most popular tofu was the normal white tofu and the most renowned dish ketoprak which is tofu fried on the spot with a garnishing of mung beans, crushed, pink-colored krupuk and a spicy soy and peanut sauce. But all types of local tofu are now available in Jakarta's food shops.

The Sundanese from the southern coasts of West Java brought their tahu Sumedang from a small town in that region with pure mountain water. Tahu Sumedang has a creamier inside than the normal white tofu and is sold at many places. Going east to Central Java tahu pong of Semarang, the capital of the province, is very popular. Pong is an abbreviation of the Javanese word melompong or having an empty space, and tahu pong has an empty space in the center of the tahu, thus the name. For those who were born and grew up in Semarangtahu pong is a nostalgic foodstuff.

But the various tahu types are also cooked in different styles and when in Sumatra and Kalimantan the preparation of tofu or tahu mostly has Chinese overtones, like steamed tofu with Medan taucheo, a fermented soybean byproduct. Farther east it will be stir-fried or made into a mashed ingredient which will be wrapped in banana leaves like pepes tahu or botok tahu in East Java.

As tofu is a Chinese culinary migrant, it was less popular among the inhabitants of the eastern islands whose staple was sago, which was a bit difficult to mix with tofu.

Tahu is a food for anytime of the day and any demanding palate. One can make soup, main dish, dessert or a snack out of it. Tahu can be made more expensive by adding peeled shrimp, fish, meat or chicken. It is also a convenient foodstuff. For instance, by frying you can top it with various vegetables and a sauce out of the bottle or make a braised dish to complement your main dish, put it on a vegetarian pizza or as filling for an omelet.

As tofu has gone global there are hundreds of recipes for healthy tofu drinks. I tasted a Tofu Shake and a drink called the Silk Road, consisting of ingredients honoring the name, smelling fragrantly like the roses of Shiraz, caused by the generous pouring of rose-flavored syrup, full of vitamins through date chunks and tofu, of course, in this case Chinese or Japanese silk tofu which can be enjoyed as is. Served in tropical sites it will be topped by lots of ice cubes.

Wishing you a healthy culinary tofu experiment!


1. Tahu cumi Tofu and squid curry from Jakarta An interesting texture of soft and chewy.

Ingredients: 300 g fresh squid, cleaned, ink discarded, halved vertically 1 tsp salt or to taste 2 Tbs lime juice 4 shallots 2 cloves garlic 4 red chilies A slice of ginger A slice of galangal A slice of turmeric 3 Tbs vegetable oil, for stir frying 2 salam leaves 2 stalks lemon grass, pounded 400 ml thick coconut milk 200 g fried tofu, halved slantingly 1 tsp salt or to taste 1 tsp granulated sugar (optional)

Method: 1. Season squid with salt and baste with lime juice. Let stand for 15 minutes. 2. Make shallots, garlic, red chilies, ginger, galangal and turmeric into a paste and stir fry until aromatic. Add salam leaves, lemon grass and squid. Continue until squid changes color. 3. Pour in coconut milk and let come to the boil. Lower flame after 5 minutes. 4. Add fried tofu and season with salt and granulated sugar.

Makes: 4 portions.

2. Pecak tahu Flattened tofu and shrimp.

Ingredients: 2 large tahu Cina (Chinese style tofu), halved 200 ml vegetable oil, for frying 4 cloves garlic, chopped finely 4 red chilies, seeds discarded, cut vertically in thin slices 200 g shrimp, skin discarded, chopped finely 1 Tbs Worchestershire sauce or salty soy sauce 1 Tbs oyster sauce 1 tsp salt or to taste 1 tsp ground black pepper or to taste A stalk of leek, white only, quarter vertically and then in thin slices

Method: 1. Fry tofu until golden and done, then flatten a bit and set aside. 2. Stir fry garlic and red chilies in 3 tbs remaining oil until aromatic. 3. Add shrimp and continue until shrimp changes color. 4. Season with Worchestershire or salty soy sauce, oyster sauce, salt and black pepper. Add leek. Continue for a minute or two until done. 5. When serving put shrimp mixture on top of the fried tofu.

Males: 4 portions.

3. Shake tahu Tofu shake: a healthy and interesting drink.

Ingredients: 200 g pineapple, cleaned, ready to consume or further preparation 1 tahu sutera (kinugoshi Japanese style tofu, super market) 150 ml honey 50 g granulated sugar 200 ml milk 1 tsp vanilla powder ice cubes Preserved red cherries Fruit cocktail Mint leaves

Method: 1. Cut pineapple fruit-flesh coarsely. 2. In an electric blender, blend pineapple, Japanese style tofu, honey, granulated sugar, milk and vanilla powder. 3. Serve tofu shake in a suitable glass, add ice cubes and cherry, some fruit cocktail and mint leaves to your liking.

Makes: 6 portions.

4. Tumis tahu Hot and spicy stir fried tofu Kalimantan style.

Ingredients: 100 g ikan gabus asin (fresh water salted fish, supermarket), rinsed, cut in pieces, pounded 3 cloves garlic, finely sliced A slice of ginger, finely sliced 3 Tbs vegetable oil, for stir frying 5 red chilies, coarsely cut 100 g tauge (mung bean sprouts), tails discarded 200 g local tahu kuning (turmeric flavored yellow local tofu), cut in cubes 50 g kucai (chives), finely chopped 1/2 tsp salt or to taste

Method: 1. Stir fry garlic and ginger until aromatic, add ikan gabus asin, red chilies and continue stir frying for 2-3 minutes. 2. Add mung bean sprouts, tofu and chives. Season with salt and continue cooking for a minute or two until tofu is done but bean sprouts are still crispy.

Makes: 4 portions.

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