In Chinese cuisine, natural tastes just aren’t enough, and this has led to the development of new flavors and textures through various processes of transformation. The third episode of CCTV’s A Bite of China, titled “Inspiration for Transformation,” shows viewers how raw ingredients are transformed into products like tofu, cheese and wine.
Tofu can be regarded Chinese cuisine’s greatest invention. This episode takes you first to Shou Town in Anhui Province, believed to be the birthplace of tofu. As the story goes, Liu An, the Duke of Huainan, unintentionally created tofu 2,000 years ago when he put soy milk and gypsum together to create a pill of immortality. But whenever and however tofu was truly created, today it is eaten in hundreds of different forms.
A Bite of China offers a decent travel guide for tofu enthusiasts. The next stop is Lin’an in Yunnan, known for their tofu balls. After being shaped, these balls are air-dried and fermented, then charcoal roasted until they shrink into a small yellow ball to be eaten with dipping sauce. Thousands of miles away in Anhui is mao tofu, a form of beancurd that will truly test your love of tofu. It looks as if it’s covered with cotton candy, but this is actually mould, cultivated with brine and humid weather. In Shanghai, you can try many types of Yunnanese tofu at Lotus Eatery, but more adventurous dinners can try the stinky tofu on just about every street corner in town.
Dali cheese and Shaoxing yellow wine are also masterpieces of transformation. Chinese historians believe that Chinese cheese originates with the Mongolians around the time of Khubilai Khan in the Yuan dynasty, but Yunnan cheese is well known today. For an authentic treat, try the pan-fried cheese at Southern Barbarian.
Yellow wine, aka huangjiu, is one of the most ancient wines on Earth, made from rice and originating south of the Yangtze River. Best paired with crabs, its mellow and warming finish is just the thing for colder weather. Try it when hairy crab season kicks off later this month.