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Old Fashioned Tofu at Kung Woo Beancurd

Tofu pudding, silken tofu, firm tofu, golden tofu puffs, folded tofu skins, spindly white soy bean sprouts, hot sweet soy milk,  red fermented tofu, tofu knots.  
 
Kung Woo Beancurd in Sham Shui Po illustrated the soy bean in all its manifest expressions. 
After I learned to make soy milk in the traditional way with a grindstone, and then learned (often disastrously) what was involved in making tofu at home, I was fascinated to search out places in China still making old fashioned tofu. You know, the kind that’s made for taste; not for shelf life or low cost, using beans, water, a grindstone, and wooden molds that impart the faintest flavour to the curd.
What I have discovered is there aren’t many of them left – traditional tofu makers are a threatened species and the last are disappearing fast.
So when I heard about Kung Woo Beancurd from Hong Kong food writer e_ting I knew I had to visit on my recent trip to Hong Kong.

The shop is on a chaotically busy street in Kowloon where it sits occasionally billowing out steam from the simmering soy milk out back. There is a makeshift front counter where you can buy fresh milk and tofu, and a griddle where cooked tofu snacks are fried. Inside are a few tables and stools if you’re eating in rather than taking away.

The owner continues to keep the same ‘cash register’, a rattan basket filled with money on a pulley above the counter, as his father did. His portrait hangs on the retro tiled wall at the back of the shop.
I started with a plate of assorted fried tofu bites. The shop is quite famous for their tofu squares stuffed with fish paste, but I loved the light ricotta texture of the tofu fritters studded with sweet scallions.
Then I moved on to Kung Woo’s other famous snack – their tofu pudding or tofu fa. It came straight out of the refrigerated cabinet at the back of the shop, wobbling like jelly and smooth and cool like custard. I sprinkled it with brown ginger sugar, every slippery smooth mouthful delicately bean-flavoured. Heavenly on a day so hot we were all damp with sweat.

 

I drank a glass of warm fresh soy milk. This was the staple ingredient from which everything else in the shop originated, and it was good. Rich, with a fresh grassy bean taste. Sensing my level of interest the owner allowed me to wander into the kitchen to have a look at the tofu-making operations. Very impressive stacks of wooden tofu molds were racked next to wooden buckets filled with soy milk strained through muslin.

 

 

 

One of the wooden buckets had been freshly set into tofu pudding, and the next job was to spoon the wobbling pudding into Kong Woo’s signature bowls. Those who like their tofu pudding served hot rather than cold were patiently waiting for a bowl.

 

 

In short, if you’re as passionate about tofu as I am, or even just curious about tofu, seek this place out. It was frantically busy on the day I visited and doesn’t look like sliding into extinction any time soon…but  you never know.
Tofu squares with fish paste, waiting to be fried
Kung Woo Beancurd
香港公和荳品廠
香港公和豆品厂
118 Pei Wo Street
Sham Shui Po
Kowloon, Hong Kong
Nearest MTR: Sham Shui Po
  • N

    This post brought back some childhood memories for me. As a kid living in Singapore, I loved going to the wet markets and I remember the hanging basket cash registers that in hindsight was probably the most efficient way to keep money in a small space allotted to each vendor. Though I never tried this, fresh tofu with a small drizzle of soy sauce and scallion garnish is also yummy. “Grassy bean taste”–spot on! Love it!

    • nanchanglu

      I know a few people who also grew up in Singapore and had a very similar experience – although they didn’t necessarily love going to the wet market as kids like you! It surprised (and delighted) me that this guy is still using the basket method!

  • Line Fricke

    I’m so excited about this post being a big soy and tofu fan. Not a big fan of conservation and food additives! This is on my to-do in HK list!

    Have you tried to find a similar place in Shanghai? I guess you would be the one to know if there is such a place here. I really enjoy reading your blog which I have been doing since I arrived to Shanghai in 2012. I’m all about healthy and natural eating but I love trying all this amazing food here. And experiment with being healthy while enjoying everything here. You inspire me a lot for my own blog as well (it is a personal blog about practicing healthy habits in and out of Shanghai: http://www.shanghaihabits.com).

    Keep up the good work!

    • nanchanglu

      Hi Line – I’m so excited by your blog! I wish you had been writing it when I was still in Shanghai. My hunt for a traditional tofu maker in Shanghai continues – I’m yet to find one by word of mouth or internet research, or just plain stumbling across one. I think the new food safety laws in China have made it ironically, more difficult for places like this to survive. In the countryside there are lots of traditional makers still around, and I hope they continue to thrive – shows like Bite of China have helped secure their place in the list of ‘intangible cultural heritages’.

      • Line Fricke

        I will keep my eyes open as well and let me know when you return for a trip, i would love to pick your brain about food, health & safety in Shanghai (: I’m currently looking into issues about buying vegetable, greens & fruits. It’s quite a discussion to get into and a jungle to figure out what is safe, what is reasonable, what can be trusted and the opposite!
        If you have any interest/knowledge in this area let me know and I might shoot you an email with a request for a short interview. Wish I could offer you a “home-made expat coffee in the French Concession” but I guess an email-interview will have to do – if you are interested (:

        Keep in touch and keep me posted (Which you will now I signed up right:)

  • http://chinaelevatorstories.com chinaelevatorstories

    I love tofu and fresh soy milk (craving tofu looking at these pictures), this is on my to-do list for my next visit to Hong Kong.

    • nanchanglu

      I really miss fresh-off-the-block tofu – nothing like it for taste. The cooked tofu fritters were a revelation – never had those before and I’m planning to try them at home.Have you ever made them?

      • http://chinaelevatorstories.com chinaelevatorstories

        I haven’t, but they sound delicious!