This is Part One of a two part series on making soy milk and tofu at home. You can read Part Two here.
I’ve been reading Jeremy Clarkson’s book “How Hard Can It Be?” He’s the funny guy from Top Gear, the massively popular British car show in which a bunch of middle-aged boys test drive a variety of very fast cars while keeping up a pretty solid banter in the background.
Homemade strawberry jam? How hard can it be? It’s just strawberries and sugar!
Answer: Favourite saucepan ruined forever, and a year’s supply of smoke-flavoured strawberry ice cream topping.
Toffee nests? Honestly, I’ve seen it on TV. Sugar. Water. A fast moving spoon.
Answer: It doesn’t count as a toffee nest if it has a lot of your hair in it. And it turns out a fast moving spoon is capable of covering pretty much everything in the kitchen in enamel-hard toffee if the spoon is not directed carefully and accurately. Wine does not improve accuracy.
Tofu was one of my greatest culinary surprises while living in China – the variety, the freshness, the many ways in which it is used in cooking. And my greatest surprise of all – it actually tastes good. Really good.
But to make tofu, you must first learn how to make soy milk. I learnt to make it the traditional way with Ah Ping at Yangcheng Lake using a traditional stone grinder, where I was astounded to discover that soy milk, dear people, is made from just soy beans and water. Yes, beans. And water.
Only two ingredients! How hard can it…etc etc
So this week you can learn how to make soy milk, and next week, how to make tofu. Excited? Of course you are. You love a deceptively simple cooking project.
Soy milk making, at least when you first begin, is quite disastrously messy, as I discovered when I overfilled my soy milk maker (see above) and went to hang out the washing, returning to a steaming hot soy explosion all over the kitchen. The soy milk had spattered all the windows and overflowed into three open kitchen drawers full of cutlery and tea towels. Curses were heard throughout the house.
With practice though, you’ll get neater, and there will be fewer changes of clothes and swearing. Promise.
- 1/2 cup (85g) dried soybeans
- blender or soy milk maker
- fine mesh strainer or muslin cloth
- 2 litre saucepan
- rinse dried soybeans, strain
- place in bowl and cover with water, leave for 8-10 hours (soaking time needed varies according to ambient temperature, but overnight is always long enough)
- add soybeans to blender
- add one litre (4 cups) of water
- blend on ‘high’ for one minute
- turn off power, stir contents thoroughly to dislodge any debris from under blade
- blend on high again for one minute
- pour soy milk mixture through a very fine mesh sieve or muslin into saucepan
- heat on medium high heat, stirring continuously until it begins to foam
- continue stirring at a simmer for five minutes, removing some of the excess foam from the top of the milk
- pour into glass jug to cool
- rinse dried soybeans, strain
- place in bowl and cover with water, leave for 8-10 hours (soaking time needed varies according to ambient temperature, but overnight is always long enough)
- place beans in soy milk maker
- add water to level indicated inside soy milk maker
- use ‘soaked beans’ setting, press go
- when cycle complete, pour soy milk through fine mesh sieve (usually provided with your maker) or muslin into a jug
- press the sediment until no further milk released from strainer
- drink hot or cold, as preferred
- WASH soy milk maker immediately
- Although home blenders do a great job, if you are planning on making a lot of soy milk or tofu in might be worth investing in a soy milk maker – they have the advantage of heating the milk for you, eliminating one step and one more set of pans to wash. And they’re fast – they make a litre in under fifteen minutes.
- Soy milk makers vary from very cheap ($US25), to very expensive ($US300+), depending on what kind you buy and who you buy from. Online health food stores tend to have the most expensive machines.
- All soy milk makers do a similar job, but have differences in motor speed and grunt, resulting in a slightly different outcome. The more powerful motor, the finer the grind and the better the quality of the finished product.
- Fancy soy milk makers have added ‘features’ to help upsell the product – juicing, cooking rice, cooking pasta etc. If you don’t need these added features look for a simpler and cheaper model.
- As with all things, the better the quality of your ingredients, the better the finished product. Using filtered water and organic or biodynamic soybeans gives a better taste.
- There are many minor variations on technique, and only by experimenting yourself will you find out what works best for you
- A richer soy milk can be made by increasing the amount of soybeans in the recipe to 3/4 cup (dried) – just take care with your soy milk maker as it may froth over, as mine did
- Some people feel it is important to remove the skin of the soybeans once they are soaked – because it may give a slightly less bean-y taste. You can do this by rubbing them vigorously underwater and allowing the skins to float to the surface where you can skim them off. I’ve tried both, I can’t tell the difference. Seems like a lot of work for little gain.
- Some people do not strain the soy sediment off until after heating the soy milk, because they believe by cooking the liquid and sediment together it results in a better tasting milk. Try both methods and see which you prefer.
- Heating the soy milk, otherwise known as rendering, is essential to making soy milk because it converts (renders) some undigestible proteins into digestible ones.
- Don’t worry of a skin forms on the surface of the hot soy milk after it has rendered – this is creamy yuba, an edible delicacy
- Soy sediment hardens like concrete within minutes. Wash everything as soon as you use it, or spend hours scrubbing.
- Keep the soy sediment – also known as okara – you can use it in cooking.
Here’s hoping you weren’t all terrified by Dr Fiona’s Street Food Survival Guide to the point of swearing off street food altogether. Because it’s time to eat some great street food again!
This month’s street snack hails from Wuhan, capital of Hubei Province. According to Wuhan’s own government website, Wuhan is a magical place where…
‘…you’ll find a distinctive flavor and perceive an unimaginable feeling.’
Having never been to Wuhan I can’t imagine what that unimaginable feeling might be, but I do know you can sample the aforementioned distinctive flavor of one of Wuhan’s most famous street foods in Shanghai, while imagining the unimaginable.
三鲜豆皮 San Xian Doupi is translated as Three Delicacies Tofu Skin – a layer of sticky rice studded with small pieces of three different savoury flavoured foods, pan-fried between two sheets of tofu skin or doupi, the skin from the surface of boiled soy milk (also known by its Japanese name, yuba).
Like many street foods, there are individual variations from cook to cook. The three delicacies, for example, can be any of the following: pork, bamboo shoot, shrimp, egg, mushroom, or marinated tofu, and the tofu skin might be replaced with a fine mung bean and wheat flour pancake spread with egg, like the vendor below. Ultimately what matters most is the special method of construction:
“Genuine San Xian Doupi!” reads the sign, and you can find it in many locations across Shanghai and in every Chinese city.
This particular san xian doupi vendor is located in Sipailou Lu Food Street, on the corner of Sipailou Lu and Fangbang Lu, near Yu Gardens. Open daily from mid-morning until late.
I’m a magazine junkie. One of the things I most missed while living in China were my favourite magazines and despite subscribing to two before I left home, Australia Post and China Post somehow conspired to lose most of my issues of Delicious and Feast. I could just imagine the China Post guys smoking heavily and discussing how that recipe for pear upside down cake turned out.
“You might want to reconsider that chicken…” I’m about to say, when I think to myself that no-one likes a naysayer, or a know-it-all. So I don’t say anything. He’s enjoying himself, and his joy is infectious.
“I LOVE Shanghai!” he exclaims, licking his lips. “This is delicious!”
He spends the next two days no more than 3 steps from our bathroom, and never eats street food again.
Many people feel a very natural trepidation towards street food, some avoid it altogether, still others relish that tiny frisson of risk, the Russian roulette excitement that perhaps this will be the morsel that does you in, anxiously waiting for the sweats, the cramps, and the heaves to follow.
But the reality is that 2.5 billion people around the world eat street food every single day, many of them for everyday sustenance, and most of it is perfectly safe.
Most. But for those of us who have a choice about where we eat, and eat street food for the enjoyment and taste rather than for necessary nutrition, just how do you tell the difference between the safe and the harmful?
And now I’m passing the knowledge onto you – how food poisoning happens, what causes it, and how to avoid it.
Foods can become contaminated by germs in water or soil, or from germs present in an animal’s gut while it is still alive. Once slaughtered, the germs contaminate the animal’s meat or eggs and once in food, these germs continue to multiply until you eat the food and get sick.
When a food-borne germ enters your system – usually through your mouth – you become potentially infectious to others. This can happen even before you become ill, as well as during the actual illness, and sometimes for weeks afterwards.
The most common way you can infect another person is by ‘faecal-oral transmission’. In short, this means the germ is in your gut and your faeces, so when you go to the bathroom the bug can contaminate your hands. If you then prepare food the bug transfers from your hands to food or to objects like eating utensils and cups, which go into someone’s mouth and then infect them.
The other factors peculiar to street food are a lack of sanitation, and a lack of refrigeration. Sanitation can be improved by handwashing with household soap and water, but many street food vendors lack a source of running water. Refrigeration kills some germs and slows other germs from multiplying, but in the absence of refrigeration in the outdoor environment where most street food is found, the rate at which food spoils and bacteria multiply will depend on the ambient temperature – warm days will cause food to spoil faster and germs to multiply faster.
The final factor increasing the risk of street food is you – you’re travelling, you’re in crowded places, you’re touching railings, door knobs, and money that have all been handled by many, many other pairs of hands. The number of germs on your hands accumulates, and you then touch your mouth, or touch utensils you put in your mouth, and as my mum used to say “You might as well have licked the toilet door handle”. Eww.
|Do you think he washed his hands with soap and water before he picked up that hunk of meat??|
Foodborne Illness – The Top 8 Culprits
These eight organisms, one virus and seven bacteria, cause the vast majority of food-borne illness around the world. As you read through you’ll begin to see some trends developing: undercooked chicken, minced meat, seafood, unpasteurised milk, uncooked vegetables. Take note.
Those 63 unlucky diners at Noma in Copenhagen? Norovirus. The food handler responsible showed no symptoms.
276 travellers on board the Ruby Princess? Norovirus.
Part of the problem is that you can become infectious several days before you get sick and up to 2 weeks after you’re completely recovered. Norovirus can also survive relatively cold temperatures – down to zero degrees.
Symptoms: Abdominal cramps, vomiting, diarrhoea, fever
Duration: 1-3 days
Treatment: no specific treatment available, treat dehydration
The second most common cause of food borne illness, campylobacter infections are still outnumbered by norovirus infections twenty cases to one.
Sources: Undercooked/raw chicken (campylobacter can infect chickens without making them sick), raw milk, contaminated water
Incubation period: 2-5 days
Treatment: some cases will require antibiotics
The name has nothing to do with fish – the bacteria was named after scientist Daniel Elmer Salmon.
Sources: Uncooked chicken and other meats, vegetables, processed foods inlcuding soft cheese, processed meats, smoked seafood, raw sprouts
6. E Coli
There are several types of vibrio: two species occur naturally in warm waters and cause illness in people consuming raw oysters. In Asia, Africa and parts of South America another type, vibrio cholerae, is instantly recognisable as the cause of cholera.
8. Staph Aureus
That same old bug that causes skin infections and boils can also fester away in foods, causing a food poisoning of uncommon speed and severity.
If the food is not commonly eaten by locals, the turnover of food may be slower, with a consequently higher chance of spoilage. For example, in China beef is less commonly eaten and more expensive than pork or chicken – so if a street food vendor has paid a higher price for a piece of beef he is less likely to discard it at the earliest sign of spoilage.
Poaching 70-85C (160-185F)
Steaming 100C (212F)
Stir frying/pan frying 150-165C (300-330F)
Larger cuts of meat and large whole fish are more risky because they need to reach a core temp of 74C (165F) for safety – the outside of the meat may be well cooked, but the inside may not. If meat is pink or raw looking, it’s at risk. For this reason, smaller pieces of meat are less risky because they’re more likely to be cooked all the way through.
Food begins to spoil the moment it ceases being alive. Refrigeration will slow this process, but not prevent it.
Foods spoil in the following order (from shortest to longest spoilage times): shellfish, fish, chicken, turkey, duck, pork, beef/lamb.
In addition, once food is cooked it needs to be kept hot – well above 60C, or cooled down rapidly and refrigerated. Hence the risk associated with pre-cooked foods like stews, sauces and braises that are inadequately reheated.
Based on all of this information, here are five simple street food rules that will stand you in good stead anywhere in the world.
Please once again note: They apply to healthy adults, not high risk groups such as very young children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those with chronic illness.
1. Always wash your hands before eating. If you cannot, use chopsticks or a fork.
2. Avoid chicken, seafood and salads
3. Eat what’s locally popular
4. Eat what’s hot
5. Eat with an adventurous spirit, but be prepared just in case.
As island hamlets go, San Shan Dao is at the humbler end of the remote-island-getaway spectrum. It’s not like Mustique, say, where you might have once seen Princess Margaret walking along the beach in a silk caftan with a gin and tonic in hand. Because there isn’t a beach on San Shan Dao, or any gin and tonics either. And as far as I can tell it’s not a favoured hideaway of the British royal family.
San Shan Dao (rather ambitiously named Three Mountain Island) is one of ninety nine islands – all small – in the middle of vast Tai Lake in Jiangsu Province. It’s a few hours’ drive west of Shanghai and a perfect place for winding-down. There’s bugger all to do except drink tea, play mahjong, and eat dried fish snacks. I’ve heard they’re truly delicious.
Island admission: 60rmb per person (adults) 30rmb (children over 1.2m), free for children under 1.2m.
By private vehicle:
We hired a minibus and driver from Shanghai who took us directly to the Shatan Shan Wharf (approx three hours’ drive) and collected us again three days later – 1780 rmb total fee.
By public transport:
From Shanghai: Take the fast train to Suzhou station
From Suzhou Station: Take Bus 69 to Dongshan Area Gongshan Wharf. Take the kuaiting (motor boat) to San Shan Dao or take Bus 502 to Dongshan, then Bus 627 to Shatan Shan Wharf, then take the kuaiting(motor boat) or the duchuan (ferry boat) to San Shan Dao
Motorboat: 180 rmb one way for up to 8 people
Ferry: 15rmb one way per person
See Farmer Xue’s instructions below (with a list of famous foods and specialty food products!)
1. How do you say xiaolongbao?
2. What are xiaolongbao?
3. How to eat xiaolongbao
4. How to order xiaolongbao
5. Five Shanghai xiaolongbao eateries to try
6. Where to find more information – recipes, xiaolongbao classes, more restaurant suggestions
First things first. This impossible looking word is quite easy to say.
It’s shao(rhymes with cow)-long-bao(rhymes with cow).
For those studying Chinese, the tones are: xiăolóngbāo.
2. What are xiaolongbao?
Many wonder how liquid soup manages to get inside a hand-wrapped dumpling. Is it somehow scooped inside as the dumpling is wrapped? Or is it injected using a syringe? The secret, of course, is that the soup is actually a solid at room temperature, melting into a liquid only when the dumplings are steamed at high heat. The soup is essentially a flavoured pork stock or aspic, made with pork skin, chicken bones, ginger, scallions and shaoxing wine, simmered for hours and hours then cooled at room temperature until it sets. Every kitchen has their own secret recipe because the quality of the soup is paramount in a good xiaolongbao.
3. How to eat xiaolongbao: A step-by-step guide
Soup-filled dumplings should be handled with care – the contents are HOT.
You will be given a small circular dish to fill with vinegar form the bottle or teapot on your table, a pair of chopsticks, and a soup spoon. You may also be given a dish of finely shredded ginger to add to the vinegar as desired.
To eat a xiaolongbao, first lift it out of the steamer basket by its strongest part, the topknot (use your spoon for support if needed), and dip it gently into the dish of vinegar.
Resting it back on your spoon, nibble a small hole to let out the steam. Slurp a little soup.
Once it’s cooled slightly, eat from the spoon using your chopsticks or throw caution to the wind and put the whole spoonful in your mouth in one go. The savory soup will be scalding hot as you eat.
4. How to order xiaolongbao
Xiaolongbao can be ordered by the basket (long 笼) or serving (fen 份) in practical terms, everyone uses ‘serving’ or fen.
The number of xiaolongbao in each serving varies with the restaurant and the size of the steamer basket, but is usually between six and twelve.
Although there are countless variations in xiaolongbao fillings, the most popular are pork (zhu rou 猪肉) or a mixture of pork with the meat and roe from Shanghai’s famed hairy crab (xiefen 蟹粉). Small street eateries may only serve pork, traditional restaurants usually have both pork and pork/crab/roe, and fancier restaurants may offer novel and non-traditional fillings like chicken, foie gras, or mushroom.
How many servings will you need? That depends entirely on your appetite, but as a guide, four to six xiaolongbao per person is plenty for a snack, and eight to ten per person makes a meal.
Here’s an easy ordering guide in English, pinyin and Chinese:
English: pork xiaolongbao
Chinese: zhūròu xiăolóngbāo 猪肉小笼包
Pronunciation: joo-ROW shao-(rhymes with cow)-long-bao (rhymes with cow)
1. Jia Jia Tang Bao 佳家汤包
2. Loushi Tangbao Guan 陋室汤包馆 The Humble Room Soup Dumpling Eatery
The Humble Room’s xiaolongbao belie the restaurant’s name – they’re sophisticated little dumplings with strong thin skins, smooth pork filling and a satisfyingly rich broth. And at 6 rmb for a basket of eight, they represent incredible value.
3. Din Tai Fung Xintiandi 鼎泰震新天地店
Din Tai Fung Xintiandi 鼎泰震新天地店
They also offer a full menu of non-dumpling dishes, including many Shanghainese specialties like fried glutinous rice slices with pork and ji cai vegetable – a chewy, delicious home-style dish.
Approx 30 minutes by car from downtown Shanghai, or easily reached by subway Line 11 (stop: Nanxiang). The restaurants are less than five minutes’ walk from the subway.
+8621 5917 4019
Excited as a small child I flew into Shanghai last week on a whirlwind five day visit for the Shanghai International Literary Festival, and of course squeezed in a great deal of street food during my stay – starting with xiaolongbao, and fried radish cakes topped with chili sauce, and ending with these crispy, spicy fried chicken strips.
I was invited to moderate a Literary Lunch session at this year’s festival with author Audra Ang and her recently released book To The People Food Is Heaven, a memoir of her years as an Associated Press journalist in China covering major stories like the Sichuan earthquake, the outbreak of SARS and the plight of pro-democracy dissidents, while connecting with the people she met through memorable shared meals.
The invitation came at a perfect moment, lifting me out of a dreadful bout of homesickness (for China) and an increasing and confusing sense of ‘What am I doing here?’ (in Australia). By going back to Shanghai for a visit I could avoid thinking about that question for a while longer and just enjoy good food and the company of friends without a head filled with the complications and daily grind of getting our lives in order after moving houses, countries, schools and jobs.
It was a great honour to participate in the festival and meet the author whose book I had enjoyed reading so much. As it turns out, Audra and I are equally passionate about food in general and about street food in particular, and following the Literary Lunch (where seventy of us listened to Audra read from her book and I asked her questions about it) we led a street food tour for a group of twelve hungry and adventurous festival attendees.
In preparation, as soon as Audra touched down from the USA we headed straight to Sipailou Lu for an afternoon of ‘research’ for our tour the following day. I’ve done so much research on street food I truly think they’re going to give me a professorship quite soon.
This Sichuan salt and pepper fried chicken was one of the first foods we ‘researched’ and hell it was good.
I confess I rarely eat chicken on the street because it breaks one of my Dr Fiona Street Food Safety Rules. These rules are entirely in my head, mind you, and I’ll be writing about them in an upcoming post, but they’re all about getting the maximum enjoyment from street foods, with minimum risk. Chicken is often too close to the risky side for my liking, but as I smelled the tantalising smell and saw the crisp golden pieces, my resolve collapsed. What are rules for if not to break now and again?
The tiny open air stall on Guangqi Lu was nothing more than a table filled with ingredients, a gas-powered wok, and a sign that detailed all the possible permutations of fried chicken you could order – chicken strips, legs or wings, all with Sichuan pepper and salt. There was a naked light bulb on a wire so cooking could continue after dark, and the husband and wife team manning the stall had the division of labour completely sorted – he cooked, she took the orders and the money.
The smells coming from the fried chicken were intoxicating, and there was already a long queue of locals eager for a plate of the crispy spicy chicken strips.
Most customers ordered the jiaoyan pai tiao 椒盐排条 – Sichuan pepper and salt chicken sticks. Strips of boneless chicken were crumbed, and thrown into a wok of boiling oil where they sizzled, crisped and browned. While they cooked, the flavoursome salt and pepper mixture was cooked in a second wok – finely sliced scallions and red onion, chopped garlic, and dried chilli flakes were thrown in by the handful and fried up with ground Sichuan pepper and salt.
The seasoned aroma made all of us impatient for our turn. The fried chicken, drained of oil, was now tossed with this salty, spicy, garlicky mixture to coat it with plenty of flavour, and handed to us in a bowl with toothpicks to daintily pick up the pieces.
The next day we took our crowd of hungry food-lovers along the same street and fed them spicy fried chicken, dumplings, stinky tofu, three delicacies rice, wonton soup, sweet treats and freshly peeled pineapple wedges. They were an incredibly adventurous group of women, trying everything on offer – we had a ball eating our way through two long streets over several hours, with Audra and I explaining each food they tried. No better way to spend a day really!