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Jan 27, 2013 04:47 PM

Fuschia Dunlop's "Every Grain of Rice" and the search for real Chinese 香乾 (xiang gan/smoked tofu)

Her new book is great. It's not expressly about Sichuanese cooking, though she's included some of those recipes (some vegetarian versions of favorites from "Land of Plenty"). And although the book is vegetable focused, it is by no means a vegetarian cookbook. It's about preparation of traditional dishes from across China, where poverty and practicality made meat the condiment rather than the focus.

The book is practical as well as gorgeous, with lots of excellent photography that serves a greater purpose than just salacious food porn. There are many photos of the staple ingredients, practical to the Chinese cook, but esoteric to the foreigner, which makes tracking them down at the Chinese supermarket a hell of a lot easier.

One item I wasn't able to find on a cursory exploration at 168 on Las Tunas is 香乾, or firm smoked tofu. It's very similar in appearance to the spiced tofu (五香豆腐乾/wi xiang doufu gan) which you can find at any Chinese supermarket, but instead of being simmered in a five spice broth, it's smoked.

The photo of the particular brand of smoked tofu used in the book is quite strange, in that it doesn't appear to have any Chinese characters on it. Dunlop goes on to say in the description that it can be found at health food stores "as well as some Chinese supermarkets", which sounds awfully weird to me for what is ostensibly a Chinese ingredient. Adding to further confuse the issue, my Lovely Tasting Assistant™ (LTA), who is Taiwanese, had no idea what this stuff was. (We did find some mock smoked tofu duck, which looked like it could serve in a pinch- if anyone has tried this, how does it compare in flavor and texture to xiang gan?) But I'd really like to buy a Chinese 香乾 rather than a hippie health food store brand, which may or may not taste like its supposed to.

For what it's worth, the brand photographed in the book is "Viana" ("Listen to your heart!")

Any tips for finding an actual Chinese brand of the stuff?

Thanks 'hounds.

Mr Taster

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  1. I noticed this a while back when I first read the new book.

    I usually see 'xianggan' used as shorthand for 'wu xiang doufu gan' (though my browser's popover translator renders it as 'smoked bean curd') in restaurant menus, and it always seems to be the 5-spice variety here. I am not saying that Fuchsia Dunlop is wrong, or that 'xianggan' can't also refer to smoked dry tofu, but there are a lot of regional variations on the way people refer to things.

    To answer your question more directly, I haven't specifically noticed it, but haven't been looking that carefully either - I'll keep my eyes out. You could look for 熏 (xūn) on the label. Another possibility is to buy the unseasoned dry / pressed tofu, and tea-smoke it yourself at home. It's not too difficult, and should give good results.

    There is also the tofu skin based tea-smoked duck ('su-y bean-curd roll'), which a lot of local stores sell -- I think this is the one you are talking about. Though it's originally made from sheets, the final texture is not dissimilar to doufu gan (a little softer, maybe), and the smoked flavor is not over-done. We cooked some up the other week with green garlic, and it was pretty good.

    1 Reply
    1. re: will47

      I've tea-smoked a duck myself, so I'm familiar with the process. And yes, it was quite easy. (I was even able to pick up the lapsang souchong locally at the overpriced tea shop at the farmers market, which was certainly convenient.)

      I'll keep an eye out for the smoked stuff at local health food stores anyway, just to see if it's really available there. I appreciate any help you can provide on the SGV side.

      Mr Taster

    2. Mr. Taster, some of us, including Will47, have been cooking from "Every Grain of Rice" since June 2012. If you're interested here's the recipe reporting thread:

      3 Replies
      1. re: Gio

        As far as I know, Amazon just received their copies to sell, and when I called the Pasadena B&N brick-and-mortar, I was told they didn't have it scheduled to be released for a while yet. What am I missing here?

        Mr Taster

        1. re: Mr Taster

          We pre-ordered from Amazon UK. I received my copy the around the middle of June 2012.. So, If you read that thread you'll get a preview of what's in store for you. Although the recipes seem humble they produce a panoply of taste sensations. I Love This Book. In fact I love all her books.

          1. re: Mr Taster

            I managed to get an advance copy of the US edition, and the UK release was a while back also. But yes, it's just barely released in the US, in time for the Lunar New Year.