Auntie Ruby's Hakka Yong Tau Foo (Part 3)

Monday, September 12, 2011

This is the last of the trilogy (ahem) on my Mum's Hakka Yong Tau Foo.

As you can read from earlier posts (here and here), this dish is actually very "individualistic" as each piece - may it be brinjal, okra or foo chook - though stuffed with the same paste, is cooked differently and carries it's own special flavours and texture. It is certainly not a melting pot.

This is what makes HYTF special. Adding pork and salted fish may make it Hakka but good YTF should not be a generic pool of something. Each piece should have its own flavour and unique preparation.

It is often said that HYTF is a lot of work. That is true. As someone said, "Great dishes are always made with love." It may not make commercial sense to put in this kind of effort, but hey, this blog is about good home-cooking. That said, if restaurants and hawkers work at preparing our local or ethnic food well - with passion - I don't see why it should not do well commercially.

Some of our local dishes deserve to be given it's proper attention and the traditional recipes observed. The only reason to change is if we use more convenient tools or techniques. Think of it this way: Cook for yourself. Others may be less discerning and will get by with half-hearted efforts. You remain faithful to the dish and some of your customers will appreciate it

And you do not need to throw health-caution to the wind to cook good HYTF. While HYTF is certainly "less healthy" than al dente versions, it need not be an oily dish either. Here is one myth of frying or cooking with oil which should be debunked: oiliness does not come from how much oil you cook your food in but how much oil you eat it with.

You should hear a sizzling sound and see bubbles.
The key is the technique in the frying. You may have heard of the phrase 'soaking in oil.' That happens when the oil is not hot enough or if you leave the food in oil for too long.

When the oil is hot enough, you hear a good sizzling sound. And you don't "see" sizzling but bubbles. That is air and water interacting with the hot oil. It forms a cushion around the piece resulting in minimal absorption of oil. Now, if you lower the flame to very low or leave the piece in there for too long, after the moisture has escaped, the vacuum created will suck in the oil. That is the "soaking in oil' effect. The same thing happens if you do not drain the fried food properly.

But how do you gauge how long to leave it in the oil? The purpose of frying is to crisp food (raison d'être of frying), especially the exterior, and yet ensuring it does not burn as you need to get the center cooked too. So the size matters. And if you use pan shallow-frying, keep turning the food at intervals as this ensures evenness in cooking of the entire piece. Once the sizzling slows down, it is a sign that the moisture has escaped and if you have done it right, it should have "crisped" by now. 

Another obvious technique is to drain the oil off the cooked pieces. In fact this may be the most important thing to do. It comes after frying and often, an "un-mise en place" cook will see that as an afterthought or neglect that altogether. When I fry the foo chook, I tilt the piece vertically to drain the oil.

Drain off the oil...
So in short:
  • keep the oil at its optimal heat
  • don't leave the pieces in the oil longer than necessary
  • drain the food after the fry.
Doubtless fried food is more oily than steamed ones, but some common sense can minimise the grease. Unless you are off fried foods completely, there is no reason why you cannot enjoy good HYTF occasionally, especially if it is done well (which includes keeping the oil at a minimal level).


Yellow soya beans, ginger and dried scallops
I move on from here to the HYTF soup, which is a superb dish on its own. Add yellow soy beans, the leftovers of the Batang fish (head and bones - clean off the inner parts in the head), dried scallops, pieces of ginger  some chicken stock (powder bouillon or liquid). Boil in 4 to 5 litres in water for about 45 minutes in low flame. Then add the YTF pieces, which should include the stuffed bitter-gourd and stuffed tofu. Briefly pan fry the stuffed bitter-gourd & tofu to seal the stuffing so that it will not fall off in the soup. After about 20 minutes more, the soup should be ready. If need be, adjust the taste i.e. add salt or water. This soup is great on its own or eaten with rice.

As for sauces, these should not be an afterthought. We are spoilt for choice, especially after we discovered Kwong Woh Hing. Ieat has written post here about their sauces. Their sesame paste and chili sesame paste sauces are superb. Only some hot water needs to be added to dilute the sauces.

They also sell some good chee cheong fun which you should order alongside.

Kwong Woh Hing
5 Defu Lane 9
Singapore 539247
Open 9am to 5pm daily
Saturdays 9am to 3pm
Closed on Sundays
Served here with Woh Hing's chili sesame paste sauce (bottom)
and the oyster flavored sweet sauce which I made.

You should still add a savoury-sweet sauce. Sweetened black bean sauce is traditionally used.

Alternatively, you can make an oyster flavored sauce:

3 tablespoon of oyster sauce (if you are using pure oyster sauce, 1 tsp will do)
1 glass of water
2 tsp of sugar
2 tsp of soy sauce

Just estimate. Heat it up in a small pot. Stir in corn starch slowly and whisk. As the sauce gets heated up, it will thickened. 


There you go: my Mum's Hakka Yong Tau Foo. I am sure more can be said to ensure this good traditional  recipe is passed on.

I have done my part.

Now do yours to ensure that we do not become contented with "easy" Yong Tau Foo.

At least, not all the time.

Part 1 - Part 2 - Recipe summary 

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  1. I live in the States and Canada for the last ten years. Really missed the Ampang YTF and I am so grateful for your recipes. Thanks for sharing your Mom's recipes and for making it look simple. Its the best! Will definitely bookmark your website.

  2. Thanks, Jules. Wish you all the best as you recreate this wonderful Malaysian dish from where you are.

  3. Hello! I was just wondering if I could prepare all the deep fried YTF ingredients a night before and then cook them in the soup the following day? Thanks!