Vietnamese Silken Tofu in Ginger Syrup Dessert (Tau Hu Nuoc Duong)
A Saigon street vendor who’s been perfecting tofu pudding for 30 years has an icing on the cake – tapioca pearls.
There are many ways this Saigon street vendor stands out from the crowd.
The dish she sells for just VND6,000 (26 cents) a bowl is made with Cambodian soybeans which she says is cheaper than Vietnamese soybeans but more expensive than ones that contain GMOs.
Besides Cambodian soybeans, she also uses white soybeans and black beans from the Central Highlands town of Da Lat, she said.
GMO beans are the cheapest in the market right now, but the vendor does not use them.
The tofu pudding that the vendor sells is a very popular street treat for Vietnamese people, especially for Saigonese who find a bowl of tofu pudding a fine idea on a typical hot day.
A Vietnamese gourmet would know not to order ice with this dish, because it will make the sweetness bland and the creaminess loosen.
Tofu pudding in ginger syrup was introduced by the Chinese diaspora in southern Vietnam.
Soy milk is thoroughly filtered and boiled with a tad of gypsum powder for the milk to coagulate. It is served with the syrup and ginger slices on the side.
Her stall has many regular customers lured by the silken texture, refined ginger syrup and the special touch – tapioca pearls.The woman, who does not want to be named, sets up her little stall right next to Xa Tay Market’s gate in District 5, HCMC, in the part known as Cho Lon, or the big Chinatown.
The woman is a native of the central Quang Ngai Province, 750 north of HCMC. She has been living in Saigon for more than 30 years.
She learnt to make tofu pudding from an old Chinese man she knew. After many years working here and there in Cho Lon, she decided to settle next to Xa Tay Market. She only goes home when she has no pudding left to serve.
While this trade doesn’t earn much, she is able to send some money to her husband, primary caregiver of her children in Quang Ngai.
The Quang Ngai woman stresses her dish is good because she puts her heart into it, in selecting non-genetically modified soybeans, in how she carefully filters the soy milk so as to ensure its smoothness and whiteness.
If the color of the pudding is somewhat brownish, it’s because the milk was not filtered well, she says. A careful filtering process requires more milk than usual, but the end result is worth it.
The original recipe of the syrup only has syrup and ginger, but she experimented with the idea of tapioca pearls, which turned out to be popular among many customers. She kneads tapioca flour with a little warm water until the mixture is smooth, makes tiny balls and drops them in a pot of boiling water. When they float to the surface, they are done.
The pearls are immersed in the ginger syrup and pineapple leaves added to the mixture.
“A lot of people are addicted to my pudding because of these chewy, tasty pearls I make,” she said.
The syrup is also 100 percent natural, made with cane sugar and ginger, giving it an appetizing fragrance.
Each slice of pudding is taken using a small and thin aluminum ladle. Layer after layer is placed in a bowl, which is then followed by syrup and pearls on top. Some like a little coconut water with it, but most prefer it without.
The dish is served warm, but every bite sends coolness down one’s throat on a hot day. A bowl of her warm pudding doesn’t lose its appeal when the weather is colder
The woman also sells other typical Vietnamese desserts like the sweet soup, che, but her signature dish is the tofu pudding.