This spicy cold tofu recipe requires no cooking and less than 10 ingredients. It’s a super tasty dish to add to any Chinese spread (or have as a quick meal on its own).
Due to its no-cook nature, this recipe really shines during the warmer months, but you can enjoy it any time of year. Traditionally, you’ll find thousand-year-old eggs, also known as century eggs, in the dish, but they’re an optional ingredient if you don’t like them, can’t find them, or would rather keep the recipe vegan!
Note: This post was originally published in April 2014. We’ve since updated it with clearer instructions, new photos, nutrition information, and more thoughts on this dish! The recipe has not changed. Enjoy!
Growing Up With “Weird Food”
Throughout the first half of my childhood, I grew up in a diverse neighborhood.
For a couple summers, my sister and I would go to my friend Reema’s house every day while my parents were at work. At lunchtime, her mom would lay newspapers on the floor of the living room, where we ate hummus, stuffed grape leaves, pickled peppers, fried potatoes, and tabbouleh.
After lunch, her father and uncle would sit in the garage with their hookahs while we ran off to her dad’s Krauszer’s (a convenience store) to grab a free choco taco or oatmeal cream pie. Good times.
We moved to a different town just before I entered the eight grade—a town where the teachers kept calling me Jennifer or Evaline (the only two other Asian 13-year-old girls within a twenty mile radius), and where, the first time I had dinner at a new friend’s house, I had a slice of cheese pizza, milk, and a Centrum vitamin for dinner.
I’m not sure if it was the Centrum that did it, or maybe that tall glass of whole milk, but I was suddenly torn between loving all the home-cooked dishes my parents prepared (they were certainly better than a side dish of chalky vitamins), and a My-Big-Fat-Greek-Wedding sort of anxiety about them.
(Not to mention anxiety over the time my grandpa went to the local sit-down pizza place with us, grabbed a butter knife and a slice of white broccoli, and started shoveling cheese into his mouth with the butter knife like it was a pair of chopsticks and he was eating a bowl of rice. People stared. I died).
In that first year, when I was in I’m-the-new-kid-please-like-me mode, I was insecure—dare I say, embarrassed?—about the food that was being prepared daily for dinner at our house. No more tabbouleh at Reema’s!
Friends would come over, and I would feel the need to request spaghetti or lasagna—anything but the tofu, stir-fries, and steamed fish that showed up nightly on our table.
I was Toula, eating moose caca while all the other blonde, delicate girls had wonder bread.
For the record, moussaka is delicious. Obviously.
I have particularly vivid memories about this spicy cold tofu dish (with thousand year old egg included), 13-year-old-me thinking—oh my god people probably think we’re so weird.
It wasn’t until I got to high school and realized that my antisocial tendencies would probably prevent anyone from discovering we were tofu-eating weirdos anyway that I calmed down about the whole thing.
And then in college, I had a Korean roommate, and she’d bring Korean blood sausage, kimchi, and pig’s feet from home. This pretty much kicked the insecurity for good.
I started making this dish a lot in my dorm room, because it doesn’t require any cooking. I’d just take the necessary ingredients out of the mini fridge, steal some scallions and garlic from the dining center, and keep tofu in the fridge.
My roommate and I would steam some rice and eat this while watching Disney movies on VHS. And it wasn’t weird at all.
About Those Optional Thousand-Year-Old-Eggs…
Yes, they’re optional. But highly recommended! Without them, this dish is known simply as 凉拌豆腐 (liángbàn dòufu), or “cold-tossed tofu.” With them, the dish is called 皮蛋豆腐 (pídàn dòufu), or “century egg tofu.”
While we originally published photos of the recipes without the eggs, we recently re-photographed it to include them because the eggs make the dish super delicious!
Century eggs, or thousand-year-old-eggs, aren’t actually that old. They are preserved in a mixture of clay, ash, and salt for several weeks or months until the egg white turns a dark brown (almost black) color, and the yolk turns a greenish-gray, with a super creamy texture.
Now, I’ve seen these eggs on Fear Factor. I get it. It doesn’t sound like the most appetizing thing ever.
(Side note: my mom was in the room when I watched said episode of Fear Factor. As she watched the contestants’ eyes watering and gag reflexes triggering, she said, “I could win the $50,000! Just give me some soy sauce!”)
That said, this recipe is the perfect gateway to the century egg. It tastes like…well, egg. But with more egg flavor! What’s really special though, is the texture of the creamy yolk, and the almost bouncy texture of the white (which is now uh, brown). There is a slight, shall we say, ripeness, to its flavor as well. Almost like that hint of ammonia you get with a soft cheese like brie.
It’s really delicious with the mild tofu, and the spicy flavors of the sauce bring everything together.
If all this is sounding intimidating or not like your cup of tea, ignore me and make the recipe with just the tofu. It’ll be delicious. But if you’re game to try anything once, give pídàn dòufu a chance. You could even start with just one egg (we used two) to ease into it.
The best way to cut a century egg
So the aforementioned creamy yolk can make slicing these eggs difficult. It’s almost like slicing a cake—you get frosting all over your knife, and making repeated clean cuts can get difficult!
The best way to slice a century egg is with clean cotton thread, or with unwaxed dental floss! See?
Okay, ready to transform a humble block of coagulated soy milk into something amazing? Let’s do it.
Put the soy sauce, spicy bean paste (douban jiang), sesame oil, and sugar in a small bowl. Add half the garlic and half the scallions. Mix it all together.
Carefully remove the silken tofu from the package. First, slice the plastic around the block of tofu, and then use a paring knife to separate the tofu from the sides of the box. Then turn it over onto the serving bowl.
Slice the silken tofu crosswise into 1/2 inch (1.2 cm) thick slices
If using, lay the sliced century eggs (cut them lengthwise into sixths or eighths) around the tofu. You can go egg-in or egg-out with this, your choice!
Drizzle the sauce over the tofu, and garnish with the rest of the garlic and scallion on top.
You can also garnish with a bit of chopped Thai basil and/or chopped cilantro if desired. We really like the flavor that cilantro adds to this dish.
Mix it all up at the table, and enjoy! Serve this spicy cold tofu as an appetizer, side dish, or as a main dish with a bowl of hot rice!
Spicy Cold Tofu (Liangban Dofu)
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon spicy bean paste
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- 2 cloves garlic (minced)
- 2 tablespoons scallion (chopped)
- 1 pound silken tofu (or soft tofu)
- 1-2 century eggs (also known as thousand-year-old eggs; peeled and cut into small wedges, optional)
- 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro (and/or Thai basil, optional)
- Put the soy sauce, bean paste, sesame oil, and sugar in a small bowl. Add half the garlic and half the scallions. Mix it all together.
- Carefully remove the silken tofu from the package. First, slice the plastic around the block of tofu, and then use a paring knife to separate the tofu from the sides of the box. Then turn it over onto the serving bowl. Slice the tofu crosswise into 1/2 inch (1.2cm) thick slices. If using, arrange the pieces of century egg around the tofu.
- Drizzle the sauce over the tofu, and garnish with the rest of the garlic and scallion on top. You can also garnish with a bit of chopped cilantro and/or Thai basil. Stir everything together at the table, and enjoy!