Text and Images by Joanna Yeo @ Makansutra.
Fu yu (foreground) and Nam yu (background)
Some nickname it ‘Chinese cheese’ or ‘tofu cheese’. But unlike the western kind of cheese, Nam yu and Fu yu are made from fermented soya beancurd. It has that somewhat similar salty, earthy, creamy, smoky and smooth sensation as blue cheese, but less stinky. So, just what is the difference between the two most famous “Chinese cheese”, namyu and fuyu.
Although both are made with fermented beancurd, these two have striking differences that sets them apart from the very ingredients used to make them right up to their final packaging and uses.
Judging by its appearance alone, some might be skeptical and even put off by nam yu’s red tofu chunks soaked in a jar of intense blood-red coloured brine. On the other hand, fu yu’s tofu cubes are of a less intimidating off-white colour and kept in a yellowish, slightly cloudy brine solution.
The fermentation process for both are pretty similar, says Chef Lap Fai from Hua Ting Restaurant. The main difference between these two lies in the ingredients used. Apart from the main ingredients of yellow soya beans, salt and rice wine, Nam yu also uses red rice wine less and other spices while Fu Yu has the extra addition of sesame oil and chilli. The distinctive red colour of Nam Yu is a result of staining from the red lees, he adds, and that the original version of nam yu does not use chilli. However, there have been spicy varieties in the market to cater to a wider palate.
Although it is dubbed as “Chinese cheese”, both Nam Yu and Fu Yu does not exactly taste like cheese. It is brinier and Namyu has a more ‘nong’ or more intense flavour when compared with Fu yu.
Chef Lap Fai reveals that because of Nam Yu’s intensity in flavour, it is mostly used by the Cantonese for braising meats that have a stronger stench (e.g. pork and mutton) to help mask the smell. He adds that the strong flavour from both the meat and Nam Yu will help to bring a balance, coalescing in a “third” resultant flavour. Dishes of this include lo kai yik ( a mix meat, offal and vegetable stew) and braised or fried spare ribs.
The lighter tasting fu yu is often used as a condiment that is eaten with porridge by the Teochews. Chef Danny Sim from Asia Grand Restaurant adds that some people will also have it with a little sugar sprinkled into Fu Yu. But apart from eating on its own, it is also used for stir-frying kangkong and lettuce.
Fu yu and nam yu can are sold in most supermarkets and mini marts where they are stored in glass jars (fu yu) and earthenware (nam yu). As compared to fu yu, nam yu may not be as easily available. This could be due to a lesser demand for nam yu as most households do not cook with that level of briny intensity. Nam yu is mostly used by Cantonese restaurants and less so in households.
Do you have any interesting recipes that use nam yu or fu yu? Tell us.