Bean Curd Beyond Tokwa’t Baboy

Like most Filipinos, my earliest encounter with bean curd was in Tokwa't Baboy, the quintessential accompaniment for Arroz Caldo (rice porridge with chicken) or Goto (rice porridge with beef tripe).

The crisp-skinned, deep-fried bean curd cubes provide the right contrast to the tender chunks of boiled pig's ears and snout. Both naturally bland, the main ingredients absorb the dressing of vinegar, soy sauce, crushed garlic, black pepper, sliced chili peppers and onions.

Each street vendor has his own recipe and style with Tokwa't Baboy. Some slice the bean curds into cubes before frying; others fry the bean curd in half-inch thick rectangles, which the customers themselves cut up into smaller pieces as they eat.

Tokwa't Baboy shows how picky and particular Filipinos are with sauces and seasonings. While most would simply pour the ready-made vinegar-garlic-toyo dressing to drown the mixed Tokwa't Baboy, a few use a separate bowl or saucer for the sauce and dip the individual pieces of pork and tokwa gingerly for a very light touch of seasoning. The most unusual was a man who stirred the Tokwa't Baboy, sauce and all, into the bowl of Goto and ate the mixture with mucho gusto.

THE RIGHT STUFF - The Tokwa't Baboy sauce is not so simple to make. As pointed out by Christopher Park, General Manager of the Manila Pavilion Hotel, only Filipino vinegar and soy sauce would do for either Tokwa't Baboy or Crispy Pata dip.

"Marca Piña or Silver Swan soy sauce provide the right color and saltiness, without the sweetness found in expensive Japanese soy sauce. Reserve the imported Kikkoman for Sushi and Sashimi," Park advises.

He should know; he has a tough food critic and mentor, his Pinay mother-in-law.

GRILLED, THEN FRIED TERIYAKI - In the mid-'70s, the Japanese grilling method Robatayaki was introduced to the Philippine dining scene by the Robata Restaurant across the Ermita Church and the US Embassy. With a space age infra-red grill right in front of the diners, Japanese chefs cooked salmon heads, tuna roe, sirloin strips, pork belly and an assortment of vegetables coated thickly with amber-hued miso paste.

My favorite was lightly pressed tofu, deep fried and slathered with Sweet teriyaki sauce, then deep fried with a sprinkling of black and white sesame seeds. The tofu, in inch-thick slabs, retained its juiciness inside the fried, then grilled, skin. Teriyaki sauce provided the rich flavor, while sesame seeds, popped by the heat, gave nutty nuances and crunch.

I have since copied Robatayaki Tofu at home, broiling the bean curd pieces over charcoal. After running out of bottled teriyaki sauce, we concocted our own sauce using beer, corn or maple syrup, soy sauce, brown sugar and a little vinegar. Once, I even added a bit of banana catsup for color and sweetness.

TOKWA/TAUSI WITH BANGUS - My grandma called this Taucho or Tocho, with or without the tokwa. Her version used preserved bean curd cakes, or tahure, bought in small cans or in Chinese clay jars. Real tahure is reddish and mushy, with the scent of aged cheese.

I am forced to cook with salted black beans (tausi) because they are more readily available everywhere. For reasons of hygiene I avoid the homemade tausi sold retail in public markets; I prefer to buy canned tausi, whether local or imported. Using only a couple of teaspoons each time, I keep the rest in a reusable container in the freezer.

This recipe is perfect for recycling leftover fried fish, although it is so good I often fry fish just to cook it this way.

Start by sautéing slivered ginger, sliced onions and crushed garlic. When they turn limp, add the rinsed tausi (or mashed tahure) and stir fry while crushing the beans with the back of the spatula or ladle. Stir in sliced ripe tomatoes and a cup or so of broth.

At this point, one can add fried eggplant slices, if desired, and fried tokwa cubes. Season to taste. Last to be added are the leftover (or freshly fried) fish. Cover and simmer a few minutes to let flavors mingle.

TOKWA'T BABOY STIR-FRY - Cook the recipe for Taucho or Tocho, but omit the eggplant and substitute cubes of boiled pig ears and snout for the fish. For deeper flavor, simmer 10 minutes or more after adding the pork.

If desired, the gravy may be thickened with cornstarch dissolved in water. It is traditional to sprinkle chopped Kinchay (Chinese parsley), Wansoy (fresh cilantro) and/or sliced green onions before serving. These herbs complement the flavor of salted beans and ginger.

GINISANG MONGO SA TOKWA - Cook the usual Ginisang Mongo (mung bean soup) but omit the ampalaya leaves. When done, stir in some fried tokwa cubes, cover and simmer for 5 minutes.

It may be necessary to add more broth and seasonings as the fried tokwa absorbs both liquid and seasonings. A great way to add protein to a dish without spending a fortune.

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