Singapore Stories: Yong Tao Foo, Noodle Soup with All the Fixings You Want
This soup was my very first meal—my very first breakfast—upon arriving to Singapore. It was unlike anything I'd ever eaten, and after tasting it I knew immediately that my time spent here was going to be food-tastic. Even in the sweltering heat, I chow down on this hearty, hot soup as often as I can.
Yong Tao Foo (also spelled yong tau fu or yong tofu) is a Hakka Chinese soup dish. Yong tao foo means "stuffed bean curd" and refers to the numerous vegetables and tofu that are stuffed with a fish or meat paste.
Every food court has one of these stands, some offering a much wider selection of soup add-ins than others. The idea is simple: grab a bowl and a pair of tongs, and start selecting the items that you want to go into your soup. It's perfect for wary travelers because you'll feel like you're in total control of your dish.
There's a base price for the soup and an additional charge for each item. Most places require at least six items, which isn't hard to do. It's tempting to shove as much as you can into your bowl.
I usually go for the veggie and tofu items such as stuffed bitter gourd, stuffed chili, fried tofu, mushrooms, and cabbage. I pass up the mystery meats and cured squid option, and I always pop a hardboiled egg in my bowl if they have it.
Next, pick your noodles. There's usually a choice between thick yellow egg noodles, thick white rice noodles, and bee hoon, or thin rice vermicelli (my favorite). Unlike wimpy wheat pasta, these noodles stay firm to the bottom of the bowl.
Give your bowl to the nice auntie and she'll take it to the back, slice up your add-in selections into bite size pieces, cook them briefly in simmering water, and then give it back to you with your freshly cooked noodles and piping hot broth. You can also opt to eat it dry, where it's served with a sweet chili sauce, but I don't like this decidedly sweet variation—for me it's salt all the way.
For the broth, the classic option is a clear one, but I always go for the drop-dead rich (and quite unhealthy, I'd imagine) curry laksa. Bursting with coconut milk, spicy chili, and seafood flavor, this soup will keep you going all day long if you let it start your day. My yong tao foo came to $4 Singapore dollars (about $3.20 US). This is a total steal, especially when compared to a $1.50 glass of lime juice!
About the author: Yvonne Ruperti is a food writer, recipe developer, former bakery owner, and author of The Complete Idiot's Guide To Easy Artisan Bread. You can also watch her culinary stylings on the America's Test Kitchen television show. She presently lives in Singapore working on her new baking cookbook, and as a recipe developer for HungryGoWhere Singapore. Check out her blog, shophousecook.com, or follow her on Twitter @yvonneruperti.