Monday, May 10, 2010

Jade Tower ( 翡翠塔), or Tofu with Aster Indicus (香乾馬蘭頭)

This is one of our favourite appetizer dishes when we go to Shanghainese restaurants. I first discovered this dish of tofu and spinach while dining at Top Shanghai, in Richmond, quite some time ago. It doesn't seem like much, but this is a combination that works.

One day, I was browsing through Pei Mei's cookbooks and chanced across something called Jade Tower 翡翠塔. Reading through the recipe and looking at the picture, it seems that this is the dish we had. I kept this information for future reference.

about Fu Pei Mei

Pei Mei cookbooks

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, we were dining at Suhang restaurant and wanted to order "Jade Tower." We peered long and hard at Suhang's menu, looking carefully through the English names and muddling through the Chinese, but we could not find this dish.

urbanspoon: Suhang Restaurant

Thankfully, our mother is a regular at Suhang and our server knows that she always orders this dish. Our server thus pointed us to the right item on the menu. The name of this dish on Suhang's menu is totally different from "Jade Tower."

For future reference, Pei Mei's "Jade Tower" is called 香乾馬蘭頭, translated as "Marinated Tofu with Special Vegetables", in Suhang's menu.

(Just a note, 香乾 (xiang gan) literally means "fragrant dry". It's the term used for marinated firm tofu.)

How can a dish have two completely different, unrelated names?

I told TS in a confident tone of voice that it could be that "Jade Tower" is simply the poetic name of the dish.

It sounds plausible enough, doesn't it? Given that I saw the dish in the banquet section of Pei Mei's book, I convinced myself that I was of course right.

It turns out that 馬蘭頭 (malantou) is indeed a "special vegetable."

Googling madly to find the origin of the name -- because I suspected that JS was simply making up answers like she sometimes does -- it turns out that malantou is a plant/vegetable called "Aster indicus," which grows wild in certain parts of China.

Further googling couldn't help me find out more about "Aster indicus." I merely discovered that it's also called boltonia or Kalimeris indicus. The plot thickens.

I still don't know the exact relationship between "jade tower" and "tofu with Aster indicus", but I have to accept that.

In any case, getting to the bottom of the names of this dish took up a lot more time than actually making this dish!

It's simply a matter of mixing together finely chopped cooked greens and finely chopped firm tofu. A little salt (perhaps sugar) and sesame oil, and that's it.

If this looks familiar, why yes, we did something similar with celery before (Fragrant Celery and Tofu Salad).

Obviously, they don't taste quite the same, one being made from celery while this one with spinach. Also, the recipe called for also simmering the firm tofu for about a minute or so. This resulted in the tofu having a "spongier" texture.

If anyone can find this elusive Aster indicus plant, then by all means, use it. Then you can say your dish is tofu with Aster indicus 香乾馬蘭頭, as opposed to simply being a generic "jade tower."

I have copied the recipe for Jade Tower from Pei Mei's book below. There are also links to others' versions of this tofu and Kalimeris Indica/Boltonia dish.

eatingclub JiangZhe dishes
Jade Tower ( 翡翠塔), or Tofu with Aster Indicus (香乾馬蘭頭)
Wuxi Pork Spareribs (無錫排骨)
"Little Cubby Heads", Lion's Head Meatballs (小獅子頭)
Supreme Lion's Head Meatballs with Crabmeat (清燉蟹粉獅子頭)
Suzhou Deep-fried Fish, or Suzhou Smoked Fish (蘇州燻魚)

Jade Tower (翡翠塔)
from Pei Mei's Chinese Cook Book Volume III

400g spinach (or other kind of green vegetable)
150g dried tofu

1/3 teaspoon salt
1/6 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon sesame oil

Trim spinach, blanch and drain quickly. Rinse with cold water, squeeze dry, and chop finely.

Boil dried tofu over low heat for 1 minute. Drain and chop finely once cool to the touch.

Place spinach and dried tofu in a bowl; mix with seasonings. You may use a mold to shape the mixture into a tower; it'll look prettier.

Life is Beautiful!: Kalimeris Indica and Tofu Salad
FoodNo.1: Tossed Dried Beancurd With Boltonia

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  1. Jade tower just sounds so lovely and romantic! What a beautiful presentation!

  2. Huh! Curious about this green. I guess one could make it with tofu and spinach, but I still wonder what aster indicus tastes like?

  3. Hah, I can't add anything of use, sorry. But I will say the tower looks very impressive (no matter what its actual height.)

  4. I prefer Jade Tower - it's much more majestic sounding. And that tower is nothing if not majestic. Nicely done!

  5. Interesting dish, when I first saw the picture I thought it was some sort of cheese ball ;)

  6. This is one of my favorite cold dishes at Shanghaiese restaurants : ) I miss this! Lovely presentation you have there.

  7. Jade Tower: what a magnificent title! Love the simplicity and elegance of this dish!

  8. wow it looks really impressive.

  9. I've never tried this dish before - love how it looks though! Top Shanghai is yummy.

  10. Melody:
    Thanks! =)

    Wandering Chopsticks:
    I know! It doesn't seem to have a common name... unless it does and I just can't find it out.

    Oh, haha. It's actually very, very short. Teehee.


    Haha. Although, I guess that's not sounding bad at all: cheese ball with spinach.


    I think I've been to Top Shanghai once or twice.


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