Just out of university, I had recently moved into my first apartment, when my neighbour knocked on the door.
“Would you like to come over for dinner?” he asked. “I’ve got bean curd sheets.”
Puzzled, I stammered, “Bean curd sheets?”
Maybe you already guessed that the single man on my doorstep was not suggesting a romp in the tofu. But my 21-year-old self was not yet intimate with Asian food. And I wasn’t sure if he was proposing a meal or something more, well, intimate.
What are Bean Curd Sheets?
Dried bean curd sheets (Photo: Carolyn B. Heller)
Often called tofu sheets, bean curd skins, or tofu skins, bean curd sheets are a byproduct of the tofu-making process. They’re used in Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, and other Asian cuisines.
When you heat soy milk, a thin film forms on top. That film is removed and hung up or laid out on mats to dry. The result is a brittle dried bean curd “sheet,” about the size of a standard piece of paper.
To cook with this bean curd product, you soak it briefly to soften it. Depending on how soft or firm it is, it can resemble noodles or even fresh mozzarella cheese.
Tofu skin-wrapped mushrooms with vegetables at Hoi Tong Seafood (Photo: Chinese Restaurant Awards)
Across Richmond, you can find bean curd sheets in many Chinese restaurants, particularly in vegetarian dishes.
At dim sum, a common menu item is a bean curd sheet roll stuffed with mushrooms. It’s often fried, so the exterior is both crunchy and chewy, with earthy sautéed mushrooms rolled up inside. Hoi Tong Chinese Seafood Restaurant (8191 Westminster Highway) makes a version of this dish, “tofu skin-wrapped mushrooms with vegetables,” (pictured above) that won a 2016 Critics’ Choice award in the region’s annual Chinese Restaurant Awards.
Have you ever seen “vegetarian goose” on Chinese restaurant menus? It’s a similar vegetarian dish made of bean curd sheets stuffed with vegetables. When the golden tofu skins are rolled and arranged on a plate, they can resemble roast poultry. Vegetarian goose is on the menu at Fisherman’s Terrace in Aberdeen Centre.
Pea tips with bean curd skin and gingko nut at Fisherman’s Terrace (Photo: Lindsay Anderson)
Bean curd sheets can be combined with green vegetables, too, as in the “pea tips with bean curd skin and gingko nut” dish at Fisherman’s Terrace.
Kongee Dynasty serves a similar dish, “gingko nuts and bean curd sheets with baby bok choy,” with bok choy rather than peatips. You can order it to accompany their numerous varieties of creamy congee (rice porridge).
Bean curd sheets with soybeans and pickled vegetable at Top Shanghai (Photo: Carolyn B. Heller)
A popular Shanghai-style dish is a stir-fry of bean curd sheets, cut to resemble thick noodles, and tossed with bright green soybeans (edamame) and a tangy pickled vegetable. Top Shanghai on Ackroyd Road is one of the Richmond restaurants that makes this hearty vegetarian dish.
Deep-fried bean curd rolls with shrimp at Good Eat Seafood (Photo: Lindsay Anderson)
Sometimes, shrimp are rolled inside the bean curd sheets, as in the crunchy deep-fried bean curd rolls with shrimp at Good Eat Seafood.
Fish soup with bean curd sheets at Deer Garden Signatures (Photo: Carolyn B. Heller)
Bean curd sheets also add a creamy, almost melted-cheese texture to the fish soups served at Deer Garden Signatures.
Getting Creative with Bean Curd Sheets
Bean curd roll stuffed with basil at Spicy Vegetarian Cuisine (Photo: Carolyn B. Heller)
In a strip mall on Number 3 Road near Aberdeen Station, Spicy Vegetarian Cuisine serves one of Richmond’s most imaginative bean curd sheet dishes.
In their “bean curd roll stuffed with basil,” tofu skin is wrapped around fresh basil leaves and delicately fried. It’s sprinkled with pine nuts and served with mixed salad greens, decorated with slivers of oranges.
Between the Bean Curd Sheets
On that evening many years ago, I did have dinner with my new next-door neighbour. He made a simple stir-fry of mixed vegetables tossed with noodle-like bean curd sheets, and nothing unsavory happened. After I learned that he’d grown up eating in New York’s Chinatown, he became not only a good friend but also my guide as I learned about various types of Asian food.
Then one day, my neighbour knocked on my door again.
“Duck tongues?” he asked.
But that’s another story.