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Tofu with Thousand Year Old Egg

January 21, 2011

Food is sometimes lost in translation. What do I mean by that? Well, take this classic Chinese salad,* pi dan dou fu. The name seems straight-forward enough, but when translated into “Tofu with Thousand-Year-Old Egg,” it sounds even more suspicious.

It’s not just the name that gives this dish a bad rep, but what it contains. Probably one of the simplest possible appetizers to make, the only ingredients are silken tofu, thousand-year-old egg (more on that in a minute), and either salt or soy sauce. Sesame oil, scallions, cilantro, chilis… all of these are optional, although they help.

The tofu has to be silken because this dish is ultimately a texture food, and it’s the contrast between the chewy, translucent egg whites and the tofu, which dissolves on your tongue, that makes it fun to eat. Still, I can’t promise that anybody will like it, and yet, I’m still posting the recipe in the hopes that you give it a try.

Tofu seems innocent enough; it’s the eggs that scare us off. To summarize, thousand year old eggs, or “century eggs,” are actually duck eggs that have been preserved in essentially lye, or an extremely basic solution that increases the pH of the egg and changes the yolks to a dark green color. The name, of course, is an exaggeration, but the eggs do have a strong, sulfurous smell that makes it unlikely that you would ever eat them straight up.

Like other strongly flavored foods– think anchovies, bleu cheese, etc., they’re more of a flavoring agent than anything else. Very typical is congee (or zhou) flavored with nothing but lean pork and chopped century egg. Sounds disgusting, but it’s an umami explosion.

Similarly, you can actually get by with not eating the century egg in this tofu dish, if you feel so inclined. I generally avoid the yolks, just because the tofu absorbs so much of the eggs’ salinity on its own.

I guarantee you won’t have tried this flavor combination before, and it’s strongly encouraged. The eggs require no refrigeration and this is a completely no-cook recipe.

Good luck.

*For other lesser-known Chinese cold appetizers, check out these posts:

Black Noodles

The Ultimate List of Cheap and Healthy Beijing Food

Tofu with Thousand Year Old Egg

(Serves 3 as an appetizer)


  • 1 block of silken tofu, drained and sliced into medium-sized cubes (be careful not to smoosh it)
  • 2 thousand year old eggs, peeled and diced
  • 1 TBSP soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 2-3 stalks scallions, chopped
  • Optional chili flakes or chili oil


  • Put the chopped tofu in a bowl.
  • Sprinkle with the duck egg.
  • Drizzle with soy sauce. Ideally let sit for a few minutes so the flavors absorb.
  • Add sesame oil, scallions, and hot pepper flakes.
  • Adjust seasonings to taste. You can also add cilantro, but the flavor will be much stronger.
  • Serve with contrasting hot dishes, like stir-fried napa cabbage and soy sauce chicken, plus rice.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Neo permalink
    January 22, 2011 12:34 am

    I had some century egg for the first time this winter and it was pretty darn good.


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