Soybean paste is definitely one of those things have a sentimental attachment for Northeast people. Soy beans natively grow in the North Eastern provinces of China, thanks to their rich soil.
This kind of paste is called jiang in Chinese, soybean paste is called huang jiang or “da jiang” from the word “huang dou/da dou” (as soybeans ). It is one of those foods made from soybeans .
Chinese soy bean paste
If you are used to Western food, you might be very… surprised (?) by its form and colour, might not want to try it ever. :) But after trying it in the dishes, you will know what I mean. (All the recipes with soybean paste will be in forthcoming posts).
Well, actually, there is nothing very special about the soybean paste, it is fermented bean paste, tastes salty with strong soy taste. But, it plays a “big” role in daily food.
In the past, almost every household would start making it at home just before summer. Although all of the methods of making it are very similar, different people created greatly different varieties. For example, both of my grandmas used to make it, the paste they made was equally tasty, but quite different.
I have no memories of how they made it from scratch, but I do remember in the hot summer days, it was very stinky under the layers of wraps. After weeks of fermentation, they would slow boil them for hours — that was the magic moment — all the stinky smell disappeared, instead, the house was full of fragrance smell, which made me feel like wanting to dance in the air. Then on the dining table, my grandma would take out a small bowl of it and place next to the other dishes, and we used the tips of the chopsticks dipping in (otherwise it could be too strong), then put into the mouth — heaven…:))
There are no particular nutrients in the paste, rather, adding a strong taste to your meal. It normally can be eaten on its own, or (we call it) “Zha”, more like ‘re-making’ it in the wok with oil, eggs (for example), meat or vegetables and other seasonings. It can be a great dip for raw leaves, radish, cucumber, dried bean curd sheet… ; or with mix with Chinese noodles as “Zha jiang mian” ; or use as cooking sauce/media.
Types of Soy Bean Paste
Nowadays, very few people make soy bean paste at home anymore, as there are many varieties on the market.
Commonly three types of soybean paste are often used in daily food, ‘da jiang’ — the traditional type of paste, yellow colour, very thick, better to be ‘re-cooked’ with ingredients and seasoning, as it comes quite dry and strong; ‘Dou ban jiang’ — it is very similar to ‘da jiang’, but with darker colour, and have actual soy beans inside, (which I love to ‘bite’, :)) it can be eating just like what it is, can also be ‘re-cooked’; ‘Tian mian jiang’ — translated as ‘sweet ‘mashy’ paste, but on some packages which are imported to England, it says as ‘Hoisin sauce’, but real Hoisin sauce is from Cantonese cuisine, so you can imagine the actual differences. It can be eaten alone, but mostly is cooked with vegetables or meat.
I grew up with a small bowl of soybean paste on the table all the time, so a few years back, when there was no where in England I could get it, I really suffered “foodsickness” badly. Every time I went back home, I would buy packs of them and bring back. This is one of my most embarrassing experiences – because packs of them can be heavy in my luggage, so I put some in the big pockets of my winter coat.
At Beijing airport, when I was passing security doors, I was stopped for searching, and asked to take everything out of the pockets — a pack of soybean paste, then another pack of the paste, and another one… I blushed, and could almost see the person who was scanning me was trying so hard to hold his laugh. I just had to say, ‘I am going away for another year, and there is nowhere I could get it in England.’ Ha…. After putting everything back to my pockets, I walked away as quickly as I could and hoped that he would never remember me.
But now, in some Chinese supermarkets here, you can buy this typical soybean paste from Northeast. Phew… I never had to go through same embarrassment again, well, with the regulation now, I will never be able to bring it back anyway.
So, my taste of home continues on a different land…