Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Luo Han Group Vegetarian Health Food

My very first impression of yong tau fu was tofu or tau pok stuffed with fishball-like thing. As a child whose vocabulary was still under construction, I did not know those stuffings had a proper name called fish paste. Anyway that is the most common form of yong tau fu found in Singapore. For almost three decades, I thought that was what yong tau fu was all about. Somewhere during my growing up years, my Hakka mother suddenly suggested making yong tau fu for dinner. Instead of fish paste, she stuffed the tofu and tau poks with minced pork. Then she pan-fried the yong tau fu quickly before steaming them. The end-product was surprisingly good, so I did not question the difference. I called it "Mum's Yong Tau Fu".

Recently, I came across a dish called "Thunder Tea Rice" at the food court. Out of curiosity, I googled it and landed on a page about Hakka cuisines. On the same page, I was hit with two revelations. One, yong tau fu is a Hakka dish. Two, the original version is stuffed with pork fillings. It is believed that the fish paste variety was invented by the Malaysians to cater to the predominantly Muslim market, since pork is not halal. Moreover, fish paste is relatively easier to handle than minced pork. In my not so humble opinion, the latter is more applicable to Singapore, where convenience is preferred. Under the hands of commercialization, the items used to contain the stuffings go beyond tofu and tau pok, which include chilli, okra and bitter gourd. In addition, there are myriad of ways to enjoy these stuffed goodies. One can have them boiled with clear soup or rich broth (Laksa is one common example). Alternatively, they can be blanched and then drenched with sweet sauce, aka dry yong tau fu. Then add a carbohydrate item like noodles, bee hoon, or simply white rice, and a complete meal is created. I have yet to see a local dish that flexible, that's why I love it to death.

Since vegetarians have a more restricted diet than the Muslims, they can't even enjoy the fish paste yong tau fu. Vendors of vegetarian cuisines have to bring the modification of this dish to another level by using "mock meat / fish paste" as stuffings. To emulate the stuffings, textured vegetable protein and konnyaku (Needs confirmation) can be used for minced pork and fish paste respectively. Preparation of the stuffed items is a laborious task. Even if the vendor decides to buy the yong tau fu directly from suppliers, substantial space is required to display them. I speculate that these are the reasons why only larger vegetarian eateries, for example Luo Han Group Vegetarian Health Food, are more likely to offer this dish on their menu. Situated stragically beside the back door of Fortune Centre, one can see Luo Han immediately if he/she alights at the bus-stop along Bencoolen Street, which happenes to be a busy one. With the presence of the very famous Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple to fuel its business, Luo Han manages to coexist with the numerous vegetarian eateries found in the same building. Yours truly would like to find out if its brisk business has got more to do with being at the right place at the right time and meeting the right crowd. Since it sells yong tau fu, that is naturally my choice of food for a start.

The Food

I am not a yong tau fu connossiuer, hence I cannot verify the authenticity of this dish. However I do have my personal set of criteria to judge it. First of all, I prefer eateries where I get to choose my ingredients. Most eateries meet this criteria but once in a while, I encounter a random stall or two that don't. The next thing that I look out for would be the variety of ingredients to choose from, basically the more the better. Since I don't really like deep fried food, I shun places which offered too much of ready fried items versus fresh items. A couple of novelty ingredients would score more points with me. Luo Han more or less met the more important criteria for me to even consider ordering its yong tau fu. What attracted me most were the red and yellow bell peppers. Most yong tau fu eateries only offer the green variety, while the red one is seen occcasionally and the yellow is almost unheard of, therefore I consider them the more "novelty" items. Although Luo Han did not specifically state if they were selling Hakka yong tau fu or the normal ones, the appearance of the stuffings on the bell peppers, which resembled minced pork, indicated to me that they were the original Hakka version.

Yong Tau Fu (7 Items + Plain Porridge), S$ 3.90

Apart from the red and yellow bell peppers, the other ingredients that eventually landed in my bowl were water spinach, okra, cauliflower and two black Chinese mushrooms. One of my health beliefs is one should try to consume food from a diversity of colors, so as to get the various types of phytonutrients. Besides, the array of colors would make my photo prettier. During the ordering process, I requested not to fry the the ingredients, which was typical of Hakka yong tau fu. So if you are counting your calories or you simply have a bizarre aversion to fried food like me, do remind the vendors before they start cooking. I also noticed that plain porridge was available in their economic rice section, so I asked if I could serve my yong tau fu with that. They allowed it, but at a higher cost. Anyway, their willingness to take on unorthodox orders still deserved some commendations. Afterall, conventional yong tau stalls hardly offered plain porridge as a choice of carb item.

The food did not take long to arrive. As always I started with the soup. In the case of yong tau fu soup, the broth played an important role of influencing the taste of the ingredients. Like most vegetarian yong tau fu, the soup here had a clear and almost oil free taste. This was the reason why I hardly patronized non-vegetarian yong tau fu stalls these days, whom in general failed to achieve this feat. In addition, the soup was infused with the flavor of the ingredients, and that set it apart from its competitors. I also appreciated the fact that the amount of pepper added was appropriate such that it enhanced the taste of the soup, not overpowered it. With an above average soup base, I was assured that this dish would most probably turned out well. And boy I was mostly right. The vegetables were well cooked in general, soft but not mushy. As expected of the two bell peppers, they were sweeter than their green cousin. I especially like the black mushrooms, which were particularly tender and chewy. Although most of the stuffings had fallen off, I wasn't complaining since the items that contained them tasted good enough on their own. Speaking of the stuffings, I would like to think that it was made in house using soy protein, with carrots and flavored seaweed added. At least that was what I gathered based on my sense of sight and taste. I enjoyed the taste, which had a slight hint of sweetness. Unfortunately the meat was soggy and not whole the way my mother made in her meat version. However I won't fault them in this case as I was the one who requested not to fry the items. Besides the way the mock minced pork distintegrated and melted in my mouth actually grew on me.

After a thorough assessment of the protagonist, lets moved on to the supporting guy, the plain porridge. It was a little cold, not surprising since it was left out there in the open. Nonetheless, I still enjoyed the melt-in-your-mouth sensation created by the broken rice grains.

I was pleased with the dish in general and until I found something more superior, I considered this the best vegetarian yong tau fu I had tasted. And if you ordered the normal way, the price was actually quite cheap, considering that you dined in an air-conditioned environment.


My colleague once remarked that to know if the food from so-and-so stall was delicious, just looked at the queue. How right he was. I was glad I went early that day to do my review because after I finished my food, the crowd started pouring in.

In fact, Luo Han has been reviewed by other vegetarian bloggers and received excellent feedbacks in general. I totally agree with them. If you are a vegetarian who like yong tau fu, do give theirs a try.

Address:190 Middle Rd, Fortune Centre #01-13/14
Opening Hours:-
Bus Service:56, 64, 65, 131, 131A, 139, 147, 147A, 166
MRT Station:Bugis


  1. COOL! To see another Food Blogger :)
    Great and post more.

  2. Thanks for your comment.

    I enjoy your blog a lot. I'm always looking forward to something new from you.