Anyone who's spent time in China has undoubtedly downed a fair bit of fanqie jidan (tomatoes with eggs). I've probably eaten thirty or more versions over the years (including one on Hainan in 1985 - the best fanqie jidan I've ever eaten, made with eggs from the chickens that scratched around in restaurant's front yard), and the dish never fails to amaze me with its basic goodness.
In China - or at least in the provinces in which I've eaten fanqie jidan - the dish is a stir-fry, beaten eggs gently folded into tomatoes softened by the wok's heat. In Taiwan - or at least at Patriot's House Little Eats in Hsinchu - it's more of a luscious, comforting soup-stew that also includes bean curd. It's a wee bit sweet, with a 'broth' so tomato-y it's almost a tomato jus.
I was so taken with Patriot House's fanqie jidan that I asked the owner, Mr. Zheng, to share his technique. He laughed.
"Tomatoes, eggs, tofu, sugar, salt. I put them in a pot and cook."
I found this difficult to digest. To produce a dish so delicious from such pedestrian ingredients surely Mr. Zheng must employ some special technique, some culinary voodoo, I thought. So I queried again the next day. He shook his head at me.
"I told you yesterday. Tomatoes, eggs, tofu, sugar, salt."
What could I say? I took Mr. Zheng at his word and, after we returned to KL, made his fanqie jidan for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, again and again. I was, I admit, a little obsessed. Now, I think I've gotten as close to Mr. Zheng's version (which is still superior) as I'm ever going to. My version's good, but I still think he's is holding out on me.
Mr. Zheng's Fanqie Jidan gen Dofu (Tomatoes and Eggs, With Bean Curd)
This recipe is a little loosey goosey. Amounts will vary depending on the juiciness of your tomatoes and the size of your eggs. Just keep in mind that the final result should be soupy, and the 'broth' bursting with tomato flavor. (Don't even bother with this recipe if you're not in the vicinity of really delicious fresh, height-of-the-season tomatoes.) And it should be a little sweet, so don't leave out the sugar - and add more if your tomatoes are particularly acidic. If you have access to fresh eggs and fresh, artisan bean curd, so much the better.
This dish makes for a nice light (summery) meal, accompanied by steamed rice and liangban huanggua, Chinese cucumber salad (recipe below). I could also see throwing in some cooked rice noodles and calling it a meal in a bowl.
about 2.5 pounds ripe, delicious tomatoes, roughly chopped (if you're in Malaysia, splurge on momotaro tomatoes)
5 eggs, beaten
2 blocks medium firm bean curd, drained and wrapped in a kitchen towel, then weighted for 30 mins - to squeeze out excess water - and cut into cubes
a few scallions, sliced crosswise
- Place about 2 pounds of the tomatoes in a saucepan and cook over medium heat until they release their juices and start to break down, about 5-10 minutes depending on the type of tomato.
- Turn the heat down to low and slowly pour the eggs in so that they form a cap on top of the tomato 'soup'. Let the eggs cook, without stirring, until firm, and then gently stir them into the tomatoes. You want to leave the eggs in large curds, so don't stir too much.
- Gently stir in the tofu and remaining tomatoes, along with 1/2 to 1 tsp sugar and salt to taste.
- Taste and add more sugar if needed - the 'stew' should have a sweet edge.
- Remove from the heat, cover the pan, and let the tomatoes and eggs sit for 10 minutes or so, then serve warm (but not steaming hot), sprinkled with scallions.
Liangban Huanggua (Chinese cucumber salad)
Another Chinese standard, cooked and eaten everywhere. It's done a bunch of ways, with chili oil and/or vinegar (white or black), sometimes soy sauce. I prefer it the way I was introduced to it in Sichuan, back in the mid-80s: plain and simple, the cucumbers front and center (I actually didn't know, until I lived in Sichuan, that cucumbers have a flavor!).. Excellent cucumbers (not big, tasteless, watery ones - maybe English or Armenian, or little pickling cucumbers) and good sesame oil make this dish sing. Adjust amounts to suit.
a couple cucumbers
chopped raw garlic (optional)
chopped cilantro leaves (optional)
- Do not peel the cucumbers, but wash them well to remove any dirt or wax from their skins. Chop them into rough, uneven, largish-bite-size chunks.
- Place the cucumber in a colander and sprinkle with salt, then rub the salt into the chunks. Leave aside for about 30 mins.
- Squeeze the water from the cucumber chunks and place them in a bowl. Add garlic, if using, and drizzle with a decent amount of sesame oil. Use your hands to mix the salad, lightly rubbing the sesame oil over the cucumber chunks.
- Serve sprinkled with chopped cilantro, if using. Serve room temperature or straight out of the fridge (you can make this a couple hours ahead of time).