There are many ingredients used in Nyonya recipes–some common while others are exotic and unknown ingredients to many foreigners. As mentioned in “Introduction to Nyonya Food,” Nyonya cuisine is the result of mixing Chinese ingredients to local produce, spices, herbs, and roots to create the exotic flavors. Hence, I have started a “Nyonya Ingredients” series to cover all essential ingredients used in Nyonya food.
Chinese ingredients are core to many Nyonya recipes, for example: taucheo/preserved soy bean paste or 豆酱 (doujiang) in Chinese language. (In Indonesia, taucheo is called tauco.) Taucheo or soy bean paste is made from yellow soy beans. The yellow beans are salted and fermented, much like the process of making soy sauce. There are a few variations of taucheo in the market: whole beans, half-mashed, or fine. The difference is in the texture of the fermented soy beans. I always buy the ones in between (as pictured above), where the soy beans are somewhat mashed up due to the fermenting process but not processed to fine paste. You can always use a mortar and pestle to break up the fermented soy beans for recipes that call for fine texture…
Taucheo is salty, but very flavorful with a smokey and somewhat yeasty aroma. It delivers a depth that can’t be found in regular salt. Taucheo is used generously in many Nyonya recipes such as stewed pork ribs, meat, tofu, and many seafood dishes. It’s an indispensable Nyonya ingredient.
In the United States, you can find taucheo in all Asian markets. It’s often labeled as “perserved soy bean paste,” “bean paste,” or “bean sauce.” You can find various products made in Malaysia, Singapore, China, or Hong Kong. When choosing taucheo, I always look for the ones with light brown color. In the picture above, the product is also labeled in Vietnamese as taucheo is commonly used in Vietnamese cuisine.
Taucheo keeps well at room temperature for a couple of months, but I keep mine in the refrigerator. When you first open a new bottle, there is always a layer of dark oxidized deposit at the top of the bottle. Discard the top layer and use the fresh taucheo beneath it.