Expedition in China I: Xiba Tofu

Tofu stall on the market in Xiba Town

Date: April 18-22, 2018                                  Place: Xiba, Leshan, Sichuan, China
Documentation: Huadou & ALTER THE AIR          Article: Sibo Peng, Mengya Huang 
Revision: Christopher Harkins

When we first planned Huadou two years ago, we began with an expedition to the famous tofu town, Xiba, in Sichuan, China. Together with Alter the Air design studio, we began to document the traditional methods of tofu-making, as well as the vivid marketplace lifestyle of the markets and the local families that inhabit them.

From the foot of the famous Leshan Giant Buddha, twenty kilometers down the Minjiang River is Xiba Town. Xiba tofu is famous for hundreds of years.The special hydrogeological environment in Xiba has contributed to the unique flavour of Xiba tofu. 

The taste of tofu depends not only on soybeans but also on the water quality and the coagulants. Salt coagulant is the most common tofu coagulant. It is usually obtained after the evaporation of seawater. But the salt coagulant for Xiba tofu ist magnesium chloride crystals deriving from the salt wells on land. 

The long crustal changes have sealed seawater hundreds of millions of years ago in the Jurassic rock layers in the Sichuan Basin, where Xiba Town belongs, and thus deposited there rich and stable salty materials. Since Qin Dynasty (250 BC), people in the Leshan region along Minjiang River began to dig deep wells and refine salt. By the eighteenth century, there was a great boom in salt and more than thousands of salt wells were constructed. 

Over the past hundred years, the local has developed a complete and unique food culture based on well salt. At the same time, Xiba tofu is particularly special because of the effect of local salt coagulants. Nowadays various types of tofu are the most common food for the locals. The town’s market is full of stalls that sell fresh tofu. In the local restaurants, people can become nearly a hundred different dishes related to tofu.