Eat To Live

Pong tauhu: A heritage soup that's healthy and full of flavour


Despite cutting down on the meat, this substantial soup still feels rich

I have taken this soup quite for granted. A traditional soup, it is a must for tok panjang, that Nonya festive table literally served on a long table, instead of a round table as with most Chinese meals.

I cook it only on festive occasions, for it is a most flavourful and substantial soup, ideal for those times when you want soup to be a highlight.

But I cooked it the other night when I got a hankering for it and wrote about it on my Facebook page.

And gosh, the reactions came fast and furious.

Everyone wanted to know the recipe, and so here it is.

Despite the rich flavour, this heritage soup is quite healthy if you make some small changes that do not detract from its character.



    • 200g small prawns

    • 6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

    • 1 tbs brown soya bean paste (tau cheow)

    • 1 cup of shredded winter bamboo shoots (from a packet)

    • 6 to 8 cups of water

    • 1 tsp salt

    • 1 tsp light soya sauce

    • 1 tsp sugar

    • 2 large cakes of tau kwa, firm soya bean cake (about 250g)

    • 200g minced lean pork

    • ½ tsp salt

    • 1 stalk of spring onion, chopped

    • 1 egg, beaten

    • 2 stalks of fresh coriander, cut into short lengths

    • ¼ cup of oil


    • Peel prawns, saving shells. Brown shells in a wok without oil, then add water and bring to a boil. Simmer for about half an hour. Strain stock and reserve.

    • Heat ¼ cup of oil in a wok and fry chopped garlic over a low fire till golden. Remove browned garlic and most of the oil, leaving 2 tbs behind in the wok.

    • Saute tau cheow paste in this oil, then the bamboo shoots. Add the prawn stock, bring them to a boil and season with salt, soya sauce and sugar.

    • In the meantime, chop prawns and place them in a large bowl together with the tau kwa, pork, salt and spring onion. Bind with an egg.

    • Mash well, using a fork, adding half of the browned garlic into the mixture. Form the mixture into balls that are the size of ping-pong balls.

    • When the stock boils, cook the tofu balls in two batches so as not to crowd the pot, keeping heat gentle as hard boiling may break up the balls.

    • When the balls float, they are cooked. Carefully remove them and cook the second batch of balls. When all are done, try the soup and adjust seasoning to taste.

    • To serve, place three balls or more in a bowl. Add soup. Top with shredded bamboo shoots, browned garlic and Chinese coriander leaves.


    • Buy tau cheow paste rather than the whole beans. If not, you will have to mash the beans before using to ensure that they dissolve in the soup.


Traditionally, it relies on a good stock made from pork and prawn shells. You can follow that recipe or you can reduce the quantity of shells if you are watching your cholesterol levels.

You can also omit the meat and rely only on prawn shells to make the stock, or use organic vegetables or seafood stock from a pack, instead of making stock from scratch.

You can also cut out the pork belly strips, which are part of the traditional recipe, and up the tofu content. When I cook it, I even reduce the pork content in the balls so that I end up with "meat" balls that are made of mostly tofu and prawns.

The inspired touch of fried garlic in the mixture makes up for any lack of flavour, as does the dollop of tau cheow or salted soya bean paste that truly enriches the soup.

While I do give instructions on making fried garlic in the recipe, you can buy bottled browned garlic bits in its oil.

Use both oil and browned garlic for the recipe.

Try making this soup tonight and you will be surprised at how "meaty" it is despite the reduced amount of meat used in the recipe.

At the very least, you can enjoy the joke inherent in its name.

The soup, filled with white tofu balls as large as ping-pong balls, is called, what else, pong tauhu!

  • Sylvia Tan is a freelance writer and cookbook author. Her previous Eat To Live recipes can be found in two cookbooks, Eat To Live and Taste.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 29, 2016, with the headline 'Heritage soup that's healthy and full of flavour'. Print Edition | Subscribe