Yangzhou Dazhu Gansi (Simmered Tofu Noodles, 大煮干丝) | Zoe Yang


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A Jiangnan Test of Skill

There is no dish more exemplary of Jiangnan cuisine than the Yangzhou classic 大煮干丝 (dàzhǔ gānsī), simmered tofu noodles. Every ingredient is an homage to the Yangtze River Delta—duck gizzards, miniature river shrimp, slivers of chicken and rich Jinhua ham, baby greens, fresh mushrooms and, of course, the tofu itself.

I didn’t know all this on the first day of cooking school in Nanjing, 12 years ago, when I came to class dutifully toting the above ingredients. In fact, the other reason—perhaps the main reason—my teachers assigned this dish was for its usefulness as a hazing ritual.

See, in Chinese cooking schools, dazhu gansi is mostly taught for the brutal 刀工 (dāogōng, knife work) involved; a preview of what it takes to hack it—literally—as a professional cook in China. To start, you make the tofu noodles by hand-cutting strips from blocks of pressed, dried tofu (豆腐干, dòufugān). One is supposed to split that delicate block into at least 20 thin sheets, then the sheets into perfectly uniform matchstick “noodles.”

(Editor’s note—you will often see this dish billed as Huaiyang dazhu gansi. Huaiyang is an ancient portmanteau of the once-distinct Huai and Yang cuisines, which date back to at least 400 BCE, represented by the river cities Huai’an and Yangzhou in present-day Jiangsu province. Huaiyang cuisine flourished at the imperial level in the 1300s thanks to Ming Dynasty’s founding Hongwu Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang, born a peasant in the eponymous Huai River plain.)

The ginger, though, is where it gets crazy: Part of the immense pleasure of eating this dish is having a subtle ginger spice punctuate the deeply umami broth and intertwine with the springy-tender noodles. How do you achieve that? By crowning each bowlful with a thicket of hand sliced ginger floss. To achieve the right flavor and mouthfeel, in which the ginger is present but not abrasive, each sliver of ginger had to be thin enough to thread a needle and spread out like a delicate web when soaked in water. My teachers could slice ginger so fine, the threads looked spindle-shaped, the ends almost invisible, and some of them could do it blindfolded on top of a balloon.

No joke: This dish, done the textbook way, is a flex.

In the course of that day, I soaked up my induction into the lowest rungs of a Chinese professional kitchen as my fingertips soaked up pulverized ginger juice. And I was converted into a dazhu gansi zealot. Dazhu gansi is the thing I crave most when I’m sick, and the thing I’ll only prepare the old-school way for real loved ones, in quiet moments.

Because despite the specificity of both terroir and technique, this dish is not a screamer. Dazhu gansi is about restraint, and in my heart’s culinary map, it lives in the same neighborhood as Hainan chicken rice and French pot-au-feu.

How to Make Dazhu Gansi at Home

If you’re going to the trouble of all that hand-slicing, make sure your chicken stock is good and your garnishes are fresh.

With garnishes, you have lots of options, so try to think about it in keeping with Chinese culinary theory: Color pops are always appreciated, and everything should be as close to the same size and shape as possible. So, if you’re using mushrooms, slice them into slivers too.

That year in Nanjing, I also interned at a spectacular five-star restaurant that used a thin omelet (again, sliced into noodle-like strips) as a garnish for dazhu gansi, so I’ve shamelessly stolen that trick.

simmering dazhu gansi
With garnishes, you have lots of options, so try to think about it in keeping with Chinese culinary theory: Color pops are always appreciated, and everything should be as close to the same size and shape as possible.

I cannot wrap up this recipe without a word from my mom, who made a vastly different version of dazhu gansi all my life. She’d buy the frozen package of machine-cut tofu noodles at Super 88 and simmer them in plain old salted water with some dried shrimp and a slice of ginger, and finish with sesame oil.

It took maybe 10 minutes while she did other things, and it was as far from five-star as you can get, but the spirit of the dish persisted: simple, yet haunting.

I also really enjoy the chewiness of store-bought tofu noodles—it wasn’t until cooking school that I realized the noodles, when freshly hand-cut, are actually much softer. If you prefer more chew (and want to fast forward through the hand cutting), just use store-bought!

bowls of dazhu gansi garnished with flossed ginger
Dazhu gansi was reportedly created for the emperor on his travels through Yangzhou.

For more classic Jiangnan recipes, see Zoe’s Danjiao (蛋饺) Egg Dumplings ft. Pork and RampsShaoxing Drunken Chicken (Zuiji, 醉鸡) and Ode to Dongpo Pork (东坡肉)!

Yangzhou Dazhu Gansi (Simmered Tofu Noodles, 豆腐干) | Zoe Yang

By: Zoe Yang
Yield: 2 servings, 4 as sides


  • 1 quart high-quality chicken stock I recommend Kathy’s dunjitang recipe, which results in gorgeous golden stock
  • 1 8-ounce package tofu noodles or doufugan, firm dried tofu (unspiced)
  • 1 small knob of ginger, about 2-3 inches, peeled
  • cup each of optional garnishes, listed below:
  • small peeled shrimp
  • duck gizzard, sliced thawed if previously frozen
  • cooked chicken breast, shredded
  • Jinhua dry-cured ham, sliced into matchsticks sold as Xishangxi "cured ham" in Chinatowns. Otherwise sub dry-cured raw ham
  • shiitake or wood ear mushrooms, sliced into matchsticks if dried, rehydrate first
  • thin egg omelet, sliced into matchsticks
  • baby spinach
  • 1 tablespoon Shaoxing yellow rice wine (huangjiu)
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil (Cuizi preferred)
  • salt and ground white pepper to taste


  • Sharpen your cleaver. A properly sharp cleaver edge should be invisible to the eye and “snag” if you brush your thumb across it.
  • Use your cleaver to trim a knob of peeled ginger into an even rectangular block. Make the thinnest possible lengthwise slices off the block—they should be translucent. Next, lay the slices flat and chop lengthwise again, moving the cleaver as little as possible, so you end up with fine long threads. What you’re aiming for are ginger threads—floss, really—so fine that they can pass through the eye of a needle.
    Keep the ginger threads in a small bowl of water until ready to serve—this keeps them from drying out and also gives you a chance to inspect your knife work.
  • If using doufugan/pressed tofu, slice tofu into thin slices by gently pushing your cleaver horizontally through the block. Don’t stop or see-saw or the tofu will break. Try to get 20 horizontal slices out of each block. Then, cut the slices into strips and you have your tofu noodles. If using vacuum-sealed tofu noodles, skip this step.
  • Parboil tofu noodles in salted water for 1 minute to remove tofu stink. If using frozen shrimp or fresh/frozen duck gizzards, pass them through the boiling water as well. Rinse and drain well.
  • Bring chicken stock to a boil and salt to taste. Then, add tofu noodles, mushrooms, ham, chicken, egg strips, and a tablespoon of Shaoxing wine. Cook for 1 minute. Adjust salt and add white pepper and a generous drizzle of the toasted sesame oil. Cook for another 2 minutes, then add all other garnishes and cook until shrimp are pink and greens are wilted.
  • Serve in individual bowls with a nest of ginger floss perched on top. Stir ginger into the broth when eating.


The cooking time here should be kept quick—just enough to cook everything and bring the flavors together. If you’ve never used duck gizzards before, you may find them easier to slice after par-boiling. Once sliced, they cook through in seconds and will take on a metallic taste if overcooked.

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About Zoe Yang and Iris Zhao

Zoe Yang is a Brooklyn-based writer and recipe developer. She was born, raised and culinarily trained in Nanjing, China. Iris Zhao, her mother, is a retired schoolteacher living in Boston who immigrated from Nanjing in the ’90s. Iris taught herself how to make a lot of Jiangnan classics—even the difficult ones—from scratch when she landed Stateside, and she passed that love of culinary discovery on to Zoe. Together they are sharing mother-daughter recipes from southeast China for The Mala Market. Zoe’s recipes and writing can also be found on Bon Appetit, TheKitchn.com and her personal site: www.zoeyijingyang.com.

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