涼 拌 (liang2 ban4) in Chinese cookery is the art of dressing and serving something cold. Literally "cool mix," you'll find the term fronting all sorts of things, signifying cold noodles (sesame noodles isn't the only cold noodle combination) and any number of different appetizers (jellyfish?) and salads (cucumber?). In this case, I'm talking about 涼拌 豆腐 (liang2-ban4 dou4-fu3), which is an appetizer or perhaps the main for a light meal.
My guess is most noders out there would be rather disconcerted to be met with a dish containing a cold brick of dressed silken doufu and not much else. I think it would increase to horror if that brick of silken doufu were paired with a cut up preserved duck egg.
This is most definitely an acquired taste. Actually, it's more of a re-education of taste if you've never understood how people can like doufu. Rudra speaks sense about it in tofu. I didn't care much for doufu either way as a child, but once my palate started to mature in my late teens, I began to really love it. Now I adore doufu, especially soft and silken doufu. In fact, last night I chose it over ramen for a snack, and ramen is one of my favorite comfort foods. Of course, this dish has the added benefit of being ready to eat even faster than ramen.
Silken doufu has a consistancy very similar to a baked custard or flan, but "thinner" and more brittle. If you let it sit out, it will start to exude water. It really is mostly water and if you store it after opening, it's best to put it in clean, cold water in the refrigerator and use it very soon. Always prepare silken doufu right before eating, as the water will make your dish progressively soupier.
It is delicate in flavor and in texture. My mother likes to heat it up whole (she microwaves it, but steaming it would be best) and eat it with ginger syrup as a sort of quick and dirty doufu-nao (dou4-fu3 nao4 豆腐腦 or dou4-fu3 hua1 豆腐花); sort of a mildly sweet doufu custard. Hot or cold, silken doufu can carry the most amazing flavors. But just a little! Don't drown your silken doufu; it doesn't hold up against powerful flavors unless they're used with a light hand. It's all about moderation, and being able to taste all of your food.
Silken doufu now comes in handy dandy boxes that keep well and don't require refrigeration. Oh, the brilliant Japanese! Because of this, the fragile, perishable, cream colored delicacy is always available to serve as a light lunch, a refreshing starter to a good meal, or as a late night snack.
For liang-ban doufu a brick of doufu is generally sliced in a grid pattern. This also allows one to divide up 2 bricks among 3 people, or some such. We're hearty folk in my family, however, and we have come to consider a whole brick a "serving size." Lately, I don't even bother cutting a brick up, I eat it with a spoon when it's just me and a bowl at 3am.
If you're making this for guests, though, place each serving of doufu in its own single serving bowl and then cut them in a grid pattern. Top each serving with an assortment of flavorings. Each gets at least a drizzle of soy sauce and a bit of sesame oil, usually last after everything else has been placed on top. Try a bit of your favorite chili paste or sliced fresh chili peppers, and perhaps a little grated or minced ginger if you're in the mood. Plenty of chopped fresh coriander is a fantastic addition. Chopped scallions can be good as well, although I prefer coriander. A little lemon juice can be yummy. I've had something similar in a Japanese restaurant which was topped with bonito flakes and toasted sesame seeds. Rummage about and consider other herbs and flavorings.
Basically, be generous with the herbs and delicate with the soy sauce and other strong flavorings. The goal is to make a tasty dressing, not overwhelm the delicate flavor of the doufu in Salty! Sharp! Bitter! or else it'll taste like you're eating dressing, not something lightly coated in dressing. If you're nervous about proportions, mix up the liquids separately and adjust it to taste. Then drizzle about 2 teaspoons of the mixture over a brick. Better not enough than too much at first; you can always add more, but too much is nasty.
Adding a preserved duck egg is optional; it's divine (if you like them). Peel and rinse the egg, and then cut it into wedges and then into smaller chunks. Of course, they're a bit of a cholesterol depth charge, taking this luscious dish out of the realm of tasty health food and into the realm of decadent luxury. One per person would be extremely generous (and yummy). We usually split it 2 for 3 when it's just us, though.
Once assembled, it's quite attractive with the pile of deep green herbs and perhaps a bit of bright red chili paste peaking out against the pristine doufu. Then, the additional contrast of the dark brown of the soy sauce, the golden glistening sesame oil, and the dark brown and grey-green of the preserved duck egg is just gorgeous.
Now, at table, this dish is eaten with chopsticks or sometimes a spoon. I like to eat the doufu in pieces. I get to place just the right amount of this and that on each piece and then have the fun of trying to transfer it to my mouth without losing anything. Most people, including my parents, like to mix the doufu a bit so it starts to break apart into smaller pieces and the dressing and herbs are evenly distributed. It's a little easier to get it to stay on chopsticks this way, and it doesn't get watery. Then some people, like two friends of my parents, like to whip it with their chopsticks so it's practically pudding. That makes me shudder a little, simply because I like to taste things separately rather than all in a mish-mash, and I prefer the way mine looks. To each his or her own, however!
You won't try this, will you.
Well, more for me, then.