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I found out there is a special kind of Okinawan tofu called 豆腐よう.

According to EDIC/WWWJDIC it can also be written as "豆腐餻" and "唐芙蓉".

"餻" seems to mean "cakes, pastry", but considering that this is from Okinawa, that its not usually written in kanji, and that the other kanji spelling is totally different, it could also be an ateji for a word from the Okinawan language.

Do we in fact know the origin of this "よう"?

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I can't find anything about its etymology in the dictionaries I have, but 広辞苑{こうじえん} gives the kanji as 豆腐餻. By the way, I searched BCCWJ for both 豆腐餻 and 唐芙蓉, but both came up with 0 results. 豆腐よう had 3 results. –  snailboat Mar 10 at 18:29
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Are you mainly concerned about how the "gao"-to-"よう" sound change occured from Chinese to Japanese? I am asking because if you replace the 餻 with its variant 糕 and google 豆腐糕, you get so many results in Chinese text. –  非回答者 Mar 12 at 1:56
    
@TokyoNagoya: I'm interested in the whole history of the term. I started by wondering what "yo" meant but I'm curious about etymology and food so began to wonder where it came from. I was thinking Okinawan until your comment. It's not yet proof though. It could still be from Okinawan and the "餻" is an ateji chosen under influence from the Chinese term or that the dish spread from Okinawa to China. I found a history of fermented tofu on the Internet but as I'm a slow reader and doing many things at once I haven't got through it yet ... –  hippietrail Mar 12 at 6:53
    
@TokyoNagoya: "豆腐糕" might just mean "tofu pudding" in Chinese, so it could even be a coincidence. –  hippietrail Mar 12 at 7:32

2 Answers 2

豆腐よう isn't so much a special kind of tofu, it's a dish made from tofu by adding a bunch of stuff (including 泡盛) and letting it grow a special mold. 島豆腐 and ジーマーミ豆腐 are special kinds of Okinawan tofu. :-)

豆腐よう is the Okinawan version of the Chinese dish 腐乳 that you can get at pretty much any Chinese supermarket.

Wikipedia says it came to Okinawa from the Ming dynasty:

交易国家として栄えていた琉球王朝時代に明から伝えられた「腐乳」が元になったと言われている。

It seems likely to me that the term is probably either:

  • derived from however their trading partners pronounced 腐乳
  • or -よう was a suffix in ウチナーグチ at the time that they used to describe the dish that overlaps enough with the meaning of 餻 that some folks opted to map that character to it whenever Chinese characters came into normal use for ウチナーグチ (like all the 漢字 for 和語 words).

Sadly the 沖縄口 wikipedia incubator does not yet have an entry for 豆腐よう. There is an entry on this ウチナーグチ dictionary, but it doesn't tell us anything about etymology.

UPDATE:

I did find someone that put a bit of thought into the etymology. Nothing conclusive, but they seem to have arrived at a similar conclusion as my first choice above (Cantonese pronunciation for 豆腐乳) and they explain the history of the characters you found for the term. See http://www.soyinfocenter.com/HSS/fermented_tofu1.php:

In Japan fermented tofu is largely unknown except in Okinawa and by a few microbiologists. The latter generally call it nyufu ("milk spoiled"), or funyu . In Okinawa there is a unique, mellow type of fermented tofu with a unique name, tofu-yo , which first appeared in 1832 in the book Gozen Honzo by Tokashiki. The origin of this term is unclear, but it is probably a local pronunciation of the Cantonese tofu-yu . However Okinawan Japanese write the character for yo using various rare characters not generaly used for fermented tofu in China, and not even widely known in Japan. The character for yo most widely used to day was first used in 1938 by SHOJUN Danshaku; in other contexts it is usually pronounced ko and means "flour mochi" ( konamochi ). Nowadays writers often use hiragana to write the yo in tofu-yo (Yasuda 1983).

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I'm chinese and I did a little research on Japanese 豆腐よう By seeing this picture I would tell that really is 豆腐乳(fermented bean curd) which is very common in China.

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