The Intriguing Duality of “Eat Tofu” in Chinese

Eat Tofu has two very different meanings in Chinese...

Kungfucius promised you that we will cut through the confused phase and get enlightened learning Chinese fast and furious. Learning chengyus might be dry at times and at other times very dry. So, why not get to a juicy topic instead..

In Chinese culture, language plays a significant role in conveying various meanings and nuances. One such phrase, “吃豆腐” (chī dòufu), literally translated as “eat tofu,” carries both positive and negative connotations. This article will explore the two sides of this fascinating idiom, delving into its cultural significance and usage in everyday conversations.

The Positive Side: Enjoying a Delicious Meal

On the surface, “吃豆腐” (chī dòufu) simply refers to the act of eating tofu, a staple ingredient in Chinese cuisine. Tofu is a versatile, protein-rich food made from soybeans and is enjoyed by people of all ages. In this context, the phrase carries a positive connotation, as it implies savoring a delicious and healthy meal. You might hear someone say, “我喜欢吃豆腐” (wǒ xǐhuān chī dòufu), which means “I like eating tofu.”

Did you know that Miso soup, which is based on soybeans as well is seen as one of the healthiest foods? Read this article on Why Miso is Incredibly Healthy. That being said, Tofu itself also has a great reputation among dietitians. Yet, there are also warning voices. Like this Harvard straight talk about soy and how it might change our hormones! Having set the tone about how Tofu messes up our hormones, let’s get straight to the topic at hand, shouldn’t we?

The Negative Side: Inappropriate Behavior

Ok. There’s more to “吃豆腐” (chī dòufu) than meets the eye or Harvard website suggests. In a more metaphorical sense, the phrase is used to describe someone taking advantage of another person, usually in a flirtatious or sexually suggestive manner. It can imply unwelcome physical contact or inappropriate verbal advances. When used in this context, the phrase takes on a negative connotation.

For example, someone might say, “他在吃她的豆腐” (tā zài chī tā de dòufu), which means “He is taking advantage of her” or “He is making a pass at her.” It’s essential to recognize the context and tone of voice when interpreting this phrase to avoid miscommunication or offense. So in other words: Be careful when you want to express anything about eating Tofu.

The Cultural Significance

The dual meaning of “吃豆腐” (chī dòufu) offers a glimpse into Chinese culture and the intricacies of the Chinese language. The background of this wordplay and idiomatic expressions is believed to be the partition of labor of Tofu vendor husband-wife businesses. While the husband worked his ass off 努力工作 (nǔlì gōngzuò) to produce the Tofu, the wife would man woman the stall and sell the Tofu. Some of these female vendors seem to have been exceptionally pretty, thus attracting a lot of customers, especially male customers. 


Even something as innocent as Tofu can be a source of misunderstanding, so be careful about it. Next time you hear or use the phrase “吃豆腐” (chī dòufu), remember its dual meanings and the context in which it is being used. 

While it may simply refer to the enjoyment of a delicious tofu dish, it could also carry a more negative connotation related to inappropriate behavior. Being aware of these subtleties is essential when learning and using the Chinese language, as it allows for more accurate communication and a richer understanding of the culture.

And if you might look for the most beautiful Tofu sellers out there, remember that Tofu has some high plant estrogen levels which might help you balance out your apparent hormone surplus. 

Talking about food, check out the different meanings of papaya in Chinese! And the best thing: you read this article likely in a few minutes. In other words: You can learn Chinese in 5 minutes and still understand the positive and negative meanings.