Essentially the dish originated in the early 1970s in a restaurant called "Foong Foong" as tofu stuffed with a meat paste of fish and pork, thereby earning the dish its name "Yong Tau Foo", which means "stuffed bean curd." Since then all variety of vegetables and even fried fritters have been similarly stuffed, and the name Yong Tau Foo has thus been used liberally to apply to foods prepared in this manner.
In Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore, the Malay Muslims have taken to yong tau foo in a big way. As pork consumption is prohibited for Muslims, halal yong tau foo is generally soy based or stuffed vegetable fritters or steamed bean curd with fish paste stuffing. To prepare the dish, these, a steamed rice-flour roll (similar to that used for chee cheong fun) and a vegetable called kangkong are boiled to heat and soften them. The food items are drained and eaten with sprinkled toasted sesame seeds, chili sauce and a hoisin based sauce. Another version commonly found in Perak state is the soup type where the food items are served in a broth and provided with chili sauce and hoisin based sauce dipping. Halal yong tau foo is normally sold by Malay vendors at night markets (pasar malam) and at halal food courts by non-Muslim vendors.
This version, which the Hakka claim to be the original, consists of tofu cubes heaped with minced meat (usually pork and fish) and herbs, then fried until golden brown, or sometimes braised. Variations include usage of various condiments, including eggplants, shiitake mushrooms, and bitter melon stuffed with the same meat paste. Traditionally, yong tau foo is served in a clear yellow bean stew along with the bitter melon and shiitake variants.