If you’ve ever been to China or Taiwan, chances are you’ve smelled a very distinct smell. Is that garbage? Sewer water? No. It’s food! Chou dofu, or “stinky tofu” in English is a common street food snack all over China, and you can catch its smell wafting though most street food stall areas. I’ve never been brave enough to try a chunk, because the smell makes me gag… until yesterday that is. I’m currently doing a two-week solo trip through Taiwan, famous for its deep-fried stinky tofu (follow me on Facebook for real-time updates and photos about my trip).
Stinky tofu was originally made by fermenting milk, vegetables and meat for a few months in brine, but currently most “stinky tofu” is just fresh tofu that has been fermented concentrated brine for a few days; this gives the tofu the original stinky odor and a partial fermentation. Some people compare “stinky tofu” to bleu cheese: the stronger the smell the better it tastes. I personally think chou dofu smells like rotting garbage in a puddle of sewer water stinking in the sun. But when in Rome…
Wandering the street food stalls of Ximending in Taipei, a fellow traveler and I decided to take the plunge and force ourselves to eat stinky tofu. We purchased an order of the deep fried stuff and gagged as we waited. After frying our stinky tofu to perfection, the vendor topped it with pickled cabbage, a savory sauce and a sweet-spicy sauce. Surprisingly, the tofu itself didn’t actually have a strong smell. I mean it definitely didn’t smell like roses, but I could take a sniff without gagging. I’m assuming the method of cooking or frying the tofu produces the horrible smell, rather than the tofu itself.
“This can’t be that bad”, I thought.
I was wrong. So incredibly wrong!
When you first take a bite, the “stinky tofu” tastes like normal tofu, but after a few seconds of chewing the smell travels up from your mouth into your nose, destroying any semblance of pleasant taste. The weirdest thing was that there was no aftertaste! After swallowing the horrid tofu, I had no desire to chug a bottle of water or immediately purchase a milk tea. This left me brave enough to try multiple bites, but it was physically impossible for me to down the tofu before the horrible “middle-taste” kicked in. I also found it interesting that the tofu’s smell did not affect the pickled cabbage at all with it’s residual stinky flavor.
After about fifteen minutes of tortured forced bites, my friend and I gifted the rest of our uneaten tofu to a man collecting recycling out of garbage bins. I would have felt horrible throwing the tofu out, especially since it’s a yummy treat for most Taiwanese. Stinky tofu is perfectly good food… for anyone that can handle the garbage taste.
Have you ever eaten stinky tofu? What did you think? Anyone want to stand up for its unique flavor?