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Taiwan’s most notorious dish: stinky tofu

William Jackson was determined to try a bag of Taiwan’s famous stinky tofu. But it smelt like he’d just slurped down a load from a baby’s nappy.

William Jackson writes: The smell is the worst part. It was described to me as “excrement — diarrhoea to be exact”. With a recommendation like that, how could I resist?

Stinky tofu (chòu dòufu) is Taiwan’s most notorious dish. A form of fermented tofu, it’s similar to blue cheese in that those who like it love it and those who don’t tend to gag on it.

It’s made by marinading normal tofu from a few hours up to several months in a brine of milk, vegetables and meat with variations including dried shrimp, amaranth greens, mustard greens, bamboo shoots and Chinese herbs.

One of the easiest places to find it in Taipei is the Shilin Night Market, the best known and largest night market in the city and a mandatory stop on every tourist’s itinerary.

Huge crowds mill through street upon street of stalls flogging enough clothes, shoes and accessories to dress a small nation and when they get peckish hundreds of eateries offer all kinds of local street food from whole squid on a stick to crispy deep-fried chicken feet.

I knew I’d found the stinky tofu even before I saw the stall — it didn’t matter all the signs were in Chinese. You can smell it from 30 metres away and the description I had been given was spot on.

The cubes of tofu were still cooking — a guy wearing a surgical mask was using scissors to cut them up as they deep fried in a huge vat of boiling oil — so I joined a small queue of people and tried not to gag.

Some varieties of stinky tofu are fermented in the fetid soup so long they turn an evil dark green-blue colour.

But when I finally got a bag – for about a dollar fifty with some chilli, vinegar and soy sauce — it looked indistinguishable from the normal variety.

I held my breath, speared a piece and shoved it into my mouth. The texture was crunchy on the outside and smooth and creamy in the middle. It was actually pretty nice, if a little bland – like normal tofu.

But as soon as breathed through my nose it was like I’d just slurped down a load from a baby’s nappy.

I managed not to vomit, breathed through my mouth and ate another piece. And another.

Pretty soon I was halfway through the bag, but the hint — the threat — of the stench was always there on the edge of olfactory landscape. I began to get nauseous and wondered why I was putting myself through this. Was it worth it just for bragging rights?

With only two or three chunks to go, I gave up, and threw the rest in a bin. At least I’d tried it.

Then I went in search of a drink to wash the foul reek out of my mouth.

Read more from Will over at his blog The Bearded Wanderer, where this post was first published.

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  • 1
    mikeb
    Posted November 9, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    Is there a reason for this “dish” existing in the first place? Seems to me a bit like Swedish Festered fish (or whatever it’s called). No real point to it apart from the bragging factor of getting it down withour retching.

  • 2
    bob smith
    Posted November 12, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    I’ve had the pleasure of visiting taiwan recently and visiting that same market, and having eaten stinky tofu various times. Sure it is a little bit smelly, but nothing like the vomit-inducing experience you describe. I liked it and went back for more!

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