Saturday, January 28, 2012

Stinky Tofu

You can always smell it before you see it. Stinky tofu, or Chou Dou Fu (臭豆腐) in Chinese, has an incomparable and instantly recognizable smell. Several different cities in China have their own versions of stinky tofu, but they are all variations on a theme: it's tofu and it smells terrible. Changsha's version is one of the more famous and more foul smelling of the varieties. Imagine you are casually walking down the street in Changsha, checking out the local shops and doing some people watching, when out of the blue you run into a wall. You are surrounded by a mephitic fug, as if somebody were burning a pile of Satan's used gym socks that have remained unwashed since his horrendous puberty. It takes a moment to track down the source of this olfactory assault, but then you see this:

A guy on the street frying up what looks like soft charcoal briquettes. There's your stinky tofu. How does it get so stinky? So black? It has been fermented with special, secret ingredients (Wikipedia says "The traditional method for producing stinky tofu is to prepare a brine made from fermented milk, vegetables, and meat; the brine can also include dried shrimp, amaranth, mustard greens, bamboo shoots, and Chinese herbs") for several months.

Now, I'm not the first to say it and I hope I won't be the last, but here's the thing: it tastes much better than it smells. For 4 or 5 yuan, you get a couple of chunks of stinky tofu topped with some pickled vegetables and some cilantro. This being Hunan Province, there is some spicy stuff thrown in as well.

The tofu is soft and warm, with a taste like a fine cheese. The black part adds a touch of crispiness to the outside of each brick, holding the insides in just long enough to get into your mouth. When mixed with the toppings, it is a perfect representation of Hunan food: salty and spicy, and oh so delicious. So, I urge you: next time you have the chance, go against anything your nose is telling you and give the chou dou fu a try. You won't regret it.


Shanghai Travel Guide said...

I really got into this article. I ate Stinky Tofu before, it's smell terrible, but I like to read material that makes me think. Thank you for writing this great content.

Frank Kasell said...

You're welcome! Thanks for reading and posting.

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