Taiwanese love to eat tofu and in Taiwan tofu takes shape in many forms. Being a lover of bean curd myself, I’m quite happy with the many varieties the country has to offer. One can find it deep-fried, thrown into soup/salads/lunch buffets, cold, grilled, steamed, and one of the more famous ways it’s eaten—in its stinky form. Stinky tofu is quite the sensation in this country and present in all cities, whether on skewer, platter, in soup, or noodles.
Ever since watching Andrew Zimmern nearly lose his stomach on Bizarre Foods (as foreboding music played in the background) when faced with a stinky tofu challenge, I’d been interested in trying the delicacy myself.
Since I arrived on the island I’ve eaten it a few times. Though most of the time I’ll admit to throwing it away because my stomach could not handle the foulness, I did have quite a delicious plate at Shilin Night Market in Taipei, served with pickled vegetables and a garlic chili sauce tossed over the top.
So how does stinky tofu get its stink?
Vegetables/soy milk/shrimp/shrimp heads are combined to make the brine; though the ingredients may vary from place to place. The brine is fermented for several months. Fresh cut tofu is then left to marinate in the concoction for a few hours up to a day or so. Some manufacturers leave everything to rot in the sun until it becomes putrid and moldy. Afterward, it’s fried up and served with various sauces.
In night markets scattered throughout the country, one is sure to encounter the distinctive stench of stinky tofu as it wafts through the evening air. The scent—it’s been compared to a zoo, a sewer, or a gift from Fido, stuck to the bottom of your shoes while walking through the grass—is unforgettable.
In certain places around Asia the snack has been banned.
Though the food may sound completely unappetizing, the taste of the tofu all depends on the chef, his/her culinary genius, and the method he or she uses for creating his/her particular brand of stinky delight.
So next time you’re in Taiwan, stop by Shilin Night Market to put your taste buds to the test. Ask for the most famous stinky tofu or search for it on your own. The smell is impossible to miss!