Stinky Tofu: A Taiwanese Classic Born in China

Is this the durian of the protein world?

Stinky tofu, that Taiwanese cheap eats classic purportedly created by accident in China during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), has no shame. A tofu merchant apparently left his bean curd in a vegetable brine for too long; what resulted in that barrel hundreds of years ago is what you smell today. Not literally, but it’s close.

I first tried it in Shenzhen, China about 17 years ago, and couldn’t deal; it was an acquired taste to be sure. But sometimes you gotta give a food another shot.

Of course, there are countless foods considered to be acquired tastes — with stinky tofu being one of them — but I tend to think that kæstur hákarl, the fermented Icelandic shark dish that smells of ammonia, has it beat. Although I haven’t tried kæstur hákarl,  I also haven’t found any desire to sip whatever is under my sink.

Which is to say, stinky tofu isn’t that bad. The aroma is off-putting — if you’re out and about in Taiwan, it’s a night market staple, and a street food tradition. If you want to try it but just can’t do that first bite, add some pepper, chili sauce, or some other condiment of your choice. <<I haven’t found the same solution for a bite of durian.>>

In short, stinky tofu may not be durian, but they do share at least one thing in common.

They could both really use deodorant.

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