Though Taiwan has countless local specialties and hundreds of unique delicacies, few dishes have are as iconic of the island as one: chou dofu, stinky tofu. If you’ve ever been in the same neighborhood as a stinky tofu vendor, you’ll need no explanation of its name- its aroma (for which there is no polite description) is nearly strong enough to knock a passer-by off his scooter.
Though the stink failed to tempt me, I was curious to try the dish. I don’t seek out food simply because it sounds strange or unusual- but I was curious to see how stinky tofu could be so popular despite its smell. In search of the food, Bordeaux and I visited a popular weekend market. We strolled among other food stands and carnival games, brushing past the inviting aroma of grilled squid and sizzling scallion pancakes, in search of a less pleasant stench. Eventually, we caught the smell- quick, disgusting, and gone. We backtracked, but failed to find the source. We circled around, made enquiries, and finally found the stinky tofu. We ordered one, and took it away to try. Piled with pickled vegetables and drizzled with a spicy sauce, it almost looked tempting. But it only took one bite to dispel me of that feeling- it tasted much like it smelled, a mature barnyard flavor that didn’t compel me to complete the dish.
The experience left me feeling unsatisfied. It was gross- but not so disgusting that I felt sick after eating it. Nor did it taste so good that it was worth suffering through the smell. It was just mildly unpleasant.
Thankfully, I got the chance to try it again. At a raucous ghost month parade, I caught the familiar stench among the singed scent of fireworks. The smell grew stronger, almost overpowering, as I approached the stand. I ordered a skewer, and took a bite. Amazingly, though the smell was considerably worse, the flavor was considerably better. The tofu was firm, flavorful, and nicely spiced with the pickled vegetables and chili. It was much better than the first, proving that even the stinkiest foods deserve a second try.