Monday, September 01, 2008

In Search of the Stinky Snack.

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.

4 comments:

Laura Kelley said...

Xander:

Have you tried Durian? If so do you like it - is the taste worth the smell?

I avoided it for a long time when I was in Thailand - but eventually relented and found it good - but not a taste that I love.

Keep up the great posts - love the site!

Xander said...

Thanks Laura- I just checked out your blog, and it looks intriguing. I'll have to give it a more thorough read today.

The first time I tried durian I thought it was disgusting (much like the above stinky tofu), but either that was a bad fruit or my tastes have matured, because now I'm rather fond of it. I made some durian and condensed milk shakes a few months ago that were pretty tasty. -X

T.R. said...

You are brave to go back a second time. During the six weeks I was in Beijing I learned that there are many food items that are popular for seemingly no good reason. Adventurous yes -- but I discovered that things often tasted like they smelled. I also discovered that a hunk of dark chocolate was a good way to rid the lingering after taste and kept a bar handy at all times.

Jamie said...

Xander, nice Taiwan Teal shades!! And well done giving the tofu a second chance.