TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- There are two types of people in the world, those who love stinky tofu, and those who hate it.
And the people that fall into the second category can vividly describe why they hate stinky tofu, or at least the smell. The smell of stinky tofu was described by HungryinTaipei readers to be comparable to socks, shoes, stinky cheese, bad breath, and "deep fried dog vomit," at least to Jeffrey Cuvillier.
Tim Reed recalls, "The first time I was in Taipei, we would be walking down an alley and I would be suddenly hit with the most obnoxious scent I had pretty much encountered; as I was saying something to the effect of "what IS that horrendous stench" and looking around for the open sewer grate or the pile of human feces, my wife just said calmly, "oh, that's just the stinky tofu stand."
But despite the first impression, Reed replied, "I can eat it if I've had enough beer first," so it can't be that bad!
It took Florian Krs almost three years to try it. "I'd probably compare it with good cheese that might have a bad smell but actually a great taste. It's better than "normal" tofu, more flavor."
To many who grew up in Taiwan, the night market aroma reminds them of home or their childhood, especially if they are in the states now where stinky tofu is harder to find. Daniel Tseng said, "My childhood was great. I just miss REAL tzah chou do fu from the night markets."
The most popular types of stinky tofu are fried and boiled, especially at the night market, although you can find grilled or steamed stinky tofu as well. Stinky tofu is tofu that has been brined in fermented liquid, anywhere from one day to several months.
Fried stinky tofu is often cut into cubes and served with a side of pickled cabbage, a Taiwanese version of kimchi. Some vendors will poke a hole into the center and spoon in minced garlic, or top it with cilantro.
"Smells like 'Heaven' from this Taiwanese American! Fried!" says Johnny Huang.
Newer entrepreneurial street vendors serve stinky tofu fries, cutting it into long strips and serving it in a cup, with toppings like cheese or seaweed powder, spotted at night markets like Raohe.
Fried stinky tofu. Photo courtesy of HungryinTaipei.
Boiled stinky tofu is often in a spicy mala broth, sometimes with duck's blood or intestines. Karl Smith described the smell of stinky tofu like "the stench of desolation and rotting dreams," but has eaten it many times. "I've even eaten the steamed version, which is an order of magnitude worse than the deep fried."
That might explain why boiled stinky tofu is less popular than fried.
An informal poll had fried tofu getting the most votes (44%) while boiled stinky tofu only had 11%. Surprisingly, more than a third of people love both kinds, while only two people wrote "we are SO not having that."
But is the smell as bad as the taste?
The smell of stinky tofu can be so overwhelming that some people will never be converted. "Living in Taipei since 2005. Still no, thank you very much," writes Julita Wenda.
Boiled stinky tofu. Photo from Wikipedia Commons.
As a stinky tofu lover, I think the fried version tastes just like fried tofu, especially with the soy sauce and pickled cabbage. But I admit, I've tried grilled stinky tofu and it really was too pungent for me. Still, fried stinky tofu is something I definitely recommend people try at least once for themselves and take friends to when they visit me.
Lisi He explains why she loves it, "I actually really like the taste (especially the mala version), and once you eat it, it also no longer smells so bad. That's kind of an interesting effect. I also like the texture. The thing is just tofu taken to the next level... You shouldn't' judge a book by its cover, so why judge tofu by its smell?"