Stinky tofu

090201-stinky-tofu

stinky tofu!

While in Hong Kong, I finally encountered one food that’s been on my list for quite a while: stinky tofu! I had only seen stinky tofu on TV before, but as we were wandering through a remote section of Hong Kong and rounded a corner, I knew exactly what the raunchy odor wafting through the air was. There was nothing else it could be and, of course, I bee lined directly for the stand selling it.

Stinky tofu, as its name implies, stinks. A lot. Imagine the odor from someone’s feet when they finally take off their shoes after they’ve been walking around in hot weather all day. The stench comes from the fermentation process that regular tofu does not go through. Here’s a choice quote from wikipedia:

The nature of the stinky tofu production process makes it extremely difficult to pass government food regulation even in Asia. The diversity and lack of formulated methods also makes it nearly impossible for the government to regulate and inspect. In Asia, no stinky tofu factories were ever officially licensed or constantly monitored; in most cases, government inspection can only focus on the cooking procedure and ventilation.

If that doesn’t sound scary enough, let’s delve deeper into the fermentation process. The key to the entire process is the brine, which is essentially each producers secret recipe. More about the brine from wikipedia: “the process can be extremely unsanitary; the brine is covered with maggots and has extremely strong rotten odor.” And, as if that wasn’t enough, we also have this: “less scrupulous stinky tofu factories in China reportedly used rotten kitchen waste, chemical dye and human feces to prepare the brine in order to achieve the odor and texture in short period of time.” I honestly can’t think of any other foods that sound like such a health hazard. Even sausages, traditionally known for their “unrefined” means of prodution, sound like a pristine product compared to stinky tofu.

Unbelievably, and despite that, I found the taste to be pretty good. Andrew Zimmern (of Bizarre Foods fame) couldn’t even handle all the stinky tofu he tried. No one else in my group would even go close to the reeking cube of tofu. I generally despise tofu for its bland and spongy taste, but this had much more character. It had a strong, sour taste much more to my liking. Advocates for stinky tofu do say the stronger the smell the better the taste. Too bad the process of making it will probably be enough to scare me away in the future.

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Don't put your nose too close

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