This innocuous looking stewed tofu is actually chou doufu, the honey badger of tofu dishes
In Taiwan, there’s a dish whose name completely and totally describes what it is: chou doufu, which means, very literally, “stinky tofu.”
I have a love-hate relationship with stinky tofu. Like a ripened soft cheese or durian, the smell of stinky tofu can make the hairs on your neck curl. It’s putrid; the best way I can think of describing its smell is fermented shoe sweat from a pair of dirty sneakers that’s been sitting in the bottom of an abandoned locker.
That’s not hyperbole, I promise. The first time I smelled chou doufu, I was sitting in the Chinese food court in Atlanta. I was probably around 11 or 12, and my parents were thrilled to discover this hometown delicacy on their side of the world. I couldn’t wait to try this delectable goodness — that is, until it arrived at the table. It smelled, quite literally, like the boys in my class coming inside after recess.
Nevertheless, I insisted to the hubby on our layover last month that he try chou doufu. Strong smells don’t put him off of trying food, which is reason #324 I married him (it probably also has a lot to do with the various boiled sheep parts he consumed, day after day, when he lived in Africa years ago). Plus, I like to think that I’m a little more mature now and could reacquaint myself with chou doufu without the objectionable smell getting in the way.
Top: sticky, delicious dong puo rou, aka braised pork belly; bottom: fluffy steamed buns to make little pork sandwiches.
As it turns out, I quite like chou doufu nowadays. Smell notwithstanding (and I totally understand how for some people, a bad smell would completely defeat the purpose of even attempting to enjoy a dish), there’s a satisfying yeastiness of chou doufu that gives it an interesting texture. It’s almost like the difference between drinking a light beer and a stout. There’s more depth and flavor to chou doufu than regular tofu, especially when it comes in a spicy broth, like ours did.
Oh, and do you know what else goes great with chou doufu? Pork belly. Honestly, I cannot pass through Taiwan Immigration and Customs without demanding at least one pork belly dish, because the Taiwanese have a skill at making pork belly sing in a way we Americans never could. This version, called dong puo rou, is a ubiquitous Taiwanese dish, kind of the way a burger would pop up on just about every standard American diner menu. Braised in a combination of soy sauce, ginger and rock sugar, the sugar melts and glazes the meat as it braises in a clay pot placed in a low-temperature oven. Honestly, if dong puo rou started appearing on the menus of American roadside diners, I’d have a hard time getting anywhere without adding at least 4 hours’ worth of pit stops.
Flaky, savory, delicious scallion pancake
And don’t even get me started on the flaky miracle that is a cong you bing (scallion pancake). I’d go to war in the name of one. Seriously.