in taiwan, a smelly time, with a side of pork

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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.

6a011570d70884970b0154342ad924970c-500wiTop: 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.

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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.

Su Hung Snack Shop | 2-1, Jinan Rd Sec 1, Taipei City (台北市濟南路一段2之1號) |Open from 11:30am to 2pm and 5:30pm to 9pm | Taipei, Taiwan

Comments

  1. says

    I’m not sure I’d enjoy the Stinky Tofu, seeing as smell is a huge part of my meal enjoyment, but the Pork Belly sounds amazing! Have you ever made it yourself? If so, was it complicated and difficult, or could the average-skilled chef make one? And also, if you have made it, do you have a recipe that you use at home?

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