written by Cait
February 19, 2015
“You made a scene,” Emily said frankly, as we waited in line at The Beer Bay bar near my ferry pier. We needed something cold to sooth our burnt mouths.
“I did not!”
“Yes you did! You were loud. People were looking at you,” she insisted whilst laughing.
“I was not that loud…really, people were looking?” I was having a hard time believing that I would make a scene, AND being told I was loud says a lot coming from Emily. She is one of the loudest people I know. Then we got to the front of the line. “Two 1664 Blancs, please.” Emily bought me a beer a (sympathy?) beer and we sat on a bench on the waterfront and waited for my ferry.
Flashback to 30 minutes previously to the largest Chinese New Year Market in Causeway Bay…
“Want to get a snack?” Emily asked me as we approached two large stands, selling various snacks. We were happy with our plant purchases (plants and flowers are a common gift/decoration for New Years), and not looking to do any other shopping. I hadn’t eaten since lunch and my stomach was growling. Crowds of afterwork people were eyeing up the choices with us, when suddenly I am overpowered by this indescribable (but I’ll try later) smell that damn near knocks me off my feet. It was so strong it consumed all of my other senses: I closed my eyes, my hearing cut off, and I lost all sense of my surroundings.
Apparently (claims Emily, which I’m still skeptical), I also lost control over the volume of my voice and concept of appropriate social behavior…
“WHAT IS THAT!?” I think she might have answered me, but again, I was in my own stink-filled world. “Oh. My. God. What is that? That is so awful!” I really thought we were approaching the one and only location of garbage bins. Or there had been some kind of sewage catastrophe.
“Cait,” Emily laughed, bringing me back to reality, “it’s stinky tofu.”
Definition of Stinky Tofu: fermented tofu, made with a brine from various ingredients including milk, meat, and vegetables: and possible dried shrimp, herbs, bamboo shoots
sitnky tofu, eaten the traditional way, on a stick
What? Really? So that’s what stinky tofu smells like. I have been curious about it for a few years now, after watching in on several travel shows. I haven’t searched it out since being in China/Hong Kong, and just assumed I’d come across it at some point. Well, three years later, here I am…or it is. Maybe I have gotten whiffs of it before, and just mistook it for sewage/garbage/rotten food.
“Want to try some?” she asked.
I realize how, uh, ass backwards this might seem…I just admitted how terrible the smell is, and yet I’m excited to eat it. I think it was just the thrill of the unknown, or trying something with a terrible reputation. At least I could say, “I tried it.”
We followed our nose in search of the stinky tofu…and went to the wrong counter. But they directed us to the right place. We got one to share. Emily doctored up the cube of deep fried tofu with a couple sauces; a BBQ-like one, and I don’t remember the other one…something a little sour and had a zip to it.
condiments are necessary
excited for stinky tofu
“Let’s move over here, away from everybody,” she suggested. I’m starting to think she was preparing for another potential scene from me.
She offered me the first bite. And let me tell you! It was pretty bland. A little chewy on the outside, soft on the inside, and very hot! I’m sure I looked ever so graceful doing the open-mouth-chewing-to let the steaming air out (come on, you’ve done it too, and probably saying “hot! hot!” at the same time). But where was the smell? It had been so powerful just moments before…hmm.
“What do you think?” Emily said, accepting the tofu from me and taking a bite herself. I explained my, well disappointment, I guess.
contemplating the second bite
“Let me have another bite,” I said, thinking of Andrew Zimmern on Bizarre Foods and his eating ideology about taking two bites, even if it’s terrible the first time.
WHOA! THERE IT IS! The stank had arrived. I laughed in the only way you can when there are too many thoughts going through your mind (but some were shock and disgust). There was more, “Oh my god!” “That’s so bad!” and maybe an f-bomb in there too from me, as I demanded she take it back.
Maybe since Emily grew up in Hong Kong, and therefore has been around stinky tofu for years, she’s gotten used to the smell because she foolishly asked:
“What’s it smell like to you?” And took another bite.
going in for a second bite
“All the farm manure you could think of…no wait, this is way worse than farm manure-that I can handle. This is like dog shit…and human shit..then sweaty crotch all-”
“STOP! Stop! Okay! I get it, but stop!” She said laughing through bites. Emily does laugh a lot, much of it’s at me. Not because she’s being mean, she’s just a happy person.
“Oh, sorry, but you asked.”
In conclusion, stinky tofu does not taste bad. But it doesn’t taste especially tasty either (kind of like all tofu in my opinion). It’s the smell that ruins the experience, or maybe the smell makes the experience. Depends on how you look at it.
I don’t plan on eating it again, but I can now proudly cross it off my list (along with durian, which I like-it doesn’t smell bad to me at all, but I’ll make that another post).
I do know one thing for certain. That is the most horrendous smell I have ever come across. And I have to agree with my friend Steve who wisely said, “if it smells that bad, I think it’s your body’s way of telling you not to eat it.”