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Stinky tofu is a form of fermented tofu that has a strong odor. It is a popular snack in East and Southeast Asia, particularly Hong Kongmarker, Taiwanmarker, Indonesiamarker, and Chinamarker, where it is usually found at night markets or roadside stands, or as a side dish in lunch bars.

Production

Unlike cheese, stinky tofu fermentation does not have fixed formula for starter bacteria; wide regional and individual variations exist in manufacture and preparation.

The traditional method for producing stinky tofu is to prepare a brine made from fermented milk, vegetables, and meat; the brine can also include dried shrimp, amaranth greens, mustard greens, bamboo shoots, and Chinese herbs. The brine fermentation can take as long as several months. Depending on the ways of preparation, the process can be extremely unsanitary; the brine is covered with maggots and has extremely strong rotten odor. Then after the brine is made, fresh firm tofu is marinated in it for a period time ranging from several days to a couple months. Sometimes quicklime is added to control the fermentation and maggots. Since no starter bacteria were used, the only way to determine whether the tofu has achieved desired quality is by its appearance, e.g. tofu covered in white mold and not black mold. After a successful attempt, the brine can then be kept for future use. This is also the reason why stinky tofu tastes different from vendor to vendor, and the brines are usually considered a trade secret by the makers. Although stinky tofu is very popular in East and Southeast Asia, not many households prepare stinky tofu brine at home due to its strong odor, especially in metro-residential areas.

Even though the traditional method is still widely practiced by street vendors, modern factories often use quicker methods to mass produce stinky tofu. Fresh tofu is marinated in prepared brine for only a day or two, especially for fried or boiled cooking purpose. The process only adds odor to the marinated tofu instead of letting it ferment completely. Some 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.

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 any 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.

In North America, stinky tofu is often "home-made" in cities with significant numbers of Asian immigrants. For example, some Asian tofu factories in Vancouvermarker, Canadamarker produce stinky tofu underground as a side-business to avoid government inspections.

Preparation



Stinky tofu can be eaten cold, steamed, stewed, or most commonly, fried. It is often accompanied by chili sauce. The color varies from the golden fried Zhejiang-style to the black typical of Hunan-style stinky tofu.

From a distance, the odor of stinky tofu is said to resemble that of rotten garbage or manure, even by its enthusiasts. In spite of stinky tofu's smell, most say the flavor is surprisingly mild. Some few people have compared it to the taste of blue cheese. It has also been compared to foie gras. In some instances the taste has even been compared to rotten meat. It is said the more it smells, the 'better' its flavor is.

Regional

Mainland China

Stinky tofu is made and consumed in different ways in various areas of China. For example, the types of dried stinky tofu made in Changshamarker and Shaoxingmarker are both very popular, but they are made with different methods, and the resulting flavors are very different. The most famous shop for stinky tofu in Changsha makes the tofu with yellow soybeans marinated in seasoning. The stinky tofu sold in Tianjinmarker is mostly made in the Nanjingmarker style, with a mild aroma. In Shanghai, stinky tofu is fried and sold on streets, typically served with either spicy or sweet sauces. In Chongqingmarker, stinky tofu on the streets is usually fried and dipped in a mixture of usually coriander (U.S. 'cilantro'), scallions, chili powder, Sichuan pepper and oil. Stinky tofu is also sometimes dipped in Sichuan spicy hotpots.

Hong Kong

In Hong Kong, stinky tofu is a trademark street food, along with fishballs and beef balls. The street style is rather plain. It is deep fried fresh at hawkers' stalls and at dai pai dong. It is sold by the bag, and is well-known for the tremendous amount of grease it contains. Hong Kong-style stinky tofu is traditionally eaten with hoisin sauce.

Taiwan

Stinky tofu is one of the most recognizable dishes in Taiwan. It is very commonly served on roadside stands and in night markets. It is usually served deep fried (often served with drizzled sauce and topped with sour pickled vegetables) , grilled, or added into a Sichuan mala soup base (with solid geese blood.)

In popular culture

In the TV series Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, host Andrew Zimmern sampled stinky tofu in Taiwan. While he enjoyed the griddled variety sold by street vendors in Shenkengmarker, he could not stand the two dishes - cow stomach sandwich (with fried stinky tofu as the bun) and raw stinky tofu salad with Century eggs - he was served at "Dai's House of Unique Stink" in Taipeimarker. He commented that the 14-day-old stinky tofu was overpowering with its rotten taste.

During the Disney Channel Games of 2008, participants were able to sample foods from multiple cultures. One of these dishes was stinky tofu. Though the host and several participants enjoyed it, many stayed away due to the name. Many questioned why one would give the food such a name.

In the reality show The Amazing Race Asia Season 3, competitors must eat a big bowl of stinky tofu in one of the Taiwan challenges segment.

In Season 10 of the popular reality television show Big Brother, Marcus had to brush his teeth with Stinky tofu as part of one of the challenges.

Featured in season 2 of The Next Iron Chef as a secret ingredient in the cook-off challenge.

References

  1. http://zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E8%87%AD%E8%B1%86%E8%85%90
  2. Stand back! Stinky tofu chain stores arrive in Shenzhen
  3. http://news.cts.com.tw/cts/general/200910/200910080327597.html
  4. http://www.epochtimes.com/b5/3/10/2/n386865.htm
  5. http://www.ytower.com.tw/mailbox/detail.asp?TitleID=287
  6. http://www.takungpao.com.hk/news/07/07/17/ZM-766817.htm
  7. http://www.districtcouncils.gov.hk/sk_d/chinese/doc/Minutes/FEHC_0506_5_mc.doc
  8. Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern - Taiwan


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