Plug your nose and open wide—OTP’s serving up a healthy bite of “what the fuck,” this time as a steaming pile that possesses the smell of rot-gut death. It’s not a batch of Mama’s mystery meat, unless your mama is an Asian health food nut; it’s Chou Doufu, which literally translates to ‘Stinky Tofu.’ Even though it’s offensive enough to know what's cookin’ from miles away, don’t judge this dish by its revolting assault on your nasal cavities. Allow us to give you the down and dirty on this fermented flatulence before you go hatin’ on something your Asian mama considers a delicacy. Given some of the culture surrounding Chou Doufu, you might just have to consider it a delicacy as well.
What Are You On, and Where Can I Get Some?
From Singapore to Taiwan, regions with Chinese blood in their breed eat this up. Simply, Chou Doufu is heavily fermented tofu, usually fried or served in sauce. It smells and tastes good and bad at the same time, kind of like sex with an obese person. Not surprisingly, no one wants to take the blame for inventing a food with this nasty of a reputation, but our research and local hearsay points to Shanghai as the most likely culprit. These smelly bean curds are nothing compared to some of the other foul foods you might come across in Asian food stalls—tiger penis, bull balls and spiders, oh my! Given all that, Chou Doufu is a pretty safe bet when it comes to markets and street food.
The More You Eat, the More You...
Why, you ask, would you want to put something in your mouth that resembles a mixture of rotting flesh and garbage? We’ve all heard that Chinese medicine is strange but innovative—you know, long-bearded men curing rampant diseases with roots and seahorse tea. Traditional Chinese medicine valued nutritional cures that emphasized flavor and digestive power. Pickled and fermented foods are notorious digestive aids, and it so followed that ingesting a food subject to bacterial infestation was a healthy option. You probably won’t have a problem with feeling stopped up in China, but if you find it hard to move past number 1, Chou Doufu can help you along. If that’s not enough for you, heavily fermented foods also have the reputation of stoking the libido. Ok, so Chou Doufu isn’t as sexy as oysters or champagne, and it might not be a stellar food choice for a hot date if you don’t want your face to be associated with the smell of an asshole. But if you’re in the market for arousal, bring a toothbrush, some face soap and share a plate of this smelly aphrodisiac.
Locally Grown, Sustainably Eaten
As homemade as prohibition-time hooch, Chou Doufu keeps to its roots. More often than not, it’s made by the very people who sell it to you. Factories that mass-produce it might ferment it for a day or two to give it the smell, but don’t let that fool you. Without the unique taste that rocks your tastebuds, factory-produced knock-offs are just foul brands of tofu. It’s this unique taste that gives Chou Doufu its cult following; and it has one, as sure as Star Trek or New York pizza. Once you get past the smell, you’re treated to something that can range in taste from foie gras to something more like rotting fish (Jesus Christ). It’s a gamble, but that’s part of the fun and it all depends on how it’s made.
The Down and Dirty
Stewed in a mixture of putrefied milk alongside meat and vegetables, a harmless block of tofu becomes the oddity that is Chou Doufu, but conditions of fermentation, as well as the way it is prepared, produces variation from region to region. Some places serve it up with coagulated goose blood and select spices. Other places rot the life out of it until it turns black. Some fry it, while others serve it in soup. The only thing every single piece of Chou Doufu has in common is the smell, and in case you didn’t catch this already, it’s always atrocious. Street vendors will typically fry it up and serve it to you hot with some tangy sauce and pickled vegetables. Despite the presence of smoked bats in Indonesia and Balut (no kidding!) in other parts of Asia, Chou Doufu is definitely one of the most interesting food experiences you’re going to have while traveling in Asia and having an “I-can’t-believe-I-ate-that-shit” story when you get home is half the fun of traveling.
We double dog dare you to take the challenge and attempt to check out different regional versions of the gross, but godly, treat. There are tons of variations in flavor, texture, and smell. Enough explanation, just put it in your mouth.