The team here at Cuisinevault has a mild obsession with eating “challenging food”. We’ve already written about durian, natto, noni fruit, smelly cheese, geoduck, and scorpions. Although their aroma was confronting to deal with, nothing could prepare us for the overwhelming stench given off by stinky tofu (chou doufu). This dish consists of tofu which has been soaked in fermented brine. While it may not sound appealing, it is a much-loved street food in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China.
So, what does stinky tofu taste like? We’re about to give a full rundown on the flavor, texture, and how the different varieties affect the taste. Let’s dive in.
How does stinky tofu taste?
Stinky tofu has an earthy, salty flavor profile with a mildly sweet and tangy undertone. Although its intense acrid aroma gives the impression of a powerful-flavored dish, most types are quite mild. People often compare the taste of stinky tofu to a smooth aged cheese.
The texture of stinky tofu will depend on the cooking method and brine recipe used. Many recipes produce a snack with crispy skin that encases a warm and luxurious inside that’s smooth and a little chewy. Compared to regular tofu, the interior is creamier. Cabbage or green onions are usually added to provide some refreshing crunch.
Comparing the different flavors of stinky tofu
Steamed Stinky Tofu
Steaming stinky tofu don't have a lot of additional ingredients added. So this is probably the best option for those that want the full flavor and aroma of the tofu. Be warned, the smell is intense! Cabbage and sauce added during serving won’t do much to reduce its intensity.
Fried Stinky Tofu
This has to be the most common method of cooking the tofu and its smell is less pungent than some of the other types. If you have the opportunity to visit the night markets in Taiwan you’ll find this style of dish sold by vendors lining the streets. It is frequently served with cabbage and garlic sauce.
In the Hunan province, street corners sell their extra spicy version of stinky tofu which is known as the “smelliest tofu in the world”. This unique looking tofu has a black crackling, but it’s the brine production process that will raise the eyebrows of any “non-locals”. Koji, bamboo shoots and shiitake mushrooms are fermented until mold forms. The sign of white hair means the tofu is ready for deep frying. Even the excessive addition of chili and mustard won’t overpower the smell of this street food.
Barbecued Stinky Tofu
Another popular option with street vendors is barbecued stinky tofu skewered on bamboo sticks. The skin tends to be more spongy than crisp, perhaps because they’re cooked in sauce on charcoals. For those new to stinky tofu, this dish is a good option; the addition of excessive sauce and spice overpowers much of the pungent aroma.
Related articles on other smelly foods:
What's the difference between durian and jackfruit?
What do noni fruit taste of?
What does casu marzu taste like?
How to reduce the odor
Are you going to cook stinky tofu at home? If you have a sensitive nose but want to taste-test this food then the method of cooking can help. An aroma will develop and become more overpowering the longer it is cooked so don’t overdo it! Fragrant seasonings and garlic paste will also help to mask the smell.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is stinky tofu healthy?
Stinky tofu is high in calcium, iron, and isoflavones. However, it contains high levels of sodium and, if deep-fried, it also has high levels of trans fats. It is soaked in probiotics that can boost immunity, aid digestion, and much more. Check out the nutritional values here.
Where can I buy stinky tofu?
Stinky tofu is readily available from street food vendors in China, Taiwan, Taipei, and Hong Kong. It is harder to find in restaurants because the smell overwhelms the room. If you’re outside Asia, your best option is to buy online or visit a local Asian grocer.
Is stinky tofu vegan?
While the main component of stinky tofu is plant-based (tofu), it is often soaked in a solution including milk or shrimp brine. Some restaurants will offer vegan options, but this isn’t very common.
Where did stinky tofu originate?
Stinky tofu originated from China during the Qing Dynasty.
Stinky tofu is one of the smelliest foods on offer around the world. If you’re considering eating this dish, be prepared for a pungent aroma. Once you've overcome the stench, you’ll find that the taste is surprisingly mild and pleasant. There is an earthy, salty taste with the additional tart flavor you’d expect from fermentation-based food. However, it’s the delicious texture of the crispy exterior and soft, rich interior that make this food special. When it gets combined with an exciting range of sauces and spices, you start to understand why this is such a popular street food.
If you’re even slightly fussy with food, or you have a heightened sense of smell, then this isn’t the dish for you. For those that love a food challenge this will be your ultimate test. Once you conquer stinky tofu, you’re ready for anything the gastronomic community in Asia can throw at you. Well, almost anything – did anyone mention balut?
What is the worst tasting food you have ever eaten? Please let us know in the comments below so that we can give it a taste test!