The first time I inhaled it, I gagged. The stench resembled what I can only imagine a smoothie of stale urine, decaying roadkill, and raw sewage would resemble. So what item could produce such a vile scent? Only the obviously named stinky tofu or chòu dòufu.
Stinky tofu is a common street food all over Shanghai. Made from rotten soy milk, you can usually smell the cart long before you see any evidence of it. After a solid 17 months of living in Shanghai, I figured it was time to finally try it out.
For my first encounter, I went to a local Shanghainese restaurant which shall remain nameless. The review online stated that the tofu there would have "chòu dòufu lovers in love, and could even win over people on the fence". I figured I was in good hands.
The dish came out looking delicious. Small pieces of tofu were carefully wrapped in tofu skin packages and deep fried. The result was a crisp outer skin and creamy center.
I dipped my chòu dòufu into the accompaning chili sauce and popped it in my mouth. The tofu itself had a great consistency but as I continued to chew, the pungent scent crawled up my throat and into my nose. With each chew, the odor grew stronger and stronger. I managed to shallow the entire piece and quickly washed away the lingering after taste with a few gulps of tea.
Then it was Matthew's turn. Before I describe his reaction, you should know that he is the brave one in this partnership. He's eaten things I wouldn't even poke with a stick. So I figured chòu dòufu wouldn't phase him in the least.
As Matthew described it later, as the tofu entered his mouth, his body immediately recognized it as something rancid that should be expelled. That's right, my adventurous hubby who has eaten many a questionable thing in his life (such as my cooking) actually gagged while eating chòu dòufu.
Then I went in for a second piece, just in case the first one was a fluke. It wasn't.