Chou doufu (臭豆腐) which literally translates to “stinky tofu” is tofu that’s been fermented in a jar for months. With the help of my friend, I got my hands on some genuine, locally fermented Chinese stinky tofu and I (stupidly) eat some in this video.
After festering, rotting, and growing mold inside of a jar, the harmless bean curd transforms into what could easily be described as the most putrid smell and taste on earth. This oddly popular snack is sold in roadside stalls and marketplaces throughout China and Taiwan today, but it’s often just an imitation.
The imitation stinky tofu sold by roadside vendors and in marketplaces is quite easy to find, but finding authentic stinky tofu is a challenge. Street vendors sell tofu that’s been soaked in a stinky brine for a few hours or maybe up to a day, but it’s not what Chinese would call genuine fermented chou doufu. In order to find the real stuff, you have to do a little bit of searching. I told my friend Larry, a Harbin native living in Shanghai, about my quest for stinky tofu authenticity, and he was able to snag some for me.
Once I saw the real stuff, I knew that everything else I’d ever seen in roadside vendors was just a hoax. I immediately knew that this stuff is the real deal. Even when the jar is sealed, its smell is face-punchingly offensive. Once the lid is removed, it’s a sensory armageddon.
To put it lightly, the smell is like putting old gym socks, human feces, and rotten garbage in a blender and leaving that smoothie to sit in direct sunlight for weeks before taking a whiff. My nostrils burned so badly because of the stench; it was physically painful. And the smell resonates long after you bravely take a whiff of the devilish concoction.
Apparently you’re not supposed to eat it by itself. It’s essentially meant to be eaten as a condiment, but I wanted a pure, unadulterated sampling. The taste coats your mouth immediately like slimy old cheese and stays in your mouth long after you swallow it. It was difficult not to vomit.
Stinky tofu is a food that I hope to never encounter again. It was honestly the worst smell and worst taste I’ve ever imagined, and I’m glad this whole thing is over.