|Place of origin||China|
|Region or state||East Asia|
|Main ingredients||fermented tofu|
|Literal meaning||stinky tofu|
Stinky tofu (Chinese: 臭豆腐; pinyin: chòu dòufu) is a Chinese form of fermented tofu that has a strong odor. It is usually sold at night markets or roadside stands as a snack, or in lunch bars as a side dish, rather than in restaurants. Traditionally the dish is fermented in a brine with vegetables and meat, sometimes for months. Modern factory-produced stinky tofu is marinated in brine for one or two days to add odor.
Unlike cheese, stinky tofu fermentation does not have a fixed formula for starter bacteria; wide regional and individual variations exist in manufacturing and preparation.
The traditional method of 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.
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 purposes. The process only adds odor to the marinated tofu instead of letting it ferment completely.
Stinky tofu can be eaten cold, steamed, stewed, or, most commonly, deep-fried, and it is often accompanied by chili sauce or soy 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 smelly feet. Some people have compared it to the taste of blue cheese, while others have compared it to rotten meat. It is said that the more it smells, the better its flavor.
According to a Chinese legend, a scholar named Wang Zhihe (王致和) hailing from Huang Shan in Anhui Province invented stinky tofu during the Qing dynasty. After failing the imperial examination, Wang stayed in Beijing and relied on selling tofu to make a living. One day, having a huge quantity of unsold tofu on his hands, he cut the tofu into small cubes and put them into an earthen jar. After several days, he opened up the jar and found out that the tofu had turned greenish and become extremely smelly. Initially perceiving the tofu to taste extremely foul, he found out that it was surprisingly delicious so he decided to start selling it at his store. The stinky tofu that Wang Zhihe invented gained popularity and was later served at the imperial Qing Dynasty palace. The dish has now become extremely popular in Taiwan. 
A 2012 chemical analysis found 39 volatile organic compounds that contributed to the unique smell and taste of fermented stinky tofu. The main volatile compound was indole, which has an intense fecal odor, followed by dimethyl trisulfide, phenol, dimethyl disulfide and dimethyl tetrasulfide.
In Hong Kong, stinky tofu is a street food. It is deep-fried fresh at hawkers' stalls and at dai pai dongs and sold by the bag. Stinky tofu in Hong Kong is typically served deep-fried and eaten with hoisin sauce.
Stinky tofu is made and consumed in different ways in various areas of China. For example, the types of dried stinky tofu made in Changsha and Shaoxing are made using different methods, and the resulting flavors are very different. Huo Gong Dian (a stinky tofu shop in Changsha) makes the tofu with yellow soybeans marinated in seasoning. The stinky tofu sold in Tianjin is made mostly in the Nanjing style, with a mild aroma. In Shanghai, stinky tofu is fried and sold on the street, typically served with a spicy or sweet sauce much like the Shaoxing variety. It is also served as a condiment to congee, often as a part of a regular breakfast meal. In Chongqing, stinky tofu on the street is usually fried and dipped in a mixture of, typically, coriander (cilantro) leaves, scallions, chili powder, Sichuan pepper and oil. Stinky tofu is also sometimes dipped in Sichuan spicy hot pot. In Beijing, there is a form that is sold in jar as a curd.
In Anhui, the perceived deliciousness of stinky tofu depends mainly on its spiciness: the spicier it is, the more it suits the local favor. Chinese legend says that stinky tofu was invented by a man from Anhui province, and indeed it is common to attribute the creation of tofu dishes in general to Anhui cuisine, as Anhui is seen as the birthplace of tofu.
Stinky tofu is a symbol of Changsha street snack, also called chou ganzi (smelly jerky) by local people. Changsha stinky tofu is famous of its spicy flavor. Different than Sichuan stinky tofu, Changsha-style has black crackling. Changsha stinky tofu is made from brine composed of winter bamboo shoot, koji, and shiitake mushrooms. After the surface grows white hair-like filaments, and once it turns grey, the stinky tofu is ready to be fried. Chopped mustard, chili, and shallot are regular toppings on Changsha stinky tofu. Along with Xiangtan lotus seeds and Yongfeng chili sauce, Changsha stinky tofu is known as "Hunan Sanbao" or one of Hunan's three treasures.
There is one famous kind of stinky tofu in Nanjing, called "Gaochun stinky tofu". It has different kinds of brine than Changsha style stinky tofu. The brine needs to be made of rotten pickles and its stinky smell will be very natural. Similar to Changsha-style stinky tofu, it also has black crackling.
In Sichuan, stinky tofu is often flavored with mala, a spicy and numbing seasoning made from chilli and Sichuan peppercorns. Sichuan-style stinky tofu does not need to be deep fried in the oil, so it does not have black cracklings. It needs to be stirred fried and boiled with different kinds of spices.
In Taiwan, stinky tofu is commonly found at stalls in night markets. Taiwanese stinky tofu is cooked with many methods including frying, steaming, cooking in soup, and barbecuing, but is most commonly found in its fried form. The Shenkeng Old Street in New Taipei's Shenkeng District is known for having an entire boulevard dedicated to eateries serving Taiwanese varieties of stinky tofu.
Fried stinky tofu is the most common variety found in Taiwanese night markets and is considered to be less pungent than other varieties. It is almost always served with pickled cabbage and garlic sauce.
Steamed stinky tofu in Taiwan is considered to be the most pungent variety of stinky tofu available. It is typically served with pickled cabbage, chili sauce, and garlic sauce.
Stewed stinky tofu is served in a thick soup. A Sichuan mala base is often used, but can vary. The spicy broth of a mala base is said to be able to mask the smell and taste of the tofu.
Barbecued stinky tofu is a popular stinky tofu variety believed to have originated in Taipei's Shenkeng District, and is served in many of Taiwan's night markets. It is often described as have a nutty, smooth center and a spongy outer skin. Cubes of stinky tofu are speared on a bamboo skewer are roasted over charcoal with roasted meat sauce. Because of the huge amount of seasonings, the unpleasant odor of barbecued stinky tofu is comparatively weaker. Therefore, barbecued stinky tofu is always recommended for people trying stinky tofu for the first time.
Stinky tofu can also be found in specialty restaurants in some parts of the United States (with preparation methods altered where needed to comply with U.S. food safety laws).
Tofu King has opened a second eatery in Arcadia, which is good news to those seeking the Taiwanese, deep-fried fermented dish. [...] But this is not a masochist's stinky tofu. This is a subtle, carefully controlled, artful bit of fermented snackery. The stuff is almost delicate. If blue cheeses and stinky tofus are the foods that smell like feet, this stinky tofu smells like Natalie Portman's feet — at least in a fanboy's imagination. [...] The tofu burial ought to last for a week, and that’s how they used to do it, but the health department didn’t approve, so they’ve shortened the fermentation bath to three days. Thus: half-ripened, gateway stinky tofu. [...] The original Rowland Heights branch of Tofu King reigns over a small shopping mall alleyway food court. [...] The original branch is still around and is still tops for old-school Chinese night-market, street-food charm, but for maximum culinary pleasure, follow Mel Chang to the new Arcadia branch.
Some say it smells like dirty socks, while others say its stench is akin to that of rotting cheese, dirty garbage, or manure. [...] Stinky tofu fans claim that the more stinky the tofu, the tastier it is. [...] Stinky tofu is said to have its roots in the southeastern maritime areas of China. According to legend, a tofu vendor named Wang Zhi He invented stinky tofu during the Qing dynasty. He had a lot of unsold tofu, so he cut it into small cubes and put it in a jar for several days. The tofu fermented and turned a greenish color. He tried the smelly tofu and found that it tasted delicious, so he decided to start selling it at his store. [...] Henry’s Taiwan Kitchen is a leading Taiwanese restaurant with locations in Seattle, Washington and Tempe, Arizona. Get your stinky tofu fix and sample other authentic Taiwanese dishes at Henry’s Taiwan Kitchen!
The Orange Tree Square Shopping Center, a small shopping center backed up hard against the 5 freeway at Jeffrey Road, gains another strong player in the cuisine of that nation. This is the first Orange County location of Tofu King, which has other shops in Rowland Heights and Arcadia. It joins other Taiwanese heavyweights as 101 Noodle Express, Liang's Kitchen, Yu's Garden, Home Town Deli, and Lao Dong Beef Noodles.