Stinky tofu is one of those things in Taiwan which is a big question mark for many visitors. I've heard so many questions about it over the years: Why is it called stinky tofu? Where is it sold? Does it taste like what it smells? Why would anybody want to eat that? How is it made / prepared / cooked? I'll try to answer some of these questions on this page, but let me first say something before we begin... I am a huge fan of Taiwanese stinky tofu, and it is my absolute go-to night snack in Taiwan! I can binge on that stuff as if I had been starving for weeks.
Stinky tofu is a kind of fermented tofu, which has a highly unpleasant, pungent smell, especially when it is deep fried -think dirty wet socks or strong blue cheese. In Chinese it's called "chou dou fu", 臭豆腐.
This dish is mostly eaten as a quick snack. It's a popular street food, typically cooked on the side of the road at small stalls, and it's not commonly sold in restaurants. Stinky tofu is considered by many to be the national snack of Taiwan.
As the Lonely Planet guide says, "stinky tofu defines Taiwanese street food".
Yes and no. I personally don't think so, and my wife doesn't think so either. Maybe that's because we are used to eating it (a lot) and we put more attention to the taste of the filling (cabbage, garlic, hot sauce) than to the actual tofu. My friends who visited Taiwan from Canada told me it tasted exactly the same as what it smelled - even worse, and could't swallow a tiny bite. They even used the words "rotten stench" and "horse stable" to describe the smell and taste. I don't get it.
Pretty much every night market and traditional market in Taiwan has a hawker stall or two dedicated to stinky tofu. Most tourists destinations with street markets, or old streets (lao jie, 老街) will also most assuredly sell what many people refer to as the Taiwanese blue cheese. Just follow the smell.
Shenkend Old Street in Shenkeng (深坑) near Taipei Zoo, is devoted to stinky tofu and for that reason, some locals have nicknamed it Stinky Street. It's a highly popular food destination for Asian tourists.
Stinky tofu is usually served in a small take-away, cardboard box, even if you eat it at a table by the stand. The deep-fried kind often comes with sides of shaved cucumber, pickled cabbage, and garlic sauce which you can put either on top of the cubes of tofu, or you can make a hole in the tofu with your chopsticks and stuff the veggies inside. The first bite is usually quite messy as the juicy filling falls all over the place. To me, the mess is half the fun of eating it! Yum!
Stinky tofu is very inexpensive. A box of 5 or 6 cubes will usually cost between 35 and 50NT$. The stewed kind usually sells around 60 to 70NT$ a bowl.
There are many different varieties of stinky tofu like braised, barbecued, steamed, stewed, and deep-fried. The deep fried kind has the strongest taste and is the most easily found. The one which comes in a spicy broth (mala stinky tofu - 麻辣臭豆腐) is the second most popular kind and is also something I could eat every single day.
Stinky tofu is also sold throughout China and in some areas of Hong Kong where hawker stalls operate. Singapore and some cities in Malaysia with large Chinese population such as Malaka and Penang also has the pungent dish available.
I've tried stinky tofu everywhere in Taiwan from north to south, east to west and I can promise you that the best stinky tofu in Taiwan is sold at Liang Popo (梁婆婆臭豆腐) in Taichung. They have two locations in the city:
312 Meitsun Rd, Sect. 1, West District
187, Section 3, Dongxing Rd, Nantun District
The deep fried kind is basically as unhealthy as french fries. Tofu absorbs oil very easily, so it may be even more saturated with bad fat than french fries. At one point, when I was in my mid-twenties, I would have it pretty much every night, for a whole month, and I gained 5kg! It's tasty, but it ain't healthy, that is for sure!
I say GO FOR IT!! Challenge those taste buds! Just like me, you may fall in love with stinky tofu in Taiwan!