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Gareth is an Australian who has lived in JiangSu, SuZhou (Heaven on Earth) for a few years - he is a keen observer of the Chinese people, Chinese culture and the changes that are occurring in China at break-neck speed. He can often be found on his a nightly 'perch' in front of his bar in the famous Bar Street in Suzhou, talking to the locals in his bad Mandarin, teaching the 'flower-selling girls' English, eating street food and smiling at the local chengguan (neighbourhood police). Gareth also has several other businesses in China around Business and English training. His experiences have been varied and interesting and his years in China have taught him to be wary of promises but excited about prospects, not a bad situation to be in!
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Great Mysteries of China: Discoverer of Fragrant Tofu    

By Garreth Humphris
2695 Views | 8 Comments | 4/21/2011 12:27:55 AM

There are a number of undesirable food sources around the world that people from other places cannot stomach - case in point, gorgonzola cheese.

I still cannot for the life of me understand why anyone would think that a quivering lump of rotten white creamy stuff that reeks up the place from 2 blocks away would be placed in someone's mouth!!!

Nature has given us a pretty good response mechanism - if something is red, it's probably poisonous (female lips, red wine, chocolate covered cherries - all poisons designed to delude men) and if something smells worse than a pair of nylon socks after a marathon in cheap Walmart running shoes then it shouldn't go anywhere near the mouth - I mean, that is why the nose is above the mouth isn't it, a gastrointestinal early warning system?

So how do people decide that eating gorgonzola be anything but deadly to your health and is there a museum somewhere with a statue of the first guy who tried gorgonzola? The bravest man alive... A homage to the vanquisher of evil fromage?

China too has at least one answer to the "it's so nasty, you wouldn't want to eat it - what the heck, we'll try it anyway" brigade of culinary curiosities and that is the incorrectly translated 'fragrant dofu' - funnily enough a quivering white lump of rotten white creamy stuff that can be detected within a 3 km radius.
I can tell you, if 'fragrant' defines the smell of an ocean outfall of raw sewage, or the waftings of a Louisiana swamp, then the description is correct!

One local shop that sells the stuff pensively describes it as 'odorous beancurd', which is a little closer to the mark but not by much!

My Chinese friend told me you 'learn to love it', but I don't really see how!! sort of reminds me a bit of the frog in the boiling water story... You know the one, the frog jumps into a pot of boiling water and immediately jumps out again because, it's too hot... but if the frog jumps into a pot of cold water and is slowly made warmer and warmer, it makes no attempt to escape because it cannot detect the subtle increase in temperature of it's surroundings until... it is rescued by the lanky, pimply Biology student doing that horrible experiment!!! Maybe I am that frog and the water is just starting to get a little warmish!

So, if I get some of this stuff and place it a few blocks away and slowly, day by day have it inched closer to my home, then after about a month I should be able to tolerate the bicycle of the 'fried stinky tofu seller' cycling within a few hundred yards of me! That would be my aim anyway!

In fact, the stuff isn't too bad!!! Yes, it does smell really bad but the taste is only marginally more unpleasant than drinking cod liver oil straight from the bottle!

In my 'home' town it comes in 2 varieties, a plain steamed type found in restaurants and a seasoned fried variety that is found basted in recycled sewer oil and MSG on the streets in the evenings (incidentally, long after the emergency wards in the local hospitals have closed!). One of my foreign friends famously exclaimed 'man, this stuff tastes like the smell of a piggery', and I sort of had to agree with him on that one!!

But it is one of those culinary expeditions you have to try a least once when you are in China! The Chinese claim that you cannot call yourself Chinese if you have not walked on the Great Wall, but I'd like to add to this a dare/challenge to foreign visitors of China - you can't say you've been to China unless you have proof you have munched on 'fragrant dofu'. Post video footage on YouTube under 'Stinky Dofu Challenge' - I'll check it out next time I'm outside the great Firewall!

More culinary curios for you to discover are everywhere in China; for example, those luridly radio-active glowing 1000-year-old eggs?

You have to ask yourself - Who was the first person to eat those??

Copyright owned jointly by Author and CyberCupid Co., Ltd. Breach of copyright will be prosecuted.
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#2011-04-21 00:48:14 by JohnAbbot @JohnAbbot

I do not have a delicate sense of smell, but the first time I smelled "fragrant dofu" was in Hong Kong, where there are frequently vendors cooking it up on the streets. It's immensely popular there. And I can vouch for what Garreth says about how intensely stinky it is because I'm sure I started to smell it while boarding the ferry in Kowloon and I didn't finally reach the source until well into Central District on the Island (OK, I exaggerate slightly). It reminds me of that other odorous wonder - stinky fruit - which comes from various locals in SE Asia and which is equally popular with the fragrant dofu crowd.

They both smell like a sewer main has just burst immediately below your feet, thereby offering you the opportunity to enjoy eating something that smells like crap for your main course and then following it up with something that smells like crap for desert.

In spite of my whinging however, my wife has found a way to cook the fragrant dofu that tastes so good that I find myself holding my nose and forgiving it for its criminal smell. Not so, the stinky fruit.

#2011-04-21 10:49:32 by woaizhongguo @woaizhongguo

In all fairness, one cannot say one hasn't been warned. Not only by you but by the langauage itself. After all, it is called "chou dofu" (臭豆腐) and the most common translation of "chou" is 'smelly' or 'disgusting'. There is even an onomotopoeic element in that even the sound of "chou" is unpleasant (sounding like "choke"). By contrast, the most common word for fragrant, 'xiang',has a sonorous ring to it. "Chou" is the harsh fourth tone; "xiang" the gentle first tone. The bottom line is, for the love of God stay away from that s**t!

#2011-04-21 14:07:29 by pourquoipasamour @pourquoipasamour


You are probably referring to the Durian fruit when you mention the "stinky fruit". Davao, in Mindanao, Philippines is the land of Durian. The smell is just impossible to describe, smells literally like raw sewage or worse, but, amazing as it may sound, it is very tasty. The fruit is not only stinky, is also very ugly and full of sharp spikes, it is difficult to handle it without hurting your hands in the sharp needles. It is like nature made that a forbidden fruit, not supposed to be eaten, Gosh.

I love fruits, specially tropical fruits. Ugly alone means nothing, it can be ugly and tasty. Brazilian fruits are very ugly, but are usually delicious. You are probably familiar with the "Dragon Fruit" in China, very unpleasant looking fruit, but it tastes pretty good. I believe that comes from the family of the Kiwi fruit.

#2011-04-21 17:48:43 by aussieghump @aussieghump

Durian is the king of fruits!!!
I have loved it years - when I first went to Malaysia about 20 years ago, I spent an afternoon eating it with vodka! Apparantly this is quite foolhardy because the combination of alcohol and durian can give you problems like 'instant death' since it affects you heartrate or something like that!

In Singapore, I sneak in to the Hawker centres for a Durian Ice drink - everyone else justs screws up their nose but I can't get enough of the stuff!

#2011-04-21 23:17:39 by thedragonb1 @thedragonb1

Aaaah... What the Chinese movie English subtitles call "STINKY TOFU!" And my goodness, my first visit to Guangzhou I experienced the street vendors and DAMN - that is some seriously FUNKY SMELLING SHIT! Oops I mean Funky smelling doufu! I was there on the street asking what the hell is that funky smell?!! Once I realized it was stinky tofu I was not going near the stuff! Was I temped? HELL NO! Would I dare? Not after reading your blog, dude! If it tastes like it smells.. NOPE! Not I said the Dragon B! haaaaa!

#2011-04-23 19:28:05 by kahnsfury @kahnsfury

Hmmmm maybe that's what I've been smelling coming home from work. I could have sworn it was raw sewage but now that you mention it there were some vendors awful close to the smell. The king of fruits or Durian, I've seen at my local supermarket and I can attest to the horrible stench... My girl wants me to try it but I don't want the apartment smelling like that.

#2011-04-27 22:23:23 by JohnAbbot @JohnAbbot

I had an interesting Dinner this evening which brought me back here to revise my comments. My wife is really a fabulous cook and she served up another great meal, consisting of (maybe you guest it) stinky tofu cooked in such a way that I could not get enough of it. This went beyond her usual way of cooking it. This time fried it in olive oil, giving it a crust that managed to lessen the smell and was also coated with some great spices. It was really great.

Other dishes included a mixed mushroom concoction, a stir fry, and get this - stinky vegetable. This was the first time I'd heard of "stinky vegetable" and while it was strange, being an inedible shell (maybe husk is a better word) with a soft center, it tasted great, in spite of the smell which approximate the stinky tofu, although not as seriously nasty. Resting in a great sauce the stinky vegetable is taken in your mouth where you squeeze the core out with your teeth, then spit out the shell.

Soon enough I'm sure I'll succumb to the stinky fruit, especially since Garreth has mentioned it coming in an ice drink. During China summers I'd probably drink ox blood so long as it came in ice.

#2011-04-29 13:17:49 by randyteacher @randyteacher

I'll certainly agree with Garreth on this one, both Durian and Stinky Doufu smell like hell but I love the taste of Durian and have since the first time I tasted it in Singapore some 30 years ago. I have tried Stinky Doufu once in Chengdu from a vendor I was assured made the best Stinky Doufu in the entire Middle Kingdom! Personally it felt it tasted more akin to putty that I used to glaze windows with and it just didn't do anything for me. It must be an acquired taste much like beer was for me because I certainly didn't like the taste of that the first time I drank it as well.

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