Stinky tofu has such a mysterious air. People always ask: why does it smell so bad, how is it made, why the offensive name? Culinary imperialism is my answer to the why-ask-why? You don’t see Joe public going to a La Cachette and inquiring about the noxious fumes coming from the Roquefort or the Morbier on their “dessert” cheese plates. That’s right. Them uncultured French eats rotten milk for fun AFTER the main meal. How uncouth is that? Definitely less cosmopolitan than eating tofu marinaded in rotten soy juice.
“WHOAH! Hold Up! Waitaminute!”
There, that’s the secret. Now you know. At least according to 2 of the more useful English articles on the net (1) (2), stinky tofu is made by dunking firm tofu into “brine” which consists of aged pure soy water. Aged, in this discussion of funk, indicates a period of 6 months+, in the open air, soy milk turning into a cloudish dark grey. Have you seen soy “juice” (or “milk” for the Americans, even tho there’s obviously no animal protein from mammory glands in soy) gone bad? Probably not, cuz that Silk crap sold at “American” stores? Pasteurized. Please, don’t try to make stinky tofu at home by fermenting Silk.
Out of all the East Asian/South East Asian countries, Taiwan lays claim to be the most stinky tofu obsessed. It it then reasonable to start this crawl in the pre-dominantly Taiwanese city of Rowland Heights… Act I:
Stinky Tofu KING:
the Infamous OG stinky tofu joint. When you ask a Taiwanese where to go for stinky tofu, someone will invariable scream out: Stinky Tofu King is THE BEST. But is it really? While the waft of wretchedness can be nasally savored from hundred of yards away on a blistering summer day due to the open kitchen / shack, this is, at best, a highly mediocre, upper middle class of stinky tofu. It is perhaps the finest in the area, with the cubes fried to golden goodness, and THEN quartered into bite sizes and matched to a decent lightly spicy Shanghainese-style pickled cabbage. But it just doesn’t reek to high heaven.
Nice Time Deli
This is the bastion of Taiwanese culinary history in the Western San Gabriel Valley (vs. Tofu King, in the newly founded capital of Taiwanese cuisine, in the Easter San Gabriel Valley). For the last 20 years, while Yi Mei on Atlantic has been churning out delectable breakfast, Good Time has been serving street style food for lunch and dinner. It is natural Good Time is on the roster of a stinky tofu-thon. Unfortunately, Good Time served up a lousy sample of what we love. It was overly fried, nary a stank vapor to be sniffed. The Szechuan peppercorn based Northern China pickled cabbage was quite good, but it couldn’t compensate for the tofu that even had bad shade of mustard yellow due to old oil/over frying.
the “out of town” ringer.
Sadly for Good Time, Ay-Chung is located literally next door in San Gabriel Plaza. Since opening approximately 3 years ago, Ay-Chung has taken away at least 50% of Good Time’s business. And the reason is clear: perfect rice flour noodles, with one of the most flavorful, most spicy hot sauces in all of SGV. And how is that stinky tofu? Huge portion, good Szechuan pickled cabbage, a good garlicky soy paste sauce, the most affordable of all the portions, and just putrid enough to offend stinky tofu n00bs. Runner Up from this Taiwan chain.
(San Gabriel, not Alhambra)
This joint’s spicy steamed stinky tofu was one of my deep end finds of Summer ’07 (and ALMOST a First To Review on Yelp). 1.5 years later, the stink doesn’t seem as stink, and the whole plate has just turned into a pile of flavorful hot protein mess. Still like the version, just not that stinky. The regular fried stinky tofu here is absolutely forgettable. Too dry, overly fried, odd shape, lousy sauce.
Lee’s Garden, Alhambra
Our good buddy Rick W, the initiator of this marathon, is a HUGE Lee’s Garden fan. Lee’s is home of the original Taiwanese lunch-plate, before the Shau Mei’s became popular. It’s also the dirtiest, consistently rockin’ a “C” after inspections. Personally, not a fan of their greasy & bland lunch-plate combos. But that stinky tofu? Completely putried. Wowsers. A total knock out and a total surprise. Don’t go for the Taiwanese home-style cooking, but definitely try the stinky tofu. Clear winner.
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