Oh wow am I jetlagged. Chronologically speaking, I’m exactly 12 hours ahead. Geographically, I am in Changsha, the capital of Hunan Province in China. I’m trying not to sleep during the day here, but still, I manage to wake up in the middle of the night, twiddling my thumbs. It’s at least good for my reading, I’ve already caught up on a few books, and gone through who-knows-how-many sudoku games! Anyway, part vacation, part conference, this trip was planned last minute, though I’m really happy to be here. I can’t wait to see my grandparents and aunts and uncles in a few days. Basically the whole clan.
Street food is a huge part of Chinese day-to-day life. Regional foods and snacks define the local people, their tastes, customs, and histories. I love walking from hawker stall to stall, tasting a little bit of this and that, and contrary to belief, they are all actually quite clean. My mom and I walked over to the old town area yesterday for some midday snacks. We sipped on sweetened green tea, taro boba (bubble tea with tapioca), grilled skewers of squid in hot chili paste, the infamous stinky tofu, steamed buns, roasted chestnuts, and deep-fried pork dumplings.
So, what exactly is stinky tofu, you might ask. Well, it’s a very popular snack dish throughout China, of basically fermented tofu blocks that are deep fried. Calling it stinky, to me, is a misnomer; pungent is more like it. Some describe the odor as feet-like, but I say there are also hints of earthiness , slightly sour and salty all at once. Ok, so maybe that is the definition of stinky. Anyway, it’s definitely an acquired taste, and something not to be missed if you should ever encounter it. And you won’t, because you’ll smell the distinct odor from about half a mile away. The robustness of the taste will depend on the length of fermentation. And of course, frying the tofu makes it more palatable. Obviously you can’t find this in the US, there must be a long list of health code violations that stinky tofu would be guilty of. The best and most popular places for it are in downtown Shanghai and in Taipei.