There for a work meeting, Taiwan was somewhere I had never thought about going to before, it was somewhere I would be unlikely to go again, and I was really excited to be there.
After the meeting, I chummed up with the audiovisual guys and we ventured on an expedition up Taipei 101 (formerly the tallest building in the world with, surprise surprise, 101 floors) with a plan to grab a bite of something Taiwanese to eat afterwards.
We managed the first of those missions, and took in the breathtaking views of Taipei from the 91st floor of the tower.
But we failed miserably at the second, and ended up…. in a Japanese street-side café bar. This may seem stupid to those familiar with languages of the far east (or to anyone who can recognise an Asahi when they see one), but we did. Moreover, we ended up eating something that appeared to be a crunchy vegetable, but, following a chicken mime from the waiter (and momentarily freaking out that it was a chicken’s foot – it wasn’t), we realised it was soft chicken bone. Yuck!
I made up for our evening of culinary nationality confusion the next day by getting a takeaway lunch from a café on an afternoon out at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall.
Ordering by simply pointing at random Taiwanese text, I was pleased when some steamed dumplings arrived, but…a pretty strong pong was coming from takeaway box number 2…
It turned out to be “stinky tofu” – I genuinely never thought I would eat something that reeks like a blocked drain… but after a little nibble, I discovered it was actually absolutely delicious!
So, stinky tofu – what is it?
A popular dish in Taiwan, as well as China and South Asia, stinky tofu is a classic street food, being sold by street vendors in night markets (just follow your nose…). Smelling a little bit like sewage (yum), it apparently tastes better the stronger it smells.
Stinky tofu is prepared in many different ways depending on where it is produced; a common method in Taiwan involves marinating the tofu in a liquid produced by fermenting vegetables, dried shrimp, bamboo shoots or Chinese herbs and then deep frying 2 or 3 times. Doesn’t sound that unappealing does it?!
Inspired to travel to Taiwan again some day, next time there will be no Japanese chicken bone on the menu, but there certainly will be plenty more stinky tofu.
For more information about stinky tofu and in fact seemingly anything Taiwan related, visit the excellent blog Wandering Taiwan.