There it sits. Challenging me.
So we went to the Xinyi branch of Dai's last night：台北市信義區永吉路30巷1號 - Xinyi, Yongji Road, Lane 30 #1 (it may be #2). It's actually called something along the lines of Du's Memorial to Dai's House of Unique Stink and serves the same horrifically - and I mean horrifically - stinky tofu that Dai's on Nanjing Road sells.
(Once our mouths and intestines recover from this trip, we're going to check out the other Dai's).
The outside of the shop doesn't smell too bad until you get close, when the waves of stenchtacular haze start rolling out. I imagine them as puce colored roils of steam. The smell is enough to trigger synesthesia it seems.
This shop was featured on Andrew Zimmern's show - that guy who goes around the world and eats crazy food - and I admire the guy. I do. I can't eat cockroaches. They terrify me. Forget balut (a congealed duck embryo boiled egg, still in the shell...feathers, tiny bones and all, from the Philippines). I have tried pig's lung and various meats and I swear duck tongue is on the list...but I'm not cut out for that job full-time.
Dai's sells very, very stinky tofu that gets its coma-inducing stankonia from fermenting for extra-long; I think 14 days or so of fermentation compared to a shorter time for regular stinky tofu - which I love, and swear is really not all that stinky. Their specialties are deep fried stinky tofu, which was quite nice and not that stinky at all, as well as raw stinky tofu (above), which was soft and smooth like bleu cheese, but about ten million times as pungent. It's sold by the cube because the owner is pretty sure that your average person can't eat an entire three-cube portion. She may be right.
Left: fried stinky tofu. Center: hot (ma la) stinky tofu. Right: the last of the raw stinky tofu.
We ordered three kinds and dug in. Everyone was pleased with the fried （獨家味臭豆腐 - not sure if that's it exactly but basically that's their house specialty, which is fried）and spicy soup tofu （麻辣臭豆腐）dishes, which, while stinkier than your average street vendor's fare, were not all that stinky in comparison.
The raw tofu (生臭豆腐）, on the other hand, "tastes like licking the inside of a septic tank" as I put it. The stuff on top, a delicious salty, crunchy peanut, seaweed, salt and other-stuff powder, seemed to take the edge off but really just amplified it and helped provide a chaser before the aftertaste - the very fermented aftertaste - rolled in.
But you know what? After a few bites followed up by screwed-up faces (the aftertaste! the aftertaste! O good god won't someone please think of the children?! Gaaaaaahthfdsjfsdjfds%$#%dsak!*#%#&!!!) ...
....I decided I actually like the stuff.
No, really. Brendan and Emily T. disagreed - Emily unable to finish, and Brendan helping me finish it but not really wanting or needing to try it again - but I could totally eat that stuff again. Out of choice. And pay for it. With money.
Apparently, Andrew Zimmern couldn't finish the raw tofu - it "defeated" him. I do respect the guy, but I'm sorry. Come on. You *****! I challenge you to a stinky tofu eat off, Andrew. I will win this challenge. I am the Stinky Tofu Champion. I have minions. You are going down.
To Brendan's credit, he seemed to be fine with it by the end. "This isn't so bad now. I think I can handle it after a few bites because something died in my mouth."
"Well, at first it sure tasted like something died in my mouth," I replied.
It's like fine French cheese or beer when tried by kids - yes, I tried beer as a kid - an acquired taste. Very acquired. Really, really very acquired.
We were still up for a challenge so as the laobanniang watched election results roll in - booooooo KMT! BOOOOO! 噓噓噓！ - we ordered the "Clear soup stinky tofu" (清湯臭豆腐）below:
...while avoiding the "Stinky Vigorous Intestine Tofu" (臭大腸旺豆腐) because, while I've eaten intestine and can definitely get it down my throat, I don't care for it. If that's the stuff Andrew Zimmern couldn't eat, however, I will go back and order it and eat it. Just to prove myself as the Stinky Tofu Champion. I'll also get the "Thee Mushroom Six Old Wives" (三菇六婆) tofu, which we were too full to order but sounds nice. (Three kids of mushroom cooked with a cube of tofu sliced in six).
So anyway, the "Clear Soup Stinky Tofu" was just as smelly as the raw stuff. I think "stench" is really a better adjective for it. Clear Soup Stenchy Tofu. The smell wafting from it practically sent Brendan into paroxysms of...something. We're not sure what. Something bad from another plane of existence. Cruddles of it stuck around the edges of the bowl like gray sediment, and the tofu cube itself sat under a pile of sliced mushrooms. Hiding. Lurking. Waiting.
But we ate it. And liked it. Well, I liked it.
And I think I've figured out part of why that stinky tofu is so damn stinky. It's not just the longer fermentation. All of the dishes are topped with or made with something known to increase 'umami' (that deep, rounded savory flavor found in the best foods). I tasted a bit of squid or seaweed oil in the clear soup tofu, which, when cooked with mushrooms, produces an exponentially stronger flavor. The seaweed and peanut topping on the raw tofu has the same effect. Spicy mala broth usually has soy sauce in it, which is in that same group of foods.
In any case...it was good. Horribly, unspeakable, stinkily good.