Showing posts with label stinky_tofu. Show all posts
Showing posts with label stinky_tofu. Show all posts

Monday, July 4, 2011

A Shenkeng Pictoral

Shenkeng (深坑) is a town near the southeastern edge of Taipei City, accessible by a quick bus ride from Muzha or a longer bus ride from Jingmei. They've recently started investing in renovating the Japanese-era buildings along the old street, and it remains a popular weekend spot. While there you can also take hikes (see the previous post) or visit the old mansion near the main tourist street's entrance.

As a popular day trip destination from Taipei, Shenkeng sees a lot of people with dogs in bags. I love dogs in bags!

It's also famous for barbecued stinky tofu and stinky tofu in general...worth a try even if you're put off by the smell. I like the spicy kind filled with hot red cabbage pickle.

I won't say much more because anyone who's lived in Taipei for even a brief period knows about Shenkeng, and for those who don't, the above is an adequate introduction. I think it's really true that a picture says more than I could in a long post, so enjoy some pictures!

Day Hike to Paozilun Falls (炮子崙瀑布)

Yesterday we took a lovely and not-too-challenging hike from Shenkeng (深坑) to Cannon Mountain Falls (炮子崙瀑布), a high waterfall known because you can wade into the pool around it and stand under the falls themselves.

The hike itself is outlined in one of the two Taipei Day Trips books by Richard Saunders - and provides fairly good directions. Here are some online directions anyway:

To get there, as you exit Shenkeng Old Street at the end closest to the bus depot and old mansion, turn left and cross the bridge. Head right at the Y and take the next right, which turns at a small shop selling cypress wood items (a good place to pick up cypress oil and other things if you want - I want to go back and get a fruit basket). Cross the large road and head straight up the road that starts at the betel nut shop across from you. Keep right at the sign for 文山 spray painted on a metal fence. Keep going slightly uphill for awhile. Ignore the sign telling you to turn right for Paozilun Trail and keep straight up the steep hill. At the top where it evens out you'll see a very small trail inlet to the left - hopefully there will be cars parked around it, better marking it. It's very easy to miss and doesn't look like the right way (but it is). Turn in and walk up - it's "paved" with blue foam pads (???) and at one point, carpeting. Don't ask - I don't know either - and much of the trail is made of sandbags.

The trail is clear with no deviations or turns - follow it to the falls themselves. (There's a continued trail veering to the left behind the shower if you want to keep going - we didn't).

Some hanging vines in the sunlight along the trail.

It was so hot on the road yesterday that I started to feel dizzy as we climbed and got prickles all over my head, so we sat on the trail for awhile as I drank water, poured cold water on my neck and waited for the feeling to pass. I snapped this picture as I was starting to feel better. The hike is not steep, long or terribly difficult (but would be very slippery in the rain, especially going down) but the time spent under the sun on the road really wiped me out.

Once there, you can set up a picnic (there are chairs lying around a makeshift rest area that you can probably use, or just bring a blanket), wade in the water or sit under the falls. These guys - we suspect they were "brothers" (兄弟) but didn't ask - were having a blast doing just that. Towards the end they all went back under the falls, praying both before and after their showers. It was unclear from their explanation but it seemed as though showering under it was both a spiritual and medicinal act. The water exerts a lot of pressure on whoever is below it, and turns the skin bright red from the pounding, which gets the blood flowing - a practice which is very much a part of Chinese medicine. We believe there's a spiritual component as all of them prayed before getting under the water.

Of course, as wimpy foreigners, we just hung out below the falls and got wet that way under the cold mountain spring. It was perfect after a hot and sweaty hike that nearly knocked me out.

Not every local can handle it - this younger guy went under the falls at the behest of his girlfriend, and really couldn't handle it.

Paozilun (Cannon Mountain) is so named because you often hear thunder but rarely get rain along with it. We heard thunder and beat a quick path back to the road. "Oh, don't worry about it," the guys told us, "you always hear thunder here but it never rains."

Well, it rains a lot in northern Taiwan so we are sure that it does, in fact, occasionally rain here too, so we headed back anyway. As we re-entered Shenkeng proper it did in fact start to rain. I waved to the betel nut girl and her two aunties as we returned to eat some stinky tofu and shaved ice.

Update: chatting with a student about this, he said "it's not that there's a god in the waterfall, it's more that nature is full of gods and spirits. So in dangerous areas people will pray or bring ghost money. You can find a lot of ghost money along Bei-Yi Highway (the winding mountain highway that has been the site of many fatalities between Pinglin and Yilan before the construction of the Xueshan Tunnel) for this reason. So those guys were praying to respect nature, because the waterfall must be a little dangerous. Maybe the pressure can break your neck, or a stone could fall down from it. They're praying to 大自然 - nature."

Sunday, June 12, 2011

We Love Cookies and Dai's House of Stink

We Love Cookies
Roosevelt Road Section 3 Lane 283 #17
(next to Sai Baba Pita Bar)
MRT Gongguan (捷運公館站)

We found this place while hunting for a place to have dessert and beer - we'd just come from a stinkytofustravaganza at Dai's House of Stink (which has moved, by the way, to Yongji Street - 永吉街 - Lane 120 and can be seen clearly from the multi-road intersection) and after all that stankerific tofu (the raw tofu was actually more rank, vile and, *ahem*, piquant than the last time) we wanted something sweet.

First we tried Crown Fancy on Zhongxiao E. Road across from Songren Road, which was packed. So we walked to Gordon Biersch in Shinkong Mitsukoshi A-11, which was packed. We then split two taxis to My Sweetie Pie, which was likewise packed. We then walked to Cafe Goethe past Insomnia (packed), Salty Peanuts (packed) and Prague Bookstore (packed) before arriving at Cafe Goethe, which was not packed, but was also closing in 20 minutes.

Along the way we'd passed a new and clearly unfinished setup next to Sai Baba with gorgeous looking soft cookies on display. We decided "what the heck, the inside is a bit rustic but it's dessert and maybe Sai Baba will sell us beer if they don't have any".

It turns out that they do have beer - San Miguel - and coffee, but the real deal here are the cookies. They have vegan coffee and oatmeal cookies, peanut butter, chocolate brownie, brown sugar, Bailey's and other flavors, not to mention red velvet macaron-style cookies, but soft and filled with cream cheese frosting. They also have carrot cake and chocolate mint cupcakes.

As we sat in the not-really-ready-for-customers-to-sit-here-yet "seating area" someone showed up with a guitar and there was an impromptu bit of live music. It was very chill, or as one person put it, "like being back at the co-op".

But the cookies. Oh, the cookies. I need to go back and put this place on the "Best Desserts in Taipei" list. They're perfect. They're soft and heavenly (I don't really go for crunchy cookies except for Milanos). I intend to get some for the next time we have guests.

I'd say "try this" or "try that" but...try all of them. Just do it. They're SO GOOD.

Cookies are five for NT100, cupcakes are separate and a little bit more expensive.

So back to Dai's. We had the raw stinky tofu there before - the stuff that "defeated" Andrew Zimmern. It was pretty vile, but still something we could eat. This time...we really couldn't stomach more than a bite, and Joseph didn't even take that bite (but he did gamely try the other forms of tofu we ordered).

Just so you can see how fantastically dire the raw stinky tofu at Dai's is - it's seriously horrific. They ferment the stuff for two weeks in noxious black rotted vegetable, I am not making this up.

Here are some photos.

After the photos, I will post a description of what I think it tasted like. It will be a very, ahem, ripe description. If you have any inclination towards a weak stomach, I suggest that you take great pains not to read it.

It translates roughly into "of all the things under heaven, I am the most stinky".

Sandra couldn't take it.

Cathy was thoroughly disgusted by it (her boyfriend's reaction was "Wow...that was something that...was in my mouth").

Joseph wisely refused to go near the stuff.



When I was in China, I took a minibus through the winding hills of Guizhou in Miao territory (the Miao are a minority who live mostly in Guizhou) and had to go to the bathroom. I was having digestive issues and everything, ahem, issuing forth was...err...quite violently dire and in some cases painful. The driver, who probably would not have stopped for a local, stopped for me and I was ushered to the town's only real bathroom, which was up rickety old stairs to a hut suspended over an overhang.

"Why is it over this overhang? Did they not want to dig a hole?" I wondered.

The smell was virulently bad - the only word I can think of for it was coined by the Simpsons: it was truly crapulent. It smelled of a the excretion of a hundred different digestive organs convened over a mess of unclean pigs rutting around in a slimy pit of rotted vegetables.

As I entered and stood on the ancient, slimy wooden planks over the expanse of ground below, I heard a snort.

And I found out that it smelled so bad because that was exactly what it was - the village latrine hanging over a hair-raisingly smelly pigsty. I added my own deposit to the Bank of Hell and went on my way.

The smell that emanated forth, redolent of everything that my intestines had rebelled against in China commingled with the smell of the excretory functions of every other villager in that town, perfumed with the stench of giant hogs.

Dai's raw stinky tofu, in my mouth, brought back memories of that day. That horrible, nadir-of-all-that-is-unholy day.

But do go eat the cookies.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Dai's House of Stink (戴臭之家)

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.

(crickets chirping)

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 was good. Horribly, unspeakable, stinkily good.