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How can something that smells so bad taste so good?

I'm talking about fish sauce.
I find it to be revolting in smell, yet wonderful in taste. There's nothing that compliments a thai curry better than a drizzle of fish sauce over the top. As a matter of fact, it's what I'm eating right now. It's salty and pungent, yet mellow at the same time. Not only that, but somehow it manages to compliment and enhance the flavors of everything else in the dish.

Amazing how something that smells so awful can taste so very good.

Kind of like aged cheese.

What other foods or food items smell awful but taste wonderful?

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  1. Well, Durian is a classic example (of course, this assumes you like the flavour, which I find to be a bit of an acquired taste.)

    Kimchi (Korean fermented pickles) can smell terrible if you leave it in an enclosed space. I regularly try to take some back home with me after I have been visiting mum and dad. You can never beat your own mother's kimchi. But when you remove it from that cooler, hoooeeee. The ban on liquids as carry-on luggage has been a blessing for other passengers believe you me.

    My final favorite is Epoisses cheese from Burgandy France (raw milk only please). Smells like really stinky feet, looks like pale toe jam, but truly one of the most heavenly, mellow, nutty cheeses available. The runnier, the better....

    3 Replies
    1. re: moh

      I also thought of epoisses as soon as I saw the title of this post! If you get the smell of the rind on your hands it's so gross. But the taste is absolutely divine. I love it after it's been out of the fridge for a few hours and is nice and oozy...

      1. re: mollyomormon

        I thought the same thing....of course, Durian both smells and tastes bad to me...but lots of people are addicted to the flavor but are repulsed by the smell.

      2. re: moh

        Korean doenjang (sp?) anything. The smell of aged soy bean paste is truly terrible, about as bad as winter kimchi freshly unsealed. But the taste is soooo good. doenjang jjigae is the best.

        1. Just like moh, durian immediately came to mind

          Also, there is a type of "stinky tofu" in Taiwan and China. Smells stinky but very tasty (well, to some people).

          I also find shrimp paste and balachan quite stinky, yet tasty!

          Oh, and the microwaved popcorn....

          1 Reply
          1. re: kobetobiko

            In my food encyclopedia under durian it literally warns to take care when harvesting in the wild as tigers can often mistake the smell for rotting flesh! Enough said!

          2. Stinky tofu was what came to mind when I saw this thread, mm, so good!

            1. I just had Santouka ramen for lunch - I was in a soy bean mood, so I got the set with miso ramen and the rice bowl topped with - you guessed it - natto. I guess it's not all that bad though.

              One thing that is truly bad smelling - it smells like dead animals being disemboweled - is a liquid seasoning used in some Indian recipes. I don't recall the name, but I almost died when I smelled it being used in the kitchen of India Sweets and Spices. They were preparing their spiced/seasoned cashews, and one of the main seasonings used is this liquid - one or two drops is all it takes. It is supposed to help satisfy the craving of meats for those who are on a vegetarian diet. I would imagine that as bad as it smells, I wouldn't want to eat anything - meat or otherwise. But for some twisted reason, my nose and tastebuds work in concert in making my hand grab for more of those cashews...

              10 Replies
              1. re: bulavinaka

                Hmmm. Natto. Where did you buy that? I remember seeing natto on an Iron Chef (original) episode and being completely grossed out by the stringy appearance. Please keep in mind that I am asian and it is hard to gross out an asian with odd asian foodstuffs. I have never encountered it in person. So now you're telling me it smells bad too? How does anyone eat that stuff? My curiosity is peaked...

                1. re: moh

                  Natto is a fermented soy bean product where the beans are boiled, some ingredients are mixed in, the beans are then cooled off somewhat, and then a bacteria is introduced to start the fermenting process. The temp required is similar to yogurt. Many will spread it out on a baking sheet and pop it into an oven that has a pilot light. The heat just from the pilot light is usually perfect, so like yogurt, the bacteria in natto is very sensitive to tempurature.

                  Some take an immediate affinity to natto. Surprisingly both of my kids did. I on the other hand took a while, as it was one of those things that I didn't get introduced to until I was nearly a teen. I think if I were to blindfold you and present a bowl of it under your nose, you might feel that it was something that was just starting to go bad with just a hint of alcohol from the fermentation. The smell gets stronger as you mix it, releasing more of the scent - something in the direction of fish sauce. But it's not on a grand scale like spilling a bottle of fish sauce on the kitchen floor or spreading a runny ripe cheese on bread. It's much more subtle, but like these other fermented products, it often runs into opposition from the previously unengaged.

                  I'm not sure if you have any markets or restaurants in your area that cater to a regular Japanese population. While it is commonly sold at the Japanese markets around LA, it is not nearly as common in Japanese restaurants. It is more or less a comfort food at a very basic level, although some of the higher end restaurants that offer omakase or izakaya will usually have their own specially made versions.

                  The most common way to prepare and eat it would be to add a little soy sauce and chinese mustard to the beans and mix it well, creating that "stringy" appearance that you mention. It becomes very gooey and sticky. It is that zuruzuru (as the Japanese call it) that is desired. The Japanese feel that anything that has that zuruzuru consistancy is very healthy for the body. Okra and yama imo fall into this category as well. Anyway this mix is then poured over a hot bowl of rice, then usually topped with any combination of green onions, radish sprouts or bonito flakes. I've even had it poured into the split top of a Japanese rice omlet where the egg is cooked just enough to congeal and a small amount of steaming rice is placed onto the forming omlet and is folded over to help cook the egg omlet from the inside. It's a pretty clever dish that is simple in its execution and heaven for those who enjoy natto.

                  1. re: bulavinaka

                    I am one of those who think natto is a heavenly food! I did not find it smelly at all. May be I am used to it? Since it is usually in concealed little packages or boxes I never found it to be smelly even when I open it. I found the smell of Durian to be much much stronger!

                    1. re: kobetobiko

                      I LOVE natto. I could eat it everyday - in omelette, with rice, in ramen, i remember eating a natto sembei in Japan too. I think I'm definitely a sucker for stinky food.

                  2. re: moh

                    Moh, it sounds like you have korean heritage (from your previous post about your mom's kimchi), so I just wanted to let you know that korean people eat natto too-- they just call it chung-gook-jang. It's usually eaten as jigae after boiling it in a clay pot, and boy does it smell!! It's definitely worse than kimchi in my book (btw, I love kimchi!) Imagine the worst smelling doenjangjigae ever, and you get the idea. Chung-gook-jang is not for home cooking, unless you have very understanding neighbors. :)

                    In terms of natto, I've tried it, and I can't say I liked it... I tried it plain on rice with shoyu after mixing it to get that sticky consistency. My niece who lives in Japan on the other hand, absolutely loves it.

                    1. re: spicychow

                      Thanks, very informative! My mother is a really great cook, but she is quite a fussy eater, and we definitely never had chung-gook-jang at home. I discovered many unusual foods on my first trip to Korea (I was born in NA).

                      On the Korean theme: another stinky food that many love: bun-dae-gi, or boiled silk worm larvae that are eaten as snacks in Korea. They smell very odd, but they are very popular. I personally hate them, but many people feel otherwise.

                  3. re: bulavinaka

                    I thought the strong smell in those cashews was from asafoetida which I also thought was a powder? Agree smells vile when I open the storage container, but I keep going back for more.

                    1. re: torty

                      I believe that's the ingredient. Everything mentioned above that I've personally smelled is mild compared to this stuff. I've never seen asafoetida so it might be a powder, but I assumed it was a liquid since someone referred to using just a couple of drops. If a container of this spills, it's time to call the HAZ MAT team...

                      1. re: bulavinaka

                        Asafoetida (the name says it all) really does smell like something quite dead.

                    2. re: bulavinaka

                      Possibly "Hing."
                      Also called asafoetida. I bought it as a powder, though.
                      Smells like stinky feet, fer sher.
                      Ferula assafoetida, devil's dung, stinking gum, asant, food of the gods, giant fennel,

                    3. Funny you should mention this since a friend and I just had the fish sauce conversation two days ago. I have a huge bottle and am moving in two months, so when I shared a recipe that calls for it I double-bagged some for her. I made her smell it so she wouldn't think it had gone bad when she goes to use it.

                      Funny thing is that if something smells as bad as fish sauce it usually gets my gag reflex going and there is no way I'm going to be able to swallow any of it... so I can't really add anything other than my vote for fish sauce to this message board.

                      I wonder why I'm okay eating nasty-smelling fish sauce? Maybe it is b/c when I first tried it they put it in a small cruet and that minimzes the amount of scent that gets out, so I had a chance to taste it before really smelling it. Who knows... but I am thankful I can get by the smell, because it really is a wonderful condiment!

                      1. The first time I bought Epoisses was when I was in France and was cooking on the barge we had rented. I put it in the refrigerator. Every time we opened the refrigerator door the entire kitchen smelled worse than last week's garbage. I tore the kitchen apart convinced something had died or someone left a bag of trash somewhere, even though the small galley kitchen was spotless. It took me a little while to realize it was the cheese. That wonderful stinking cheese.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: Ellen

                          I think coffee smells better than it tastes

                          1. re: xnyorkr

                            That's so true, even though I do love my coffee. That reminds me of when I used to drive past the Nabisco (now Kraft) plant on Roosevelt Boulevard in Philly. For miles you could smell the chocolate baking. It drove me nuts as a kid. It surely smelled better than the actual products being produced tasted.

                            1. re: Ellen

                              Durian has been described as like eating ice cream from a toilet. Like all examples above, certianly an acquired taste. When I was little the smell of my father's scotch nauseated me...how times change

                        2. Besides some of the obvious ones already mentioned by others (e.g. durian, stinky tofu, etc.), I find the odor of papayas and mangos to be very off-putting, but they taste pretty darn good.

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: ipsedixit

                            I can't stand the smell of a ripe cantaloupe. Smells like rotting garbage. Maybe it's just me?

                            1. re: shellsbutt

                              No - and, when over ripe doen't taste all that great either.....

                              I'm quite partial to brussel sprouts. Most say they smell bad but, saute in a bit o' butter and carmelize w/maple syrup - oooh la la kick it up a knotch with carmelized pecan bits. :)KQ

                              1. re: Kitchen Queen

                                The smell of tripe when cooking.. I cannot be in the same room..
                                I get sick..

                              2. re: ipsedixit

                                I used to spend summers with our relatives in Oahu. They all had either mango or papaya trees, and would plate up either or both in front of me at every breakfast. I just smiled, put some in my mouth while holding my breath to prevent the gag reflex, and swallowed the stuff... but as Gargantua mentions, how times change...

                                1. The smell of broccoli or cauliflower cooking is terrible, but I love both vegetables. Same as the sulfer smell that lingers after peeling hard-bolied eggs.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: mollyomormon

                                    My sister and I used to have relatively tame food fights at the breakfast table. My sister picked up my partially-eaten hard-boiled egg and tossed it in my cold cereal. I was about to reciprocate but my mom caught me in the act, and made me eat the hard-boiled egg and cereal. Ever since then, the sulfer smell of hard-boiled eggs nauseates me.

                                    In the Chinese culture - like many cultures - the egg has a fair amount of symbolism, mostly relating to abundance and prosperity. One of the customs in the Hokkien traditional wedding ceremony is for the bride and the groom to eat three hard-boiled eggs each. One for yourself, one for your mate, and one for your families. Wouldn't you know it - I had to fall in love with and marry a Chinese woman! Just the smell of all those hard-boiled eggs made me gag. But to put down all three? It was like "Fear Factor" with my future wife in the balance...

                                  2. When I was a kid and my grandparents (Pennsylvania Dutch aka German descent) would make sauerkraut, I thought I would die. I distinctly remember thinking "I'll never eat that crap!" Then, when my taste buds matured, I suddenly loved it. I now find the smell awful in large doses, but appetizing when surrounded by the smell of a Cubs baseball game.

                                    1. Smell has a serious effect on me. That said, if it smells bad, I simply can't eat it. Example: feta cheese. For years, I could not stand it because of the smell. I finally tried it, and it wasn't that bad (the flavor was more subtle than the smell). I still don't like to eat it, though.

                                      1. Cilantro-ugh-can't even walk past it in the produce department without feeling ill--although I don't think it tastes that great either.

                                        1. A friend complaining to me about Epoisses made me remember this thread and... can anyone think of the opposite - something that tastes like heaven, but has NO smell? I'm thinking things that smells good, but taste bad might be subjective... or not.

                                          1. There are a lot of cheeses that smell pretty bad but taste great. Natto has a cheese like stink, but again is very tasty. Durian, of course, has that cloying stinky scent.

                                            But my winner would be chou dofu (aka stinky tofu). It quite literally smells like a bad sewer problem, and on a hot summer day you can smell it from half a block away. But it's quite tasty, and you've got to admire any food that pairs well with crushed raw garlic.