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Nov 26, 2008 05:24 AM

Bizarre Foods & Stinky Tofu [split from Boston]

(This discussion of Bizarre foods was split from the Boston board at: -- The Chowhound Team).

There is a great episode on the TV show bizarre foods where he visits the queen of stinky tofy in Taiwan.

Basically pressed (very dense) tofu is left to ferment in some frightening grayish goop for a couple of weeks. At it's most extreme, stinky tofu has been described as having the aroma of dumpster juice on a hot august day.

Even the supposedly mild version at Taiwan Cafe was too much for me. Really reeked of baby diapers, whew.

Heck people in Asia think the french are bizarre for eating moldy dairy products (blue cheese) a chacun son gout.

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  1. I saw that episode. The host was absolutely unable to eat it. I think he described it as "the worst thing he ever put in his mouth". Makes me want to give it a try.

    14 Replies
    1. re: tdaaa

      It usually doesn't taste half as bad as it smells. In Changsha, the stuff is deep fried by most street vendors selling it (though unfortunately that means in many cases, it tastes like nothing quite like charcoal).

      1. re: tdaaa

        I wouldn't hesitate to try something even if the host of Bizarre Foods, Andrew Zimmern, couldn't handle it. I think his penchant for loving bizarre food items is highly exaggerated at best. He couldn't take horchata (basically a liquid rice pudding, totally pleasant and nonchallenging), yakitori, Thai sausages, et cetera. These are entry-level dishes that most foodies would have no problem with at all.

        I watch Zimmern's show and find it reasonably entertaining, but he seems happiest with mainstream food items that most Americans would like (perhaps his fondness for bulls' brains and testicles is the exception that proves the rule). What was bizarre about the dishes he gorged on in his Gulf Coast show, for example? In most Bizarre Foods episodes, there seem to be a token two or three unusual dishes. And I notice that when Zimmern samples unfamiliar items, he usually gets really timid and takes *tiny* portions. Watch his show with a critical eye and you'll see what I mean.

        1. re: Kenji

          If I remember the episode correctly, there was one variety that was particularly foul that he couldn't stomach (the kind in the green goo, but not all are fermented in the same way), but there are other less smelly varieties. I didn't find the Taiwan Cafe variety to be overly stinky, but it was years ago since I last had them. I've heard of some that can stink up an area where they are served, but I hardly smelled neighboring tables' tofu of the few I saw sampling them.

          1. re: kobuta

            That's right. To be fair to Zimmern, he tried stinky tofu on a couple of occasions during his Taiwan episode. He sampled a version of it from a street vendor that was skewered on a stick, and seemed to quite like that. It was the version bathed in green goop that he couldn't sallow a single mouthful of.

            1. re: Kenji

              check your perspective a bit. we're very food-centric here and a lot of what passes without a mention in this forum would be completely bizarre to many Americans.
              i saw the stinky tofu episode with a Joe-Case-A-Day, he had the dry heaves just watching it and he had no point of reference at all.
              for the AppleBees/Chilis set this show is freakish.

              1. re: ScubaSteve

                I'm a pretty adventurous eater and I will say the guy on bizarre foods will eat some pretty wacky stuff. Not sure that stinky tofu is that out there, but he does eat things I would pass on. Rancid lamb in Morocco, The long slimey worms out of a rotten tree branch in the Philipines, cockroaches, etc.

                Funny thing is that one of the things that he hated most was Horchata in Spain which is so utterly un-challenging.

          2. re: Kenji

            It was actually the only time I had seen the show - not a big TV guy. I figured if the show was "Bizzare foods" the host should be ready for anything. Maybe they should rename it "somewhat unusual foods" for accuracy.

            1. re: Kenji

              Spanish Horchata is totally different then the Mexican rice-pudding like variety. That said, it is not even slightly offputting in my mind. It is considered a little kid drink, sort of parallel to ice cream

              1. re: StriperGuy

                Zimmern is unimpressive as a host, he seems to be most comfortable with offal-type of dishes but when approached by something completely foreign to the American palatte turns into a schoolgirl. A good example was when he was eating durian - he was fixated on it as spoiled fermented onions. Compare that to Anthony Bourdain who eats durian like it's candy. I can only imagine Zimmern trying to do the Ghana episode of No Reservations where Bourdain had to eat the egg cooked and coated in ash and the half-raw warthog anus...Zimmern would probably go into conniptions and cause some childish scene.

                1. re: Bunson

                  I fervently disagree. He's a dufus but a loveable one. And any man that eats roaches and doesn't blanch... Seriously both he and Bourdain get queasy once in a while but I like Zimmern from time to time.

                  1. re: Bunson

                    Their respective reactions to durian reveal a lot about Bourdain and Zimmern. Bourdain is really the more adventurous, worldly eater of the two. He is also *much* better at describing the textures and flavors of food; he is more skilled at explaining *why* he likes or dislikes a dish. Zimmern, however, has a surprisingly limited ability to describe what he's eating -- especially for a former chef. If he likes a dish, he'll say it's "fabulous" or "extraordinary"; if he doesn't, he'll say it's "funky."

                    But I agree that Zimmern comes off as a nice guy.

                    1. re: Kenji

                      No question Bourdain is WAY more sophisticated and adventurous. Zimmer is more of a game show host then a real food connoisseur but an occasionally fun one.

                    2. re: Bunson

                      Mario Batali:
                      "I eat everything ... EXCEPT FOR DURIAN (the spiky Asian fruit that smells like a gas-station bathroom in July)."
                      p 43, Spain, a culinary road trip. 2008

                    3. re: StriperGuy

                      I have had the Mexican orchata and if it were a man I would marry it. Yummy! My mother who is Dominican made orchata for me and I did not like it. It didn't have that dreamy quality I know, but had more of an almondy sharp taste to it. It probably was more Spain Spanish like.

                2. To be fair to AZ, "House of Unique Stink" is not your average run-of-the-mill Taiwan Cafe sort of stinky tofu. In my experience, that stuff is completely, utterly inedible!

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Tir_na_nOg

                    I've eaten Stinky tofu many places in China, and most recently two weeks ago in Hong Kong... Yes I know it is awful smelling and tastes really bad, but I am trying to understand the attraction by the people who line up for this stuff.
                    I have to say Stinky Tofu is on all occasions 10 times worse than the Putrified shark I ate in Iceland, or the scorpion / geko / various testes that I've eaten just about everywhere else in the world!


                  2. Personally, I like both the show and the host - since when does "bizarre" have to mean "disgusting"? I like AZ's style - he's always gracious and polite to his hosts and guides, and he provides informative little tidbits.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: newfie29

                      I like the show and the host, too. (But with regard to your assertion that he's "always polite and gracious to hosts," have a look at the Ethiopian episode. Zimmern resorts to his common tactic of taking [and sometimes not even eating] miniscule portions of anything unfamiliar he is offered -- and afterwards his comments on the item often verge on insulting.)

                      No one suggests that "bizarre" has to mean "disgusting." It would be nice -- and honest -- if the word simply had its usual meanings. Take the Russian episode. 95% of what Zimmern ate was completely nonchallenging. We're talking honey, pickles, borscht, blinis, et cetera. Finally, Zimmern had the opportunity to taste something unusual -- lamprey -- and he completely freaked out. Too much of the show it like this. The guy does *not* love bizarre foods; it's just a schtick he's come up with.

                      1. re: Kenji

                        I'll take your word for it that AZ was insulting on at least one episode, although I've never observed it. But I do have to say that I really despise Bourdain. He is regularly condescending and insulting towards the foreign cultures that he is discussing (for example, cracking jokes about his hosts right in front of them, knowing that they can't speak English). I've given up watching the show. AZ may have spit out that stinky tofu on national TV, but then he went back to the chef and complemented her. Maybe a bit disingenuous, but after all it was the world's most stinky tofu! I almost barfed (which would have been really insulting).

                        1. re: Tir_na_nOg

                          and they're probably cracking jokes right back at him in an equally foreign language. i like Bourdain and part of the attraction is exactly what you cite.

                          1. re: Tir_na_nOg

                            Bizarre Food is a show about food, which I like. I'm not a big fan of AZ himself, as I can't stand anyone who chews with his mouth open and pronounces "culinary" queue-linary. No Reservation is becoming less a show about food and more a show about Bourdain and his predictable and fake snarkiness, with the locale as prop rather than being the focus.