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Best stinky tofu in the Bay Area?

a
abstractpoet Jul 15, 2011 09:17 PM

So the best that I'm aware of is at Joy Restaurant, in Foster City, where they do a very nice fried version - not too stinky, but flavorful and good, perfectly fried.

As far as I'm concerned, the stinkier the better.

And while I do like it fried, my favorite preparation is at a Shanghainese restaurant in Taiwan that offers, free with your meal, a hefty portion of the stinkiest steamed stinky tofu that I've ever had, served in a dark savory broth/sauce. Love it. And I remember there was another place in Taipei - a night market vendor - that served it steamed in a soup with all kinds of Chinese medicinal herbs.

Anything like that around here?

I did see this old thread, but was hoping for some more recent reports: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/45283

Anyway, what do people recommend? My preference is for the East Bay or SF proper, but willing to travel as far as I need to for something truly excellent (and truly stinky).

Somehow I haven't gotten around to trying any of the Spices restaurants yet, so that's on my list. But what else?

-----
Joy Restaurant
1489 Beach Park Blvd, Foster City, CA 94404

  1. ipsedixit Jul 15, 2011 09:25 PM

    Spices is probably your best bet, but then you probably already knew that ...

    Come down to LA (or the San Gabriel Valley, to be specific) sometime, and then really get your fill of good ol' Taiwanese style stinky tofu. Made in-house, on the spot!

    1. a
      abstractpoet Jul 15, 2011 11:06 PM

      Are there different versions of the dish at Spices, or just the fried kind?

      Apparently they have a couple clay pot stinky tofu options on the menu at Joy, too. Anyone try those? "House stinky tofu Szechuan style clay pot" (designated as "ma la" - numbingly spicy - in the Chinese) and then another dish described simply as "Stinky tofu clay pot (spicy)".

      10 Replies
      1. re: abstractpoet
        K K Jul 16, 2011 09:00 AM

        Ipsedixit is right... brave the 8+ hour drive to SGV (and further to Rowland Heights) for Taiwanese (in general) that blows away anything the SF Bay Area can offer for the most part. I've met a few passionate Taiwanese expat parent types in the Peninsula who do make the montly pilgrimage by car just to a taste of home down south.

        Although I have yet to find a Hakka Taiwanese restaurant down there (we have a Hakka Taiwanese vegan takeout deli Sogo Tofu in San Jose, and Taiwan Cafe (formerly Cafe Taiwan) that does the Pingtung style pig feet and mi tai mu in Milpitas, but maybe not everyone's bag).

        I know Spices has the stinky tofu in numbing spicy hotpot, but not clear if it is only the fried kind.
        I would be surprised if they do not offer it upon request.

        Robert Yu's translation of the Joy menu before they moved lists steamed stinky tofu

        http://www.robertyu.com/wikiperdido/J...

        if you do not see it on the current menu (which integrated all/most of the secret menu) all you have to do is ask.

        Another place that has fried stinky tofu is

        Grand Harbor 廟口小吃
        46577 Mission Blvd #415
        Fremont, CA 94539
        (510) 656-9688

        which might just be the next best one stop Taiwanese snack dish shop after Mama Chen in Santa Clara.

        -----
        Grand Harbor
        46577 Mission Blvd, Fremont, CA 94539

        1. re: K K
          a
          abstractpoet Jul 16, 2011 09:17 AM

          Yeah, I ate at Grand Harbor once and thought everything was OK but nothing was great - the (barely) stinky tofu wasn't as good as Joy's.

          I feel like you're more likely to get a steamed version at a sit-down restaurant rather than a place specializing in street food.

          Would the SJ / Cupertino area be a better area to target for my search?

          -----
          Grand Harbor
          46577 Mission Blvd, Fremont, CA 94539

          1. re: abstractpoet
            K K Jul 16, 2011 10:41 PM

            That I cannot answer, because I have not actively searched or did a taste testing in the South Bay.

            But if you are down there, the places I can think of that have the fried stinky tofu would be Mama Chen in Santa Clara, Szechuan Era in Cupertino Village, Taiwan Bistro in San Jose, Southland Flavor Cafe in Cupertino Village. Some might not be stinky enough to our liking. As good as Mama Chen is overall, their stinky tofu smell (from tables nearby) was sharply pungent but the nasty smell effect did not last long enough. Still everyone orders this when they go.

            Seems like Joy is the best bet for the steamed one.

            -----
            Mama Chen
            5075 Stevens Creek Blvd, Santa Clara, CA 95051

          2. re: K K
            Melanie Wong Jul 19, 2011 06:58 PM

            Sogo Tofu offers spicy stinky tofu (in the cold case) and the ingredients list "fermented tofu". It's kind of blackish and is mixed with red chili peppers, basil, and other things I can't remember. Stinky tofu is not my thing so I can't really offer an opinion on it.

            -----
            Sogo Tofu
            1610 S De Anza Blvd, San Jose, CA

          3. re: abstractpoet
            Robert Lauriston Jul 16, 2011 11:33 AM

            Spices has 11 stinky tofu dishes on the menu. I'm guessing the ma po would not be fried.

            http://spicesrestaurantonline.com/yah...

            1. re: Robert Lauriston
              ipsedixit Jul 16, 2011 12:38 PM

              It is fried.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston
                a
                abstractpoet Jul 16, 2011 10:15 PM

                Well, the "Stinky Tofu Braised in Shanghai Style" sounds promising. Anyone tried it? I'll try to get over there sometime this week to give it a shot.

                1. re: abstractpoet
                  K K Jul 16, 2011 10:44 PM

                  Hmmm it's 醬燒毛豆臭豆腐, and search results say it is a Zhe Jiang and Hangzhou dish in nature. While the few results are mostly blog receipes, they call for basically stir fry with edamame, then sauce poured on top. Please report back if you try the version at Spices in case it is different, but it doesn't seem like any steaming is involved (unless they steam then pan fry it which is possible).

                  1. re: K K
                    ipsedixit Jul 17, 2011 12:14 PM

                    Even if it is steamed (and never pan-fried), I would be very hesitant to try it.

                    I don't know of any place in SF (or surrounding environs) that ferment their own stinky tofu. They just get it from mass produced places that simply marinate (not brine) the tofu for a couple of days to replicate the taste. The true fermentation process simply will not pass health inspections.

                    Without true fermentation, a steamed stinky tofu will be quite insipid and an utter disappointment for those true believers. Frying it, however, will be able to mask alot of that, esp. if you serve it with enough spicy condiments.

                    1. re: ipsedixit
                      soupçon Jul 20, 2011 07:41 PM

                      You are probably right about health codes and the open fermentation used in making stinky tofu, though I doubt if they are very aggressive in policing the code. The late, lamented Star Lunch used to brine their own and served fried stinky tofu that was as pungent as any I've found on either side of the Pacific.

                      I think it's high time stinky tofu lovers banded together to prevail upon California DPH to establish acceptable procedures for brining tofu. They can start with this document:

                      http://is.gd/wivaZT

            2. Trumpetguy Jul 16, 2011 10:24 AM

              I am no expert, but have had stinky tofu at Spices 1 and have had it fried, as well as a BBQ one(not sure if it was fried first) and another prep that comes out on foil, maybe suggesting a roasting or broil...I liked them all, but still searching for the ultimate :)

              1. yimster Jul 16, 2011 10:44 AM

                Well, not an expert on Stinky tofu but having had it here locally and in China (two great and two were a disappointment) two good ones fried are available at China Tofu in Newark and Sunny Shanghai in San Bruno. The worst one was in Hunan, not stinky enough or crispy enough and it was black in color. The best was from a street vendor where I got a plate full for 5 RMB more then enough for two of me.

                I steamed one is available at A&J San Jose.

                But if SGV has a good one I will game to drive down. If you find locally please share

                -----
                Sunny Shanghai
                189 El Camino Real, San Bruno, CA 94066

                2 Replies
                1. re: yimster
                  a
                  abstractpoet Jul 21, 2011 01:57 PM

                  Yimster, do you mean ASJ? I found a photo of the steamed version here: http://eat.tanspace.com/2007/06/04/no...

                  Appears to be served in a chili-oil based broth (or maybe straight-up chili oil), which is a style I'm not familiar with. But the report on that blog (basically, not stinky enough) makes me reluctant to go out of my way to head down there.

                  -----
                  ASJ Restaurant
                  1698 Hostetter Rd, San Jose, CA 95131

                  1. re: abstractpoet
                    yimster Jul 21, 2011 05:50 PM

                    Yes, that is the one. I guess I remember the name wrong. For some reason I remembered A&J. It was a chili broth and it has been at least 10 years since I have had it. Just served in a way at the time was new to me.

                2. a
                  abstractpoet Jul 19, 2011 05:40 PM

                  Tried the standard fried stinky tofu at Spices!3 and liked it, but didn't think it was as good as Joy's. Similar to what K K described above (about another place), the stink was extremely pungent when they first brought the dish out, but soon dissipated.

                  I'd had my mind set on ordering one of the non-fried options, but was deterred when our server (possibly an owner?) said that the fried version was the way to go if we wanted to really taste the stinkiness. Even though there wasn't a steamed option on the menu, she said they could do that for me if I wanted, but she seemed so perplexed by my request ("Just steamed? Steamed with what?") that I decided against it.

                  Still might come back another time to try one or two of the other versions - like the "BBQ" one, which from what I gather you grill yourself and eat with satay sauce. But I suspect that these will just end up being more of a novelty than anything else.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: abstractpoet
                    K K Jul 19, 2011 07:27 PM

                    Grilled/BBQ stinky tofu skewer is a very popular street food item in Shenkang 深坑 , about 30 mins outside of Taipei (and the capital of stinky tofu in Taipei county), where Andrew Zimmern had a taste on his Bizzarre Foods show. Don't think they serve it with satay sauce over there but I would agree with your assessment that this is more of a gimmick thing at Spices.

                    The short stink time is likely as ipsedixit explained above, not fermented the old school nasty way + not fermented in house.

                    1. re: K K
                      tpc Aug 8, 2011 12:27 AM

                      K K, I've watched the first two seasons, and that episode is exactly what I thought of when I started reading this thread. My take on Bizarre Foods is that it's very much a show geared towards a largely affluent, if not sheltered, audience. This has its pluses and minuses. While I applaud Andrew Zimmern for opening a window on the world to your average meat-and-potatoes American, for me and many of us on this list, especially the Asian and African Americans who may have grown up in modest circumstances and whose families ate the food that the people they served considered garbage, pork blood, pork intestines, cow stomach, and cow tongue are not exactly bizarre foods. I think I stopped watching after the New York City episode, when Andrew and Paul Lamb, owner of an upscale Japanese restaurant in the Lower East Side, ate slices of live geoduck clam at a sushi bar, each exclaiming how they could taste the ocean. I remember thinking, "Why am I watching two guys eating really expensive sashimi?" I know how good the food can be at a sushi bar, especially prepared by an expert Japanese chef, but is raw geoduck really a bizarre food?

                      That said, the man has done some daring things I think would have even given me pause, such as ingest a freshly-extracted forearm-long worm burrowed inside driftwood washed up on the beach. Yet I find Andrew a bit of a lightweight sometimes, especially when it comes to Asian food. In one episode, durian fruit is so off-putting to the man that one bite is too much. In the Taiwan episode, Andrew cannot bring himself to swallow even a small portion of a serving of stinky tofu with thousand-year-old egg, using words like "putrid" and "rotten". Needless to say, the very thing Andrew seems repulsed by, I (and I'm sure abstractpoet) find tremendously appealing. Andrew interviews Ms. Wu from Dai's House of Unique Stink, where tofu is immersed in "a secret black mixture of fermented vegetable matter":

                      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7QNGPm...

                      1. re: tpc
                        K K Aug 8, 2011 09:53 AM

                        I had pretty much the same reaction watching that TW episode, and was chuckling upon seeing his reaction (and spitting out) the slimey looking almost raw stinky tofu and durian from the Thailand episode, yet he has no problems with roadkill cooking, bugs, tribal cooking etc. He probably couldn't tolerate Japanese natto either. Then again, different cultures and backgrounds are what makes everyone different, including their tolerance levels. Or conversely, I will have no problems with stinky tofu, durian (to an extent), exotic beef organs, pork lungs (for example), and uncommon innards, but likely won't touch roadkill, bugs with a ten foot pole.

                        On a slightly different note, a couple weeks ago I was walking by the parking lot of the downtown San Mateo train station, and caught a whiff in the air...the unmistakenable stench of stinky tofu coming from China Bee. The stench was more like acid gas attack like bad (not that I've had one), really repulsive, but I'm guessing it is one of those "it quickly goes away sensation", since I'm not a fan of China Bee's food overall even though they claim to be Taiwanese and have a local following.

                        Kudos to abstractpoet for going the extra mile to ask the owner/mgr of Joy their inner secrets to their stinky tofu receipe success.

                        -----
                        China Bee
                        31 S B St, San Mateo, CA 94401

                        1. re: tpc
                          a
                          abstractpoet Aug 8, 2011 10:02 AM

                          When I saw that episode, it just made me wish I'd checked out Dai's when I was living in Taipei. That said, their brine did look pretty gross, and I can sort of understand how eating the stinky tofu raw (straight out of that brine) might be intimidating and texturally challenging.

                          But the one that was fried and served like a sandwich, with meat inside? Come on, that just looked flat-out delicious!

                    2. a
                      abstractpoet Jul 20, 2011 12:38 PM

                      Sounds like the now-closed Star Lunch (in SF) would have been a place to check out - that chef hasn't reemerged somewhere else, has he?

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: abstractpoet
                        Chandavkl Jul 20, 2011 06:09 PM

                        Well, as you may recall when Star Lunch closed down about five years ago, the word was that they were only on hiatus and would return in a few months. Months turned into years, but the Star Lunch signage remained up giving hope that they would indeed return. However the sign was recently removed, so apparently Star Lunch has gone the way of LA's Spanish Kitchen.

                        If the chef reopened someplace else, this board would have caught fire.

                      2. a
                        abstractpoet Jul 22, 2011 12:06 AM

                        Tried Mama Chen / Mama Chef (as the sign currently reads) in Santa Clara tonight. Fried stinky tofu was pretty standard but good - I might prefer it to Spices' version. It's firmer in texture, a little more pungent, a little bit less sour. I need to go back and try Joy's again, but I think that one's still the best of the bunch.

                        At Mama Chen, they also had a dish called "chou chou guo" ("stinky stinky pot"), which our server said was a stinkier preparation. I don't actually think the tofu itself was any stinkier, but overall it was kind of a foul dish: stinky tofu (sliced a bit thinner than for the fried version), pig's blood, and pig's intestine all in the same pot, cooked in a boiling-hot dark broth - kind of like hot pot. Lots of garlic, lots of pickled mustard greens.

                        I'm not a conservative eater by any stretch, but this really wasn't my cup of tea - I do like intestines, but not really as part of a soup, and to have pig's blood on top of that, the whole thing was just way too heavy. (Not to mention that I had to eat it all myself - my wife wasn't having any part of it!)

                        Still looking for someone that does the steamed style I recall from Taiwan, which was softer and came in big blocks that you'd spoon off pieces from (not already cut up into little slices or cubes). I guess the ASJ one does seem to be a little bit closer to that style. Here's a picture that looks like the kind I like, though it's labeled as "ma la" (numbingly spicy) and I don't recall it being especially spicy:
                        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Sti...

                        Interestingly enough, when I asked the owner (?) of Mama Chen whether they make the tofu itself themselves, she said no and that it's made at a facility in Oakland. She didn't know exactly where, since she said it gets delivered to them, along with other supplies I suppose, by a third party.

                        I'm curious where in Oakland that would be, and I wonder if a lot of the places around the Bay Area are actually all getting their not-very-stinky stinky tofu from the same supplier.

                        -----
                        Mama Chen
                        5075 Stevens Creek Blvd, Santa Clara, CA 95051

                        1. Melanie Wong Jul 26, 2011 11:28 PM

                          I caught a whiff of stinky tofu at Guan Dong House in Cupertino tonight, and confirmed with the owner that it was indeed. It was served in one of those mini woks on a sterno burner, hot pot style. On the menu it's referred to as "special bean curd" on the Hunan menu,
                          http://www.flickr.com/photos/melaniew...
                          I didn't try it but wanted to add it to the possibilities in this thread.

                          -----
                          Guan Dong House
                          10851 N Wolfe Rd, Cupertino, CA 95014

                          1. a
                            abstractpoet Aug 5, 2011 10:56 PM

                            So I'm still open to suggestions, but for the time being I'm going to preemptively declare Joy Restaurant the reigning and still-undefeated champion -- at least for the Bay Area. I only wish Star Lunch were still around so I could do a side-by-side comparison.

                            On a recent Sunday we got an order of the fried stinky tofu and an order of the steamed. The fried was by far the best out of all the ones I've sampled in the area -- on par, I would say, with what you'd get at an above-average street vendor in Taipei. Easily more pungent-tasting than the versions at Spices and Mama Chef, and not over-fried and dry (like the Mama Chef was, in comparison). Of course it's a little bit less crispy this way, but I found that to be a worthy trade-off. Bonus points for the spicy black bean dipping sauce, which I preferred to the sweet sauce given at some places (Spices, for example). They're generous with the pickled cabbage here too.

                            The steamed version at Joy was the closest thing to what I've been craving that I was able to find. Still not nearly as stinky as my favorite versions in Taiwan, but it WAS served in big blocks (rather than cubes or thin slices) and the texture was fairly soft -- almost right. Pretty good flavor. It was served with edamame and shiitake mushrooms on top, which were superfluous additions as far as I was concerned. It does sound very much like the dish K K described upthread, though this was definitely steamed and not pan-fried.

                            Not surprisingly, Joy also turned out to be the only place to give me a more-or-less straight answer when I asked whether they make/brine the tofu themselves and how they do it. The owner told me that they make it themselves, off-site -- at home, I believe -- using a brine made from fermented mustard greens (no shrimp heads, etc.). They seal the tofu up in that brine and let it soak for a week and then it's done.

                            The sense I get is that many of these local restauranteurs are worried about getting busted for health code violations, which is why I don't think any of them make the stinky tofu on-site at their restaurants (that and the smell, I suppose) -- and why some of them, like Mama Chef, don't even make it themselves at all.

                            (Forget about asking to take a tour of the facility to learn about the stinky tofu production process, as I did with the folks at China Tofu -- needless to say, I was quickly rebuffed.)

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: abstractpoet
                              grayelf Aug 6, 2011 11:51 PM

                              With your embarassment of riches in the way of street food, have you found any street food vendors that serve this dish? The reason that I ask is I recently had a rather impressive version (albeit the fried style) at Richmond Night Market from a vendor. The open air prep dissipated the pong to virtual non-existence. Interestingly (and sadly), this vendor has a bricks and mortar establishment but the st is only available at the market.

                              1. re: grayelf
                                yimster Aug 7, 2011 08:09 AM

                                Sadly I do not know of any street vendor selling Stinky Tofu unless someone else know. In fact that has reminder me that the Shanghai in Oakland does not sells Stinky Tofu until after 6 PM after the other business around them closes.

                                I have only had street Stinky Tofu in China. I still remember some of our tour group ran away from the stall while other (me) ran to it. It was as good if not better then any I have had here. To bad I will be missing the night market this year.

                                1. re: grayelf
                                  a
                                  abstractpoet Aug 7, 2011 10:46 AM

                                  Yeah, I don't know of any street vendors selling stinky tofu in the Bay Area.

                                  Actually, I haven't really seen any food trucks doing straight-up Chinese street food -- I would imagine for the "gourmet" trucks that are so in vogue now, stinky tofu's just not a product that would be seen as a worthwhile risk (given the potential to drive customers away!).

                                  I could see some enterprising restauranteur doing a collaboration with Hodo Soy to put out a kind of high-end stinky tofu. But I bet it wouldn't be very stinky.

                                  It's been years, but I remember being awfully impressed with the Richmond Night Market the one time I visited it. I heard that the Oakland Chinatown put together a night market of sorts a couple years ago (I think on Saturday nights during the summer), but didn't see any reports of noteworthy chow.

                                  1. re: abstractpoet
                                    soupçon Aug 7, 2011 10:37 PM

                                    Actually, Eva's Catering (a.k.a. The Wonton Stand) sells straight-up Chinese food from a truck.

                                    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7690...

                                    Just made a note to myself to check up on it

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