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Jul 15, 2011 09:17 PM

Best stinky tofu in the Bay Area?

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:

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

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  1. 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. 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

        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

        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

          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

            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

            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

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


              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                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

                  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

                    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

                      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:


            1. 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. 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

                  Yimster, do you mean ASJ? I found a photo of the steamed version here:

                  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

                    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. 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

                    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

                      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":


                      1. re: tpc

                        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

                          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!