Monday, July 11, 2011

Eating My Way Through Taiwan: The Stink of Adventure


There is Adventure on the Horizon!
 I debated what to call this post. I toyed around with the idea of calling it, Eating Around. But there was more to it than just eating in a lot of different places. It was kind of a culinary adventure, so to speak. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t really all that adventurous, well not for me anyway. I’ll try eating just about anything once, maybe twice depending on whether or not I got the full gastronomical sensation the first time. (Some of these words make it look as if I’m getting paid by the letter.) I’m not like my children who consider mushrooms on their Pizza to be the worst possible hardship. I don’t even want to think about their reaction to Anchovies!


But on to the adventure…My family left for a visit to America, I was to follow a week later. So, I was on my own. When living in the same house and sharing space with my wife, I am required to follow certain rules and regulations, which are enforced for the good of my marriage. Aside from the obvious marriage breakers, my wife enforces some fairly strict culinary requirements. You may think that she’s thinking of my health, not allowing me to eat high cholesterol or fatty foods, ensuring that I don’t become a casualty to heart disease, cancer or diabetes. You might think that, but if you did you would be wrong. Her concern revolves around something much more sensitive than those things, her concerns are olfactory.

World Class "Xtreme Cooking" Practitioners
Taiwanese people occasionally engage in “Xtreme Cooking.” This kitchen-based sport revolves around liberal uses of odiferous spices, herbs and other things. It may even make use of foods, that in themselves, have a high stench coefficient. These types of foods have been included in the “illicit foods” list in our household. I have been told, on more than one occasion, that if I come home with the scent of any of these contraband food substances on my breath, in my skin or on my clothing that I will be sleeping folded into my desk chair, if I’m allowed in the house at all.

But for the moment, the storm troopers, er, uh…enforcement team was gone. So I did the only thing I could do, I immediately checked the “Summary of Forbidden Foods.” What should I do first…More Garlic snake? No, that’s too mundane. Do I need to make a trip through the night market, allowing my nose to guide me to the Xtreme Cooking experts? Completely unnecessary. A friend who had heard me speak wistfully of a food, which was at the top of that list, a sensitive person, who obviously cares for the real essence of manhood, solved the dilemma with two questions. Two questions which speak directly to the core of  mankind’s need for adventure. Two questions which were shockingly simple. They weren’t complex and requiring great thought. They weren’t like the question that caused Charles Mallory, an early pioneer of Mt Everest, to hesitate and shyly answer, “Because it’s there.” No these were direct, to the point, there could only be one answer for each of these questions. The first, was a call to adventure, it was framed, on the idea that the time was now…that opportunity may knock only once and then drift off to find someone who would answer more promptly. In other words there was an urgency to this question that could not be denied, “Did your wife leave for America, today.” I was tingling with expectation. The question that followed was so obvious that I was embarrassed not to have thought of it myself, “Do you want to try Stinky Tofu.” It was brilliant, I almost wept at the elegance of the idea.

Of course, I wanted to try it. Every time, my wife smelled it and wrinkled her nose and complained that the odor was the worst thing she had ever smelled, I had to wonder what something like that would taste like. The smell was like a siren call to me. It tantalized, no less than the mermaids of old tantalized the men of the sea back in the day. Although, I will admit that as food it is entirely appropriate in it’s name. But perhaps, to an adventurer that was the allure.

After all, what caused men to climb the highest peaks in the world? No one who has ever climbed a mountain has ever been heard to exclaim, “I want to do it because it will be easy and I just love a nice, cozy tent.” No! The cold, the danger, the difficulty, those were the things that drew men to death zone of Everest. The danger and the discomfort were the draw. This is what makes an adventure, an adventure. I was ready to throw aside the comfort foods, I cared not for the delicately flavored tasty combinations; I had a hunger for adventure. There are two ways to prepare Stinky Tofu, I had only to choose one, and my friend like a trusty Sherpa guide, would get me there.

What is Stinky Tofu? It’s Tofu with a twist. They take the soy bean curd, (that’s what Tofu is) and they ferment it. People in Asia do this with a number of foods. Kim chi is fermented cabbage. Thousand-year-old eggs are fermented eggs. Stinky Tofu is fermented soy bean curd.

They either steam it or deep-fry it. I have heard, from more than one source, some of them were even Taiwanese, that, steamed Stinky Tofu, tastes exactly like it smells. I’ve seen it, and it looks like it smells, as well. Hey, in food, even for me, presentation is important. So I opted for the deep fried type. The lust for adventure runs deep in my family…but not that deep.

Stinky Tofu, at Arm's Length
I found it to be surprisingly tasty. It was covered with sauce and topped with cabbage and raw garlic. In Xtreme Cooking using odor combinations garners bonus points, for style.  I have spoken to a number of Taiwanese people about food. In fact, I talk to everyone about food. Most of the Taiwanese people I speak to name Stinky Tofu among their favorite foods. I met a bunch of seventh graders who claimed they liked Stinky Tofu better than ice cream, to them the greatest of all possible foods would be Stinky Tofu flavored Ice Cream.  I wish I could remember where I left Ben and Jerry's personal cell phone number, they could make a fortune in Taiwan with that flavor.

I enjoyed Stinky Tofu, the forbidden fruit of Taiwan; well, forbidden in my house, anyway, but I think it’ll be a while before I eat it again. My wife isn’t planning on traveling again any time soon.

See, It Looks Good Enough to Eat
 Note:  This adventure didn’t end with just the consummation of my desire to taste Stinky Tofu. It was, after all, an adventure of monumental scope. We traveled throughout Taoyuan City stopping at a number of food carts. These are little carts where people prepare food, right on the side of the road. These are the places where you can really get the taste of Taiwan. I’ll talk about the rest of the adventure soon.







Other Posts you may be interested in:

Eating My way Through Taiwan:  Hei Tong Cuo Bing
Eating My way Through Taiwan:  Buddha Jumps Over the Wall
Eating My Way Through Taiwan:  Niu Rou Mian

2 comments:

  1. mmmmm stinky tofu *droool*

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  2. I wonder how the steamed would taste... I dare you!

    ReplyDelete