Stories from My Past - Stinky Tofu

(My sister Erin and me; I'm on the left)

Stinky Tofu

On a clear August afternoon in California, the sun shone brightly, the breeze blew faintly, and my family sat inside a quaint Chinese restaurant in Chinatown.  It was our annual summer vacation and, this year, we were in the Golden State.  Beach, relaxation, and good food were the only items on our agenda.

Chinatown boasted the best Chinese food we'd ever tasted.  My parents claimed it was the closest to authentic Chinese food that wasn't actually from China or Taiwan.  We'd already been to my parents' favorite Dim Sum and their old haunt, Fisherman's Wharf, for fresh seafood.  The previous day, we stopped by an Asian bakery, reminiscent of the corner bakery in my mom's old neighborhood in Taiwan.

Now, they sat in our booth, expectantly awaiting something called chou-dofu, or stinky tofu.

My sister Erin and I had never heard of this strange dish before.  Chicken feet, yes.  Pig's ear, yes.  But, stinky tofu...what was that?

When it arrived on a gleaming white plate, we understood why it had been christened with such an unfortunate name.  So smelly!  My mouth wanted to swallow my tongue.  My nose wanted to jump inside my throat.  My eyes watered as the stench rose like steam.

Erin and I both covered our noses as the odor overwhelmed our senses.  Imagine our severe disgust when my mom and dad proceeded to cut the yellowish-brownish, spongy squares of tofu into pieces and eagerly stuck those pieces into their mouths.  My mom smiled.  My dad commented on the just average quality of the tofu. 

That meant Ma and Da had eaten this stuff before!?  Gross.  Double gross.  Infinity times gross.

They both tried to get us to taste it.  Absolutely not!

We bore the pungent smell for as long as we could, but after two minutes, we were squirming in our seats, holding our breaths and breathing into our t-shirt sleeves.  We begged Ma and Da to let us go outside.  Our booth was right next to the ceiling-to-floor window that let us enjoy a view of the parking lot.  They would be able to see us.  We knew about stranger danger.  We'd be safe.

With each excuse, Erin and I slowly inched our way toward the door and, finally, our parents relented and had mercy on our poor inflicted noses.  We burst into the open air with gasps of relief, exaggerated heaves, and ebullient laughter.

As our parents finished the remainder of the dish, we proceeded to dance about in front of their booth, sticking out our tongues and miming fainting...regardless of the other patrons' stares.

Suffice to say, we never returned to that restaurant ever again.  And Erin and I still, to this day, can't stand the fragrant aroma of stinky tofu.

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