Follow Me Foodie to Stinky Tofu in Hong Kong!
My Follow Me Foodie Adventure: A search for the stinkiest stinky tofu in Hong Kong.
And here’s where it all began. My search for the stinkiest tofu in Hong Kong all started on the tram. It was Follow Me Foodie to Hong Kong and I decided to do some sightseeing. The tram system in Hong Kong operates almost exactly like a “Hop On, Hop Off” bus, except it’s an actual form of local transportation used on a daily basis. It costs about 2.30 HKD ($0.30US) for a single trip that will take you on a journey around town. It’s the perfect way to explore the city especially if you don’t know where you really want to go. Typically I would get off when something caught my eye, but on this occasion it was something that caught my nose.
I was on the tram enjoying the sights of the city and then out of nowhere I was hit by the rancid smell of hot steamy sewage. There was no sewage in sight so I expected it to be someone on the tram. I thought someone had farted, taken off their shoes exposing wet socks, or was eating something from a thermos… from two weeks ago. The smell was getting more vile and a few of us started looking around the tram. Then, my nose and brain finally registered as to what it was. I realized that it was stinky tofu. The smell is unmistakable when you know it, but when you’re not expecting it, you just know it’s something that smells really bad.
At this point I should have gotten off the tram to find out where it was coming from. However I wasn’t craving it at the time and instead I buried my nose in my sleeves. I could smell it even after about 5 minutes when the tram had left the area and travelled a few blocks further. It was a sign of some seriously stinky tofu. Usually the smell doesn’t travel that far.
Boy did I regret not getting off. The next day I had the sudden urge to find the stinkiest tofu in Hong Kong. Not only was it an urge to find it, but I actually had a craving for it. I’ve had it numerous times before in Asia and in Vancouver, BC (my home town), but in Vancouver it is usually not the same as what you can get in Hong Kong. Many say it’s not “authentic”, and the stinky tofu in Hong Kong is usually much stinkier and stronger.
I decided to hop back on the tram and take the same route to find out where I had smelled the stinkiest tofu in Hong Kong. Mind you there could have been stinkier, but I wanted that one. I wanted the one I had smelled on the tram the day before. I was using my nose like crazy inhaling the smells of Hong Kong looking for that odour of stinky tofu, but unfortunately the smell never came back. I took the same route and I missed my opportunity.
I ended up getting off at the last stop and then I was left to the only tool I had to find the stinkiest tofu – my nose. I was phoneless and I knew asking someone would result in “go to a street vendor”, so I just decided to rely on my sense of smell. It’s one of the most powerful tools when it comes to finding food. So off I was!
Hong Kong is a city full of scents! Every street corner smells like something different and in between inhaling all these random aromas you’re also inhaling all the pollution. It’s not the best city to be sniffing around, but sometimes you hit the smell of roasted duck, succulent suckling pig or delicious barbeque pork.
I walked around some areas sniffing every street corner which led me to various types of Chinese food stalls, vendors and restaurants. I wasn’t really sniffing for stinky tofu, but just smelling for food in general; because where there is street food, there is a chance of finding stinky tofu. It’s usually cooked outdoors.
Stinky tofu can be found at some Chinese restaurants, but typically it’s considered street food. Many restaurants don’t really like serving it because it can turn away diners since the smell can be so offensive.
I can’t even tell you how many barbeque pork places and butcher shops I hit while sniffing my way around Hong Kong. It wasn’t what I was looking for though. I wanted stinky tofu. Not just any stinky tofu either… I wanted a very stinky tofu. The stinkier the better.
But, nope. This was just pan fried dumplings. It looked good, but it wasn’t stinky tofu. So I walked a few blocks further and took another whiff. Hmm… now that was a new smell. It smelled like raw meat and it was slightly off putting so I decided to follow it in hopes that it would be stinky tofu.
“No fart in car”… definitely the best sign I saw in Hong Kong. It was such a coincidence to see it at this moment too! A sign like this wasn’t going to add to my stinky experience, but I really didn’t mind leaving out the farts. So where was I off to to find stinky tofu?
Welcome to Sogo! It’s one of the most vibrant and lively parts of Hong Kong. It’s basically a shopping and eating hub and all the stores open late. It’s busy day and night every day of the week, but I came here for one thing: to find my stinky tofu. I started walking around sniffing every street corner once again.
I continued to follow my sense of smell which led me to this place selling satay sticks. But then suddenly I smelled something funny. It was definitely food and perhaps some curry. I had a feeling it would be curry fish balls, and where there are curry fish balls there is usually stinky tofu! Fingers crossed.
I walked a few blocks further and then I really smelled something bad. This had to be it. I was getting warmer to the smell of stinky tofu.
Ah… that makes sense. It was actually sewage. *Sigh*. I was really hitting rock bottom at this point, but I didn’t want to give up on my search. I couldn’t believe I was having trouble finding stinky tofu in Hong Kong of all places. I was getting exhausted and my nose was getting fatigued. I decided to reach for my last straw. I decided to go to another area guaranteed to have street food.
Welcome to Mong Kok! It’s one of Hong Kong’s busiest shopping streets with cheap electronics, clothing and the famous “Ladies Market”. Ladies Market is a popular outdoor market selling clothing for men, women and children, accessories, stationary, toys and all sorts of affordable consumer goods.
Once again I repeated my business and took a big whiff. I smelled something along the lines of stinky tofu and just food in general as soon as I exited the MTR (metro) station. I knew it was around somewhere. I just had to find it. I took another whiff…
Oh what the hell… I was tired. Hong Kong Milk Tea is also delicious in Hong Kong. We have good versions of it in Vancouver too, but in Hong Kong it’s almost always good. Many Asian countries make it really well, but for “Hong Kong Milk Tea”… your best bet is to try it in Hong Kong. It’s not like Western types of milk tea at all. It’s creamy a bit sweet and usually made with black tea and condensed milk. I love it. Now back to my stinky business…
And there it was! *Inhale* Yup. Definitely. I took another big whiff just to be sure. There was something cooking and it smelled like stinky tofu. It wasn’t that strong, but I could smell that subtle odour of pungent garbage meets smelly old socks. I ran across the street as if I had found a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
“Everywhere I’m looking now
I’m surrounded by your embrace
Baby I can see your halo
You know you’re my saving grace
Hit me like a ray of sun
Burning through my darkest night
You’re the only one that I want
Think I’m addicted to your light
I can feel your halo halo halo
I can see your halo halo halo…”
– Halo, by Beyonce
I can’t tell you the joy I felt. It was pure bliss. I had just spent the last 4 hours looking for this and I finally found it! I had walked until the sun set and until I was thirsty. I had achieved what I had set out to do.
What is Stinky Tofu?
Stinky Tofu is fermented tofu. Some compare it to making cheese, but according to this article “unlike cheese, stinky tofu fermentation does not have fixed formula for starter bacteria”. Making Stinky Tofu is a complicated multi-step process and it requires several weeks and often months for the really pungent authentic kinds.
First a fermented brine must be created. This brine is made from fermented milk, vegetables, meat and/or seafood juices. The brine can contain other Chinese herbs and ingredients and it will vary from region to region and vendor to vendor if they make their own. Traditionally this brine fermentation can take several weeks or months and it’s a very unsanitary process. Next, firm tofu pieces made from soybeans are marinated in this fermented brine where it soaks for another several weeks or months. It’s a double fermentation process.
There are strong government food regulations around the production of stinky tofu so many people resort to factory made ones. The factories speed up the process so that the brine and tofu only ferments for a couple days, so there is never a full fermentation process. The factory made ones are not really considered “authentic Stinky Tofu” and the smell and flavour is much milder. Even though a lot of people make it in Hong Kong it is a bit tricky to find the real thing because the process of making it at home is very complicated, risky, and smells really bad.
In Vancouver there are some underground businesses specializing in home made stinky tofu, but I don’t even know how to find them. The stuff you find at the night markets and restaurants will almost always be factory made versions even if they smell bad. Once in a while you will come across a good one though.
Stinky Tofu is considered a delicacy in Taiwan and it’s one of the most famous places to have it in Asia. It’s sold throughout China and the style it is prepared and cooked will vary from region to region. It is almost always street food sold on a stick, but it can be steamed or boiled too.
When you learn to appreciate stinky tofu the offensive smell it has actually enhances the flavour of it. If I’m craving it, then I want it to smell really bad just like I would blue cheese. The smell I think is worse than blue cheese, but when I’m craving blue cheese I want it to be really strong blue cheese… otherwise I might as well eat mozzarella.
Our sense of smell and what we taste are strongly connected so it’s not surprising that the odour of stinky tofu contributes to its flavour. It goes the same with food that doesn’t smell bad. Foods like bacon or chocolate chip cookies taste better when they have a scent.
- Do NOT plug your nose or hold your breath when you eat this. You won’t be able to taste it and the smell contributes to the flavour.
- If you plug your nose while eating anything you won’t be able to taste it very much – so don’t. Embrace the smell of rotten sewage… or stinky tofu!
- The odour is literally and figuratively intoxicating.
- This one was deep fried and it’s typically eaten with self serve condiments such as Hoisin and/or chili sauce. It varies according to region.
- It’s typically very greasy if it’s deep fried and it will leave stains on the paper bag it’s served in.
- It only smells like warm rotting sewage, but often it doesn’t taste like it at all, unless you get a really good one.
- The flavour is surprisingly quite bland and very mild with stinky tofu that is considered “average” quality.
- The smelliest of stinky tofu is very strong, but it is very difficult to find.
- Most are very mild so it really has to do with the smell to enhance its flavour.
- The one I had here was disappointing and I wanted stinkier and funkier in smell and flavour.
- It wasn’t deep fried fresh upon order and usually the tofu should be served very hot.
- The texture is just like cottage cheese. It’s semi-firm and tastes pretty much like regular tofu (pending it is average to poor quality).
- The tofu isn’t salty (why it also needs sauces) and I couldn’t even taste any flavours of the brine; with well made ones you can taste it.
- It wasn’t the best or even top 10 stinky tofus I’ve had and I’m fairly certain it was factory made.
- Although it was a slightly disappointing stinky tofu, my experience was memorable and it made for a story. Until the next foodie adventure…
- I had a surprisingly very stinky tofu (smellier the better) at the Richmond Night Market – see Deep Fried Taiwanese Kimchi Stinky Tofu.