According to the textual research of some anthropologists, our ancestors were scavengers long long ago, because fresh meat was hard to digest and added up to their burden of teeth. They just ate the meat when it was almost rotten. I am very doubtful whether our love for the food which needs various kinds of fermentation to become smelly, such as stinky tofu and cheese, stems from this ancient taste genes. These kinds of food are indeed smelly and soft.
I show little passion for cheese, but for stinky tofu, that is a different story. In fact, the quality of stinky tofu is not judged by whether it is smelly, but by the degree of smelliness. I was once cheated by the immoral peddler, maybe because the strong mobile gas at that moment affected my smell. Most vendors on the Beijing street sell this kind of stinky tofu, but cried out “Stinky tofu from Hunan province”. Some people with northern accent even claim they learned the technique from cooks in Hunan province. This kind of tofu is black and tastes the same when the kennel gets damp. I took a bite reluctantly, and spit it out without ever chewing it. Stinky tofu is not smelly in this fashion.
As a child, eating stinky tofu was a significant ceremony on the way from school. Before deep-fried, the tofu is a large grey piece. After deep-fried, it is golden and smelly blended with the mellow flavor of lactic acid, not choking at all. With limited pocket money, I often had to split one piece with my little playmate. When it is deep-fried, the tofu is mixed with soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil, much pickled cowpea, sour radish pieces, crisp fried soybean, cilantro, chopped green onion, sweet paste and peppers. This kind of taste has long gone. In Beijing, I occasionally eat delicious stinky tofu from Guangxi province of China, which is mixed with fresh meat soup, pickled cowpea, chopped green onion and cilantro after it is deep-fried. Basically, the fermented tofu is deep-fried to golden, and then mixed with an enormous amount of dressing for eating.
It is said that the stinky tofu is another important invention of Hongwu Emperor, apart from advanced secret agent system. Plus the fact that tofu was invented by Liuan, King of Huainan State (of Han Dynasty), stinky tofu is indeed the descendant of the imperial family. Also, this indicates that tofu has inseparable bond with Anhui province. So when I went to Anhui province, I was much eager to eat stinky tofu. Unfortunately, I failed to eat the hair tofu as hairy as the green turtles in the legend. I did eat a lot of common stinky tofu, but felt not so delicious. Maybe this is because I was used to heavy taste, but the stinky tofu in Anhui province is somewhat lite.
Stinky tofu is really popular in Shanghai, where stinky pots are seen everywhere on the street. Generally, the tofu can be pan-fried, steamed or boiled, and then is mixed with pickled Chinese cabbage, sweet condensed soy and pepper for eating. I still recalled the pot with boiling stinky tofu and boiled blood curd I ate on the Wujiang Road night market, the famous food street near the Nanjing West Road.
Recently, there is news about using liquid dung to make stinky tofu, and so came this article. There are two kinds of stinky tofu, soaked in amaranth juice, which becomes black, and rotten in straw, which remains grey finally. Those I ate as a child belong to the latter kind. The former cooking method may be the theoretical basis for the stinky tofu made with liquid dung, so for the time being we`d better not eat the black stinky tofu. Unfortunately, most stinky tofu sold by the street peddlers in Beijing belong to the first kind, all black. However, the weather in Beijing is not suitable for the second kind of tofu. So I guess I can only return to my hometown for the second kind of stinky tofu.