There is a section of street near the front of the computer market in our city that reeks with the smell of Stinky Tofu (chòu dòufu 臭豆腐 = stinky beancurd) yet people still eat it. I am appalled by the stench that wafts from those vendors' carts - and we hurry past if we happen to be in that area of town. You just can't linger. Some have likened the smell to raw sewage, old socks, rotting corpses, or a smelly, wet dog - even by Chinese people!!
What it is:
Stinky Tofu is a block of firm Bean curd (tofu) soaked in brine. The brine consists of pure soy milk (soybeans+water) in a large bucket, left (uncovered) outside for several weeks until it becomes putrid, moldy & gray, allowing the micro-organisms take control. Yes - this is true. Many will add rotted vegetables, rotting melon rinds, and shrimp heads - but the rancid soy milk is most common, with salt added. The tofu marinates in the brine for 4-6 hours until it soaks up the pungent odor, and becomes more "spongy." Then it is rinsed and aged overnight in a fridge, and cooked in a variety of ways. Thus you have a love/hate relationship with this infamous treat.
A Street food
There is a good reason why Stinky Tofu is a street food. If you were to cook this at home, you might get evicted!! Some street vendors have been fined for breaking air-pollution laws, and are confined to certain areas to sell this snack. It is commonly sold deep-fried, stewed, steamed and sometimes raw. In these pictures its deep-fried - until they are golden & crisp, with a spicy topping. Vendors rent a space on the street with a small folding table/cart with a wok/deep-fryer. There is no need for large signs! The pungent odor permeates the air and beckons the devoted Stinky Tofu fans, even blocks away! Others might run for cover!!
Some people believe stinky tofu was developed from a preserving method to help tofu last through the winter. Others have said it was an invention of cooks in the Chinese military to help soldiers withstand the cold and boost their masculinity (yang).
I don't think my curiosity (insanity) to taste this special Chinese food will overcome my nose's refusal to inhale, let alone swallow. I will let you know if that changes!