Surprising Chinese Delicacies part 1; stinky tofu

First impressions count. This is also the case when it comes to food. Whenever a dish doesn’t look or smell appealing lots of people decide to skip it. However, these first impression might be deceptive. This is also the case for stinky tofu. First of all, the name can get people to frown, and of course the strong odor can make them decide not to eat it. But when you do? Chances are high that they will love it.

Discovered by chance

The origin of stinky tofu was not recorded into the history. But we can still get some clues from a Chinese legend. It is an anecdote of Zhu Yuanzhang, the founding emperor of the Ming dynasty. Zhu Yuanzhang was born into an impoverished family. When he was a little child, he became a monk because of poverty. Once, starvation forced him to pick up some spoiled tofu on the ground and swallow it without second thought. The taste left a deep impression. And a couple years later when he became a general, he introduced stinky tofu to this troops and a celebratory diner. So, the dish wasn’t invented, but discovered by chance.

Not as terrifying as you might think

First of all: stinky tofu can be seen as the Chinese version of cheese. And cheese doesn’t smell nice all the time either, right? This food type, just as tofu, is fermented with bacteria as a base, which creates the smell. It already sounds better, doesn’t it?

Another aspect of stinky tofu that might change your mind to try it, are the health benefits. Although the flavor can vary between different Chinese regions, this dish is always rich in protein, low in saturated fat, and without cholesterol. According to a study by a Chinese scholar named Liu Meisong, stinky tofu may actually play a role in preventing Alzheimer disease because it contains much vitamin B12, the lack of which can accelerate aging of the brain.

Different popular kinds of stinky tofu

Stinky tofu is a household food in China. However stinky tofu in different regions may turn out to be different — in appearances, cooking methods and flavors. Let’s introduce you to a few popular types.


In Changsha, Hunan Province, stinky tofu is known for its spicy flavor. Because Changsha stinky tofu is fried, its surface gets crispy and the inner parts stay tender. The different toppings create the spicy flavors; chopped mustard, chili, shallot along with Xiangtan lotus seeds and Yongfeng chili sauce.


Stinky tofu from Sichuan is even spicier. The ‘Mala’ flavor that’s created by Sichuan peppercorns will leave your taste buds with a tingling and numbing sensation. This kind is also not deep fried, but stir fried and then boiled.


Nanjing doesn’t have one, but two kinds of the dish; one dark and one light grey. Both are served with chili sauce, sesame paste, garlic juice, coriander, shallot, and ginger. The difference is the time the tofu is deep fried. The dark one – as you can guess – is fried for a long time until it turned to its dark color. This type is a bit chewier than the other kinds. The light one is fried less time. When the tofu has turned gold, the aromatic and soft stinky tofu that you’re looking for is created.

So, don’t be too quick to judge, and try it whenever you got the chance!