Every few days our team will scour Shanghai’s dining scene for scrumptious dishes that’ll fill your belly without emptying your savings. Not to discriminate, we’ll search everywhere from bicycle carts to chic venues with twenty-course tasting menus, knowing that any spot could have the next Dish of the Day.
Nothing sucks the magic out of an after-dinner stroll like the stench of stinky tofu (臭豆腐, chòu dòufu). I always thought it smelled like ‘roast garbage juice,’ and used to cross the street whenever I spotted/smelled even one offensive square idling in a wok. Fortunately, like what probably happens with Chinese and cheese if they live in Europe long enough, I got used to it. It’s actually become a favorite.
The stink comes from its fermentation, which consists of inoculating regular tofu with mycelium spores, which incubate for three days and grow into a smelly white mold. It’s then submerged in brine with other ingredients like dried seafood or meat and allowed to ripen for six months, much like cheese. Then the zombified bean curd is ready to be prepared any way – fried, steamed with seafood or amaranth stalks etc. Fried is most common on Shanghai streets, so we’ll focus on that.
The best place (if you don’t want to trek out to Qibao Old Town), is Sipailou Road, a street food metropolis on the periphery of the gaudy tentacles of Yuyuan. Most stinky tofu vendors cluster about the entrance of Sipailou. You’ll smell them before you see them. Each offers both the white and black varieties, whose squares blanket the grill like a noxious checkerboard. The vendor shellacks them with chili sauce and scallions and crams them into a paper soup bowl with toothpicks to go. 10RMB gets you eight of each kind.
Don’t mind the stench, the taste is actually milder than most cheeses; especially the black Hunan ones, whose traditionally putrid character has been harmonized for the Shanghai palate. And unlike most cheeses, there are several sensations – crispy, spongy, and fluffy, with a goat-cheese-like umami.
Near the entrance to Sipailou Road, near Fang Bang Road (上海市四牌楼路, 近放榜路). Open from morning until late.
Last time on Dish of the Day: Braised pomfret @ Chun
See a complete list of our Dish of the Day series here.
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