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The story of stinky tofu If you ever heard about Taiwan’s food culture, you probably know that 18 PM is a sacred time. Yup... the night market is open! It doesn’t matter where you are - Kaohsiung, Taipei or Taichung - somewhere in each city you will find hundreds of food stalls famous for its street food, gambling corners, music, and cheap clothing bargains. Traveling to Taiwan on a gastronomic mission, we couldn’t help it but indulge ourselves in its culinary roller-coaster: while strolling around Reuifong Night Market in Kaohsiung we expected nothing but famous Taiwanese delicacies such as braised pork on rice, dumplings and oyster omelets. Yet, an overwhelming smell of decaying garbage conquered kilometers of food stalls. WARNING: you may want to plug your nose for this one. I am talking, of course, about stinky tofu. Widely accepted and eaten by Chinese and Taiwanese people, stinky tofu is traditionally made from a fermented brine including milk, vegetables, meat, dried shrimp, amaranth greens, bamboo shoots, and Chinese herbs. As explained by one of the vendors at the Night Market, the tofu is soaked in the brine creating a highly potent flavour... and smell. Here’s how the magic happens: harmless white cubes are transformed into something terrifying, with bacteria doing their job for up to six months closed in ceramic jars. (Only at this point I realized that there is a fair reason behind the fact that stinky tofu is mainly served as street food: try to cook this at home and you will promptly be asked to move out; not just from your flat, but from the neighbourhood). Once the tofu has been sufficiently soaked in the fermented brine, vendors serve it in a variety of ways: from fried to stewed; braised, steamed, and even on ice cream. Stinky tofu devotees will be drawn by its distinctive “aroma”. Everyone else will run away (which is basically what we did). You can tell by the story that we were newbies at the Night Market. As we visited many more after this, I eventually developed self-defence against the smell, and, finally, got to try stinky tofu. I have to say that dumplings and fried rice remain my lifetime favourites. However, I would say that it was worth it to be part of the “stinky tofu mania” for at least a few minutes, as “you have to taste a culture in order to deeply understand it.”

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MARIA CALDEIRA PIRES PORTELA

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