Don't let the smell put you off this delicious treat

Known as one of the most "disgusting" of Shanghai dishes, chou tofu – smelly tofu – repels many gourmands because of its unique and unpleasant smell.


Known as one of the most "disgusting" of Shanghai dishes, chou tofu — smelly tofu — repels many gourmands because of its unique and unpleasant smell.

For many locals, however, it is a delicious delicacy, often recalling golden childhood memories. When the bell rang and school was over, children would dash out of the classroom to gather around the humble roadside food booth for chou tofu. Crispy outside and tender inside, with sweet or spicy sauce the deep-fried golden tofu was a wonderful experience on the tongue.

Legend has it the dish was invented by Zhu Yuanzhang, the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Zhu was a beggar before he overthrew the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368).

One day the man, starving, found several pieces of rotten (fermented) tofu on the road. Without thinking, he simply put them in oil and gulped them down. The fine taste surprised him greatly. After Zhu became emperor, he ordered royal chefs to recreate the taste he remembered and the dish soon became widely popular with the recipe passed down the generations.

For centuries, smelly tofu has been popular throughout the Yangtze River Delta. Born as a grassroots street food, these days it is on the dining tables of Shanghai families as well as in fine restaurants.

You might be taken aback and think of not bothering at first because of the smell — the tofu is fermented with many ingredients before being fried.

Half-processed fermented tofu is easy to fine in food markets, and the rest of the cooking can be done at home.

Pour oil in a wok, then put the tofu in as the oil gets hot but not boiling. Deep-fry the tofu until slightly yellow. Set it aside and bring the oil to boiling point. Put the tofu back in and fry until golden. It's best served with spicy or sweet sauce. 



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