Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Jonathan Gold loves Stinky Dofu and here's why....

"Several years ago, I went to a Taiwanese restaurant in a Los Angeles area mall. And I hated the meal I had and worse than almost any meal I'd ever had. There was soup that was sort of mucilaginous, that was - had this weird sort of sweet smokiness, like somebody had stubbed a cigarette out in it.
There was the stir fry of pork, black beans and bitter melon, which when you cook it right, it has the lusciousness of the ripest, most delicious melon you've ever had, but is bitter like cancer medicine. There was a dish with what's often translated as stinky tofu, which is this fermented tofu that can often be delicious but smells like garbage left festering outside for the entire month of August.
And as I was eating this food and hating every single bite of it, I was looking around and I realized the fault was not with the chef, who was doing what he did with great skill. The problem was with me and my cultural relativism. And I went back to the restaurant, and I went back and I went back, and I went back so many times that the waitresses were practically trying to set me up with their daughters.
And I think when I ended up writing up about it, I had been 17 times. And I'm not sure I liked it any better, but I understood it and I understood the way it could be. And I thought I was able to write about the restaurant in a reasonable manner.

Jonathan Gold won a Pultizer Prize for newspaper criticism in 2007 and is the food critic for the L.A. Weekly. He wrote a review of a Taiwanese restaurant in California called Nice Time Deli around 15 years ago and Nice Time is no longer at the original location where he visited 17 times or so before writing his final review of the place. That anecdote has popped up all over on the Internet. You can find the book version of the review here:

And Now For His Take on the Best Stinky Food Anywhere Ever...

Sometimes, we're in the mood for something delicate, turbot steamed in lemon leaves perhaps, or thinly sliced East Coast fluke in a nage of verbena and freshly picked chervil. We're a fan of delicately scented souffles that vanish into hot, eggy air at the touch of a fork, and of sashimi so fresh that the only taste is that of the sea. Still — and we type this with fingers strongly redolent of the ripe Alsatian muenster we had for lunch — there is a certain appeal to food you can smell across the room.

If you've ever, say, had the salted squid  guts at a crowded Tokyo izakaya, you know what it is to have a diner across the table smile in recognition of the delicious contents of a small dish in front of you.

While we are all too aware of the pleasures of Taiwanese stinky tofu, ripe durian from Malaysia and the notorious Filipino condiment bagoong, we would forgo all of those for a small helping of the infamous sataw, a southeast Asian legume whose name is sometimes translated as "stink bean," and whose flavor can be likened to that of a fava, times a hundred. They make you pay attention, those things.

And while there are any number of sataw dishes available in Thai and Indonesian restaurants in Los Angeles, we are especially fond of the softshell crab with sataw at the Southern Thai restaurant Jitlada, a close equivalent of tempura moistened with a complex curry that mellows and transforms the powerful bean.

[Gold has gone to some restaurants at many as 17 times. Taiwanese cuisine is different with stinky tofu that smells like a dumpster, plus bitter melon that's bitter like cancer medicine and soups that taste like someone put out a cigar in them. People were enjoying the dishes and he didn't bring the cultural values to the cuisine. He kept going back, never loved it but could explain it.]


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

[Stinky tofu has such a mysterious air. People always ask: why does it smell so bad, how is it made, why the offensive name? Culinary imperialism is my answer to the why-ask-why? You don’t see Joe public going to a La Cachette and inquiring about the noxious fumes coming from the Roquefort or the Morbier on their “dessert” cheese plates. That’s right. Them uncultured French eats rotten milk for fun AFTER the main meal. How uncouth is that? Definitely less cosmopolitan than eating tofu marinaded in rotten soy juice.]

[At least according to 2 of the more useful English articles on the net (1) (2), stinky tofu is made by dunking firm tofu into “brine” which consists of aged pure soy water. Aged, in this discussion of funk, indicates a period of 6 months+, in the open air, soy milk turning into a cloudish dark grey. Have you seen soy “juice” (or “milk” for the Americans, even tho there’s obviously no animal protein from mammory glands in soy) gone bad? Probably not, cuz that Silk crap sold at “American” stores? Pasteurized. Please, don’t try to make stinky tofu at home by fermenting Silk. ]