What makes Stinky Tofu stinky?

To those who have tried the Chinese food “Stinky Tofu”, you know it is a dish quite aptly named. I’ve asked around before, and got two different explanations on why it stinks.

From my Taiwanese friend: Stinky Tofu stinks because it is fermented. You can just buy it at the store and deep fry it and make Stinky Tofu.

From my Hong Kongese friend: No, that’s not it at all. Stinky Tofu stinks because it is deep fried in animal fat. The Stinky Tofu vendors at the beginning of the day have a big wok full of oil. They then heat it up and put various animal fats in it, which turn into oil themselves. Animal fats stink when turned into oil like that, so when the tofu is deep-fried, it stinks as well.

So… anyone know for sure?

Certainly when I arrived in Hong Kong, I identified my first scent of chao dao fu as severely overcooked rancid pig fat. However, according to this it’s simply fermentation:

I’ve since smelled chao dao fu in its raw format, and it’s very pungent, though not quite the same. I’d say the smell of the cooked stuff is 90% fermentation, 10% animal fat.

It’s fermented. Or fermenting, at least. Used to be you would smell it all over Hong Kong being sold on the street. Now, it’s mercifully rare. Smells like a baby’s used diapers after being put in a metal box and left in the sun for a week. Revolting. And I’m pretty open-minded about food. I’ve eaten dog, silk worm, duck’s tongues, etc etc etc.

>> Used to be you would smell it all over Hong Kong being sold on the street.

Just head up the road a bit to GuangZhou and that is the only thing you’ll smell 24/7

Stinky powder.

I’m like you, Hemlock. There are few things too exotic for me to eat, but once I was in a restaurant where a newly-fried up plate of stinky tofu was being served, and I swear it smelled just like a cat litter box that had not been emptied for days. Bugs I could eat; hot fried cat shit is where I draw the line.

Thanks for the info jjimm. Immersing something in stinky water doesn’t sound incredibly appetizing, though. But what the hell, it IS stinky tofu, normal rules don’t apply.