Smelly Chinese Food – Approach with Care!
China is infamous for its interesting and unique cuisine, and that includes some genuinely smelly Chinese food!
If you’ve eaten authentic Chinese food before, then you’re no stranger to bold flavours. However, some of the most interesting foods are the ones that give off a smelly, pungent odour.
In this blog post, I’ll introduce you to two of the most popular stinky foods in China, and hopefully I’ll convince you to try them if you’ve never had them before!
Stinky Chinese Food – What is durian?
Stinky Chinese Food – Durian vs. jackfruit
Stinky Chinese Food – Why is durian so popular?
Stinky Chinese Food – What is stinky tofu?
Stinky Chinese Food – How is stinky tofu made?
Stinky Chinese Food – How is stinky tofu served?
Stinky Chinese Food – Durian
What is Durian?
Durian, or liúlián in Chinese (榴莲), is a large, spiky tropical fruit, originating from Malaysia, Indonesia, and Borneo.
However, durian and durian-flavoured snacks are popular throughout China as well.
There are actually several varieties of this oblong, greenish-yellow fruit, weighing between 2 and 7 pounds (1).
Despite it’s unusual appearance, it’s infamy stems from it memorable smell.
The smell and flavour of durian is difficult to describe. It’s stench has been likened to gym socks, onions, rotting meat, and garbage, and if a durian is anywhere in your vicinity, you’ll be sure to smell it (you don’t need to be close, trust me) (2).
Studies on the fruit have shown that 44 active aromatic compounds contribute to its complex smell (4).
As for the taste, it’s not quite as pungent as its odor, although it’s pretty close. The inside of a durian contains large seeds and thick, creamy flesh. The fruit meat itself is very soft, with a complex flavor–equal parts sweet and stinky (3).
Durian is so stinky that it’s been banned on some forms of public transport and even taxis in countries across Asia, including Thailand, Japan, and Hong Kong (1)!
Durian vs. Jackfruit
If you’re from the Western world, you might be tempted to mix up durian with another fruit, jackfruit.
While jackfruit isn’t a common part of Western cuisine, it gained some traction recently as a vegan meat substitute.
However, jackfruit and durian aren’t the same! Despite being similarly shaped and sized, they aren’t even in the same fruit family. The skin of a jackfruit is bumpy, while durian’s is so spiky you’d need gloves to handle it. Jackfruit isn’t nearly as pungent as durian, and its flesh is stringy and chewy, almost rubbery, while durian’s is soft and custard-like. Their flavors are also completely different! (3)
Why is Durian so popular?
When it comes to smelly Chinese fruit, you wouldn’t think it’d be so popular would you!
You’d think that something with such a potent smell and taste would surely be universally despised; however, durian is quite popular among some people, who find the taste quite enjoyable.
To them, the flavor is delicious, and they don’t mind the smell, or they even enjoy it. Not everyone likes it, but it’s popular enough that there plenty of durian foods and snacks in and around Asia.
Another benefit to durian is that it is extremely healthy, even a superfruit! Durian is high in iron, vitamin C, B vitamins, potassium, and dietary fiber (1,4). Durian also contains many antioxidants, and other health benefits include reducing the risk of cancer, heart disease, and infections, as well as lowering blood sugar (4).
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How is Durian eaten?
Here in China, I’ve seen durian in all types and forms. One of its most common forms is a candy flavour.
A popular candy brand here in Shanghai, White Rabbit (大白兔, or dàbáitù), has a durian flavoured candy, which smells almost as pungent as its real-life counterpart.
I’ve also seen durian-stuffed cakes and pastries, durian custard tarts, durian ice cream or smoothies, and even durian on pizzas! So durian isn’t limited to sweet foods only. You might also find dried or frozen durian, which changes the texture of the fruit.
You can buy durian as a whole, fresh fruit from some stores or fruit stands, although cutting it open and preparing it is no small task.
The skin of the durian is so spiky that you’ll need mitts, in addition to a knife, to pry the fruit open and scoop out the flesh from inside.
In my personal experience, I’ve eaten durian alone, as well as a filling in pastries and a candy flavor.
While I can’t say that it’s a favourite of mine, I also don’t regret trying it, and I’m open to eating it again! For me, I don’t mind the taste when it first hits my tongue, but the aftertaste has a little bit of a rotten, garlic-y flavour.
While durian definitely has a strong scent and flavor, it’s an iconic fruit that I think everyone should try at least once. If you don’t want to try fresh durian, try a durian stuffed bun or tart!
Stinky Chinese Food – Stinky Tofu
What is stinky tofu?
Stinky tofu, or chòu dòufu (臭豆腐), is a type of tofu that is fermented in a special brine, which gives it a smelly funk that lives up to its name (5).
Stinky tofu is especially popular in Taiwan, but it can also be found throughout mainland China, usually as a street food (6). Stinky tofu has a very strong smell that can be likened to rotting garbage or body odour, but eating the tofu isn’t the same as smelling it!
Personally, I really enjoy stinky tofu, and when I eat it, the taste is stronger than the smell. I think the smell actually enhances the flavor, in a good way!
How is stinky tofu made?
Tofu, a staple food in China, is made from ground soybeans. To take the process one step further and make stinky tofu, the tofu is fermented in a brine for a few days to a week.
This brine can have meat, shrimp, milk, tea, or cabbage leaves in it, and each restaurant or vendor has their own recipe that they keep secret (5).
From there, the tofu can be stewed, deep-fried, or braised. Deep-fried stinky tofu is one of the most popular varieties (6).
Some legends say that stinky tofu was invented when the owner of a food stall in the Qing Dynasty accidentally left his tofu stewing for a whole season but later discovered that the result was delicious (5).
How is stinky tofu served?
The sides help to bring out the flavour of the tofu, which, especially when deep fried, can be crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.
It’s also served with sauces, which go really well with the tofu.
To find out more about the Chinese delicacy called thousand year old egg or century egg, check out this blog post!
Stinky tofu is a street food, so it’s generally very inexpensive. I would definitely recommend trying it! If you’re not currently in China or a Asian country that sells it fresh, you might be able to find it at an Asian foods grocery store.
You can even make your own stinky tofu at home, if you’re really dedicated! Don’t be too put off by the smell! You might be surprised to find that you really enjoy the flavor!
Have you ever tried durian or stinky tofu? What did you think? What other smelly foods am I missing? Drop a comment and let us know!
If you want to find out more about durian and stinky tofu, check out these links!
Stinky Chinese Food – FAQ’s
Stinky Tofu and Durian are widely regarded as the smelliest foods in China.
Durian in Chinese is liúlián (榴莲).
Stinky Tofu in Chinese is chòu dòufu (臭豆腐).
Of course this is down to personal preference, but there are many people who very much enjoy the likes of Durian and Stinky Tofu, despite the very pungent smells.
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