China developed soy-based products as protein substitutes for meat. Stinky tofu stands out for its unforgettable strong smell and lingering taste, which is obvious even before you gain the courage to try it.
The strong smell of the tofu comes from sulfur amino acids—a side product made during the fermentation process. There are several popular types of stinky tofu.
The most famous stinky tofu is from Hunan, which is easy to tell by its blackened crust. Do not let the crust fool you, it is soft on the inside. Tofu is soaked in a stock made of winter bamboo shoots, mushrooms, baijiu and fermented soybeans. After it has soaked for two to six hours, the tofu is deep fried, and pepper is put on top with dried turnips to add the extra spice Hunan is known for.
You must eat Hong Kong stinky tofu while it is hot. Make a hole in the middle of the tofu block to add your choice of sauce to make it salty, sweet or spicy. The master stock is made of shrimp, old ginger, dried tangerine peel and other spices. Once the tofu is added, it is sealed and fermented for up to 60 days. After it has sat for the right amount of time, it is deep fried and soaked in the stock again for six to eight hours.
Shao Xing stinky tofu is crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, offering a savory flavor. It uses amaranth, pickled cabbage and licorice as the main ingredients for the master stock. After a year, the stock generates a special, savory smell making a tasty and smelly tofu. Unlike the Hunan tofu, Shao Xing stinky tofu has a light brown color. Like Hunan tofu, sweet or spicy sauce goes well with it.