If tofu is the Chinese equivalent of cheese, stinky tofu is the Chinese equivalent of a washed-rind or blue cheese. It’s made by aging tofu in a pungent brine, and it’s especially popular in Taiwan. Henry’s Taiwan—a congenial lunch spot in the International District that also serves many less fragrant dishes—has two versions, neither as stinky as you’d find on its home turf (neighbors would complain about the aroma wafting from his shop, Henry says).
I went for the ma la pietan stinky tofu ($5.95), cubes of the stuff sauced with red pepper and Sichuan peppercorns and served with one of those century eggs. You know how some foods have a challenging aroma but taste surprisingly mild? Stinky tofu is not one of those: It’s every bit as complex and unsubtle—and addictive—as Roquefort.
Henry’s is in a small box of a building just past the Chinatown gate. The lunch business is brisk and mostly eat-in, and lest I make it sound as if it’s made up entirely of stinky-tofu fans, the three-page menu lists several other dishes. I had a little solo dim sum experience there the other day, with an order of wontons in chile sauce ($4.95) and beef bing ($4.95)—a big, flat, absurdly juicy dumpling, not entirely unlike meatloaf in a dumpling wrapper. Gawking at neighboring tables, I was also drawn to the Taiwanese pan-fried noodles ($6.95), a simple lo mein–like dish with pork and mushrooms that was enough for two lunches and reheated perfectly. This would be a great dish to order as takeout and stash in the office fridge.
Stinky tofu, on the other hand, would not.
Bottom Line: Comforting Chinese food, whether you’re Taiwanese or not.
Originally published in may 2010