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"Smells like Russians."
May 25, 2011 5:01 PM   Subscribe

British food-writer and Sichuan cuisine expert Fuchsia Dunlop introduces cheese to a group of chefs from Shaoxing, China,"the Chinese headquarters of 'stinking and fermented' delicacies" for the first time. How does the Stilton fare against stinky tofu?
posted by peripathetic (77 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

 
For pure smelly sock rankness, Stilton has nothing on that stinky tofu that my dear daughter has learned to love in Yunnan.
posted by squalor at 5:08 PM on May 25, 2011


Stilton has nothing on anything. I regularly buy Limburger, and even that's not strong. Either that, or I've got a tolerance for strong-tasting food.
posted by dunkadunc at 5:14 PM on May 25, 2011


(makes note: somehow procure some stinky tofu.)
posted by dunkadunc at 5:14 PM on May 25, 2011


Does anyone know anything more about thousand layer tofu? Google isn't helping since this Slate article seems to have polluted the search results, and I'm getting conflicting info like thousand layer tofu is just frozen and pressed tofu. (Which I've never heard called that before. Frozen tofu, I mean.)
posted by loquacious at 5:15 PM on May 25, 2011


A few sophisticated Shanghainese might eat Stilton just as sophisticated Londoners eat tripe and chitterlings

I'm not a sophisticated Londoner, but going on English people I know, and British TV, I think Italian cuisine (esp, Tuscan etc.) is the default, go-to posh food for English people.
posted by kersplunk at 5:17 PM on May 25, 2011


During the Iron Chef natto battle, the color commentator explained that the chefs' primary challenge would be to mask the nauseating odor of the ingredient.
posted by Trurl at 5:17 PM on May 25, 2011


I think Italian cuisine (esp, Tuscan etc.) is the default, go-to posh food for English people.

Used to be, maybe 20 years ago. Now, who knows?
posted by unSane at 5:18 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Trurl: "During the Iron Chef natto battle, the color commentator explained that the chefs' primary challenge would be to mask the nauseating odor of the ingredient."

Isn't that totally missing the point?
posted by dunkadunc at 5:19 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


What an exciting idea! I like this a lot!
posted by Greg Nog at 5:29 PM on May 25, 2011


I had no idea that lactose intolerance was so common in China-- it does explain why there was always a whole refrigerated case of yogurt and maybe 1 or 2 feet for every other dairy product in all the grocery stores I went to while I was living there. For yogurt, the lactose is processed by lactobaccilli into lactic acid, which is a completely different beast and is much better tolerated by lactose-intolerant folk. Incidentally, those same lactobaccilli are responsible or that tart flavor in "stinking and fermented" delicacies (and that "sharp" flavor of cheddar? that's also lactobaccilli. sauerkraut too. etc. etc.)
posted by mingo_clambake at 5:30 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I know she was there to compare stinky fermented foodstuffs, but these chefs have never had cheese of any kind. I'd be interested to find out what they thought about cheese from the other end of the spectrum, something bland like mozzarella, or mild and creamy like havarti or gouda.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 5:36 PM on May 25, 2011 [8 favorites]


I've had stinky tofu. It... wow.

I've used a porta-potty that seemed like it hadn't been cleaned in decades. I've eaten durian. Let me tell you, stinky tofu (and I don't mean the Japanese version that you get at a sushi restaurant, which is merely rank) is foul smelling stuff.

I honestly can not recall what it tasted like, because I think that my nose and taste buds had recoiled in horror and refused to participate.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 5:36 PM on May 25, 2011


I've used a porta-potty that seemed like it hadn't been cleaned in decades. I've eaten durian. Let me tell you, stinky tofu (and I don't mean the Japanese version that you get at a sushi restaurant, which is merely rank) is foul smelling stuff.

A nearby Chinatown restaurant has stinky tofu on the menu... for take-out only. I think that says it all.
posted by dfan at 5:39 PM on May 25, 2011 [7 favorites]


@kersplunk A few sophisticated Shanghainese might eat Stilton just as sophisticated Londoners eat tripe and chitterlings

I'm not a sophisticated Londoner, but going on English people I know, and British TV, I think Italian cuisine (esp, Tuscan etc.) is the default, go-to posh food for English people.


I think she means trendy London "nose to tail dining"
posted by Bwithh at 5:46 PM on May 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


During the Iron Chef natto battle...

In my first battle with natto, I spit it on the floor.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:47 PM on May 25, 2011 [6 favorites]


I'm not a sophisticated Londoner, but going on English people I know, and British TV, I think Italian cuisine (esp, Tuscan etc.) is the default, go-to posh food for English people.
I think the point is that tripe and chitterlings are kind of gross when you first think about them (to the average westerner), as cheese would be to the average Chinese person. It's not something that an average person would think of as posh, but something they would turn their nose up too.
posted by delmoi at 5:49 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


tripe and chitterlings are gross the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and Nth time i think about them
posted by nathancaswell at 5:50 PM on May 25, 2011


dunkadunc, you may be able to find stinky tofu if there's a Taiwanese cafe or restaurant near you. I really don't think it's all that bad. The indolic "stink" disappears fairly quickly once you actually start eating. But I might be alone in thinking that here!

My partner, whose family is from Shanghai, told me about this stinky-tofu vendor in China who got into trouble with the law after it was discovered that his secret ingredient was err, human faecal matter. He denied all wrongdoing, however, because his customers never had any complaints (before the exposé, I presume) and his stinky tofu the best damned stinky tofu in town. I think the story's apocryphal... but entirely believable.
posted by peripathetic at 5:52 PM on May 25, 2011


There was a stinky tofu restaurant in Nanjing when I lived there. I tried to eat there once, but the smell was so overpoweringly nauseating that I just left. I've managed to eat it once, but blech. I want to put it into the same category as hákarl but I can't, mostly because hákarl is sort of a culinary joke, whereas people in China seem to actually like chou doufu. Which is silly.
posted by 1adam12 at 5:55 PM on May 25, 2011


Can anyone shed any light on the line from the article where the guy says, "stinky dairy things affect the sweat that comes out of your skin." A vegetarian friend of mine would always say this too -- that when he became vegetarian or vegan or whatnot, that he didn't need deodorant anymore. Is that true -- what is going on there? I am pretty borderline caveman, so I eat a lot of meats, do I smell bad? Please say no.

But seriously, what is going on there physiologically? Are the "meat sweats" a real thing?
posted by This_Will_Be_Good at 5:57 PM on May 25, 2011


The only cheese that provoked real consternation was the Brie. "It has this animal stench that assaults your nose," said Dai Jianjun. "Definitely the stinkiest," said Mao, "I really can't bear it."

How wonderful. And brie usually seems so innocuous.
posted by dng at 5:58 PM on May 25, 2011


Mmmm, tripe.
posted by unSane at 5:58 PM on May 25, 2011


The Chinese chefs' explanations of what they felt was the difference between stinky cheese and stinky fermented vegetable matter made a lot of sense. If you're used to strong tastes that attack your sense of smell but then disappear, you might be quite put off by strong, smelly tastes that linger, the way cheese does.

I kind of want to try stinky tofu, but when I asked my mother what she thought of it, she shuddered and rolled her eyes. And this is a woman who gleefully eats durian, shrimp paste, and all other manner of smelly food! The fact that she's reticent makes me a little scared of stinky tofu.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 5:58 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


But seriously, what is going on there physiologically? Are the "meat sweats" a real thing?

Yeah, I'm pretty sure its excess ammonia in certain cheeses which carries through to your sweat. It's not that noticeable to us, much like the stinky breath alluded to in this article isn't noticeable to fellow travellers of rotten veg.
posted by mek at 6:00 PM on May 25, 2011


In a Taipei night market you can smell the stinky tofu stand from around the corner. It's like a pair of old socks being deep fried.

But much like durian, the stench somehow becomes delicious tastebud ecstasy in your mouth. A crunchy cube of deep-fried chou doufu melts away and it's, well, exactly like the article says -- like an intense blue cheese but cleaner and quickly vanishing from the palate.

It's easily one of my favorite post-bar/KTV snacks. Particularly when doused in chili oil.
posted by xthlc at 6:05 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Natto is the Bob Dylan of foods - you either love it ('cause you "get" it), or it makes you gag uncontrollably, and in either case it's rank and horrible looking.
posted by Pecinpah at 6:05 PM on May 25, 2011 [12 favorites]


Yeah, I'm pretty sure its excess ammonia in certain cheeses which carries through to your sweat.

The versions I'd heard claimed it was all dairy products, even (especially?) fresh milk, so no ammonia there. Also I find it hard to believe that even gone off (as in the ammonia burns your nose when you smell it) cheese would have enough ammonia to make it come out your pores. I mean, converting large amounts of ammonia to urea is one of the main jobs your liver does, for all food you eat.
posted by kersplunk at 6:08 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


You know what else stinks? That's right: Love!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 6:09 PM on May 25, 2011 [9 favorites]


Yeah, I'm pretty sure its excess ammonia in certain cheeses which carries through to your sweat.

As a child, riding in a tour bus in France, I sat next to a French man in his 20s who skin smelled as powerfully as a cheese shop.
posted by Trurl at 6:09 PM on May 25, 2011


Damn it, this thread is making me want some Gruyère, and I don't have any. You can keep your Stilton, though--it's got this lingering bitter aftertaste that just somehow doesn't belong on a cheese.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 6:14 PM on May 25, 2011


I can't see the word Fuchsia (the writer's first name) without remembering how it was pronounced by Fred (the synthesized voice) on the Mac classic. We had much childish fun with that in my first job.
posted by unSane at 6:15 PM on May 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've been exposed to (but have not eaten) Durian. I've eaten natto (which my wife loves). The smell of those two things, which cause me physical discomfort to the point of nausea, pales in comparison to cho do fu, or stinky tofu. It tormented me in my year in China. I raced to my favorite lunch restaurant (such delicious chicken and cucumber, stir-fried with chilis on a bowl of rice...) because if I didn't get there early enough, the cho do fu guy would set up and start cooking before I finished. Or, more accurately, I would be finished when he set up, because gah...

The first time I came across the stench was in Taiwan, and I honestly believed a sewer must have broken. Then I kept smelling it. And finally, I noticed that everytime I smelled it, there were people eating. Eating black, stanky tofu. My mind literally reeled. I couldn't comprehend it.

Of course, the best is the name. A friend of mine in China, who'd at one point been a member of the PLA (who taught me all the Chinese I still know, all of which are words that start fights) told me that chir do fu (eating tofu) was Wuhan slang for cunilingus, while cho do fu was slang for going down on an unwashed woman. As hideous/sexist as it is, I honestly can't think of a better way to explain just how awful it is.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll get back to nibbling on my gorgonzola cheese crackers.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:18 PM on May 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


I eat and generally enjoy almost anything including a broad range of very, very stinky things and I love to try out new, strange and exciting foods. But when I visited the then future Mrs. Lobster in Shanghai a few years ago and she made me try her beloved stinky tofu I realized that there exist frightening chasms of horrific olfactory experiences so vile and deep that I must refuse to plumb their murky depths ever again. It is quite enough to be haunted by the memories.

The discovery of stinky tofu is an abomination and a dark stain on humanity's collective soul. A treacherous seed of cursed knowledge that has cost us of our innocence and left us naked in a dark and hostile world. The apple offered to Eve by the serpent, the fruit that cost us paradise... it was stinky tofu!

Yet Mrs. Lobster continues to love this awful substance despite clear signs of sanity evident in all the other things she does. Sometimes I wonder... Is she truly human? Or is there something else... something ancient and evil lurking under the surface, disguised as a human, biding its time...?
posted by Hairy Lobster at 6:19 PM on May 25, 2011 [10 favorites]


I'm also reminded of an ex who taught at the a Korean elementary school in Tokyo. She would take in leftovers from the dinner we'd had the night before for lunch. She was busy all the time at work, so when the students were in the cafeteria, she was usually eating lunch while trying to get ready for the afternoon's classes. Without fail, if the lunch had had cheese of any kind, her kids would complain about the room stinking of cheese. The best part, she said, was that this was after they'd just eaten kimchi, and didn't smell so hot themselves.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:21 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Don't knock stinky tofu if you've only smelled it and never tasted it. Here in Taiwan, there are two main varieties of stinky tofu. One is deep-fried, slathered with chili sauce and minced garlic, and served with pickled cabbage. I absolutely love this kind, but that has a lot more to do with the grease, the spiciness, and garlickiness than the stink. The second type is usually in a mala broth with a bunch of duck blood pudding and pork organs. For some reason, I tend to pass on that.
posted by alidarbac at 6:32 PM on May 25, 2011


I had no idea that lactose intolerance was so common in China

I learned a few years ago that lactose tolerance is the freaky thing- that is to say, we milk-drinkers are the weirdo mutants, and the lactose intolerant folks are the 'normal' ones. Originally, humans stopped being able to process milk as they grew up, but the groups who raised milk-producing animals gradually adapted to drinking it throughout their lives.

So, since the ancient Han Chinese didn't have to rely on milk as a source of fat and protein- unlike the Europeans and the Mongols and the eastern African cattle herders- they never developed the weird mutation that allows grown-ups to drink milk. (This has been Drunk Science with Liz.)
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:45 PM on May 25, 2011 [9 favorites]


alidarbac: Don't knock stinky tofu if you've only smelled it and never tasted it.

You are absolutely right. More often than not bad smell turns into good taste upon ingestion.
I did actually eat some of that stinky tofu despite the revolting smell. Unfortunately the expected transmutation from festering sewage to yummy goodness completely failed to manifest for me.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 6:46 PM on May 25, 2011


Mmmm, tripe.

My Italian immigrant mother loves tripe. I was always suspicious until I had some at brazillian buffet. It was amazing.
posted by jonmc at 6:48 PM on May 25, 2011


I'm asian and a genetic screening told me I should be lactose intolerant. Thank god that's not true. [Eats his raw milk roncal]
posted by mnemonic at 6:50 PM on May 25, 2011


Oh, I've eaten it. I was raised to be a good guest, and when the host offers you something, you smile graciously and accept. I knew when I left for China that at some point during my year there, I would be a guest, and that at least one of my hosts would hand me cho do fu at some point. I wasn't wrong.

The thing is, it had very little taste on it's own. That's why in Wuhan they load it down with chili and scallions. It still, however, has a powerful, faith destroying stench.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:52 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


On our honeymoon, the captain and I visited her family in Taiwan. A delightful bunch, they happily drove us around showing us this and that (don't ask me what, though, as their English is as extant as my Mandarin). One day we stopped for lunch in this village, and wandered into their favourite restaurant, which turned out to be basically a big covered patio.

...with a smell. A lingering odour. An olfactory abuse that seemed unconscionable. It was explained to me that we were going to have STINKY TOFU, which immediately put my mind on edge. "Could I try some first?" I quavered, reluctant at the best of times to consume that which smells like socks. A sample was provided, and I managed to get it fully onto the fork before retching. Gripping myself firmly, I consumed the morsel, and proudly managed not to spit it back in the face of the beaming waitress.

"No worries," I was assured as the tray was taken away, "we'll order you something not-stinky". LIES. Every single dish had that vile substance lurking under the surface, behind greenery, inside crunchy batter. And thus did I learn a valuable lesson about family, and tofu.
posted by coriolisdave at 6:57 PM on May 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Those who don't like tripe have obviously never been to a menudo house at 3am after a long night out drinking.
posted by hippybear at 7:00 PM on May 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


One of the best parts about cheese is that it pairs so incredibly well with other food - fruits, especially grapes and wine; breads and crackers and toasts; thin sliced meats and sausages - the cloying power tends to disappear with the tartness of the wine or the savory backstop of garlic crostini.

I'm not certain tasting fine cheeses on their own would be very instructive - Iberian Ham and Manchego, Italian pizza, parmesan reggiano shavings atop a traditional ceasar salad, cheddar melted over an apple slice - this is the way to introduce cheese to epicureans who've never had it.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:19 PM on May 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


as Slap*Happy says, pairing can be the key. My love of bleu cheese only got started when my dad convinced me to put a bit on my steak. Since then, a hamburger is only a hamburger when it has bleu cheese on it.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:35 PM on May 25, 2011


Stilton has nothing on anything.
posted by dunkadunc at 1:14 AM on May 26


By golly sir, that is an outrageous slur on the prince of British cheeses. I demand the satisfaction. Curds at dawn!
posted by Decani at 7:36 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I haven't had stinky tofu, but living in Japan, there are plenty of stinky foods to choose from. Namely, natto, which is simply soybeans eaten after a few weeks of fermentation. They start to, I dunno, melt, so it's this sticky, sticky, sticky substance that absolutely reeks. I had the hardest time putting into words the smell of natto, when my brain figured it out for me, inadvertently.

I was walking down the street in Tokyo and suddenly smelled the stuff. Man, I thought, that must be a big bowl of natto for me to smell it on the street. Someone must be heating a ton of it in a microwave or something. But no, I discovered the source of the smell: a mop sitting in one of those yellow mop buckets, filled with dirty, nasty mop water. That's what smelled exactly like natto--dirty mop water. At least, that's what my brain equates with the smell of natto; I told my wife and she thought I was crazy. But she likes natto, so she's biased.

As for the actual taste...it's amazingly not that bad. I could eat natto if I was forced, and maybe I could actually come to enjoy it; it is very very nutritious. It's like vegemite in a way--just really strong, like eating a cube of beef bullion.

Now that I think of it, there's a stinky tofu from Okinawa I've had a time or two, and IIRC it's called yudofu. Which makes sense, as Okinawan culture borrows a lot from Taiwanese/Chinese culture.
posted by zardoz at 7:51 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Stinky tofu has an immediate choking pungency - but it fades pretty quickly. Fermented tofu however - has a sharp salty uber umaminess that is remarkably similiar to a strong blue cheese. But for Chinese people - that rotten dairy undercurrent makes cheese difficult to take in. My mother and her siblings have recently really developed a taste for pungent cheeses - not in large doses - but its remarkable how one's sense of taste can continue to develop even in your senior years.

Recently I had Icelandic Fermented Shark which was genuinely the single most disgusting thing I have EVER tasted. My body retched it out of my mouth before I could even think - it was completely a survival reflex. Fucking awful.
posted by helmutdog at 7:53 PM on May 25, 2011


Stinky tofu is no more challenging than cheese. Plus, the very idea of cheese is kinda gross, once you recognize that everything else seems easy. Take the juice from a cow, and add the lining of a baby cows stomach. Then take the coagulated stuff and let it sit for a year while the outside develops a mold.

Really?

That all said, Fuchsia Dunlop is superb, her books are must reads for anyone with an even passing interest in China or its' food.

Here's an article I wrote about eating fermented shark. (Self link) There is not a word of hyperbole is saying it's the worst food on earth.
posted by Keith Talent at 8:04 PM on May 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


My Japanese sister-in-law is put off by all but the mildest types of cheese. One year for mother's day I got my mom a gift basket of various stinky cheeses. My sister-in-law dubbed them "ashi cheese" -- "foot cheese."

As a stinky cheese lover, though, I would love to try these various Asian fermented and smelly products. This article and these comments have made me decide to stop being so cowardly and finally try natto... but I'll wait until my brother and sister-in-law are around to watch.
posted by whitneyarner at 8:26 PM on May 25, 2011


1adam12: mostly because hákarl is sort of a culinary joke

Oh no, not at all. It's been a long while since I've had it, mainly for reasons of storage, but when I was a kid I loved the stuff. But yes, once you open a packet of fermented shark, you better finish it. And melt the package. And rinse out your mouth with brennivín. To ensure proper enjoyment.
posted by Kattullus at 8:27 PM on May 25, 2011


In previous disgusting food threads, I brought up this question, and the answer, while obvious (I don't remember who supplied), is obvious, but kind of misses the pretty bleak point. Imagine there you are, a farmer, a peasant, some guy in Japan, and you're hungry. You remember that you've got that pot of beans you set aside, and excited, you get it out, open it up, and instead of dried, happy, wonderful beans, you're confronted with natto: an unearthly stench emanating from what looks to be snot, complete with stringy mucus (sorry, I can't pull punches when it comes to the stuff). How hungry did that guy have to be to gut it out and eat the stuff?

Of course, as I said, the answer is simple: very hungry. But it doesn't really give the picture of desperation that must have accompanied the first person to eat natto, or fermented tofu (that can't have been planned), durian, fermented shark, or any of these awfulnesses.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:39 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


How hungry did that guy have to be to gut it out and eat the stuff?

He was
a) drunk,
b) trying to impress a girl
c) both
posted by kersplunk at 8:41 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


These foods were created intentionally, there's no way to get milk safely stinky without planning, fore site and experimentation.


Which is kind of even more extraordinary than the thought that someone got really hungry and tried something that would be traditionally considered off.
posted by Keith Talent at 9:30 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not quite a tale of cheese or tofu, but on the topic of fermented foods..

For years now I've had a little bottle of cincalok in my fridge. I've never really had any use for it, but I love the way the tiny little fermented shrimps look, all packed together with their tiny bug eyes staring out of the bottle. And it's been a great conversation starter when a visitor heads to the fridge for a beer or whatever.

But a month or so ago, I discovered I'd run out of belacan, right in the middle of flash frying some garlic and chillies for a kangkong sambal. Bugger it, I think, fermented shrimps is fermented shrimps, and pop the bottle cap off the cincalok.

At first whiff I think, OK, it's more ammoniac than I'm used to in a shrimp paste, but I'm frying it, so that'll just break down to umami goodness. Yeah! Goodness! Then I try to tip some into the wok. No deal. There's a plug of solidified shrimp in the neck of the bottle holding the rest there. So I stick my thumb over the top and shake like a mad bugger.

Right about then I feel a might pressure under my thumb and hear a high pitched hissing noise. At which point my thumb pops off of it's own accord and a bottle necked shaped cylinder of shrimp starts to ooze out of the bottle. A veritable bloody snake of the stuff. And there's more of that really really overpowering ammonia smell. But I kind of gormlessly think "Cool, this gear really is fermented, isn't it" grab the fizzy mushy shrimp snake with my spare hand, and throw it in the wok.

And I was right about the flavor. There was a lovely dense umami richness to the finished dish that could only have been bettered by the belacan I meant to use. Beautiful rich meaty garlicky chilli hot kangkong. Bliss.

But I was very wrong in thinking the stuff was meant to fizz and ooze and stink in the particular way it did. The next day I came down with the worst case of food poisoning I've ever had. Horrible horrible retching shitting crawling across the floor to get another glass of gastrolyte food poisoning.

If there's a moral to the story it's something like: it takes a whole lot of culturally specific experience to know when your rotten food is good rotten food. And if you don't have that experience, sometimes it's better to be safe than sorry..

Alternatively (just to simplify matters a little) if your seafood product fizzes, just bin that shit.
posted by Ahab at 9:41 PM on May 25, 2011 [18 favorites]


You could make that moral even simpler, just by saying "don't eat seafood products that've been sitting in your fridge for years"
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:53 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


This article made me vastly more inclined to be adventurous the next time I'm at a place serving notoriously stinky Asian foods. After all, I remember the old days when a really creepy-looking moldy cheese would put me off, and once I tried those cheeses I was well convinced of their worth. I've been lucky enough to have been presented with some pretty world-class cheeses in my life and I've never regretted dropping them right down the hatch even though some of them looked like they definitely ought not to be consumed.

I'd never thought of natto or stinky tofu in the same light, but of course that was myopic of me. For me I guess my concern has been more about the texture than the aroma since I can be sensitive to that, but I think this kind of thing will probably be easier for me if I tell myself "Just think of it as the nondairy version of that fancy-ass sheep's milk cheese with spotted black-and-blue rind that you were slightly sure would make you ill and totally didn't!"

So that's that, next time I'm someplace that serves natto I'm ordering it :) Thanks, Slate.
posted by little light-giver at 10:20 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I would eat any of the things mentioned here so far. I would not, however, drink the beer made from fermented spit. A man has to set a few limits.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 10:21 PM on May 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


fermented =/ rotted
posted by bardic at 11:00 PM on May 25, 2011


I would not, however, drink the beer made from fermented spit.

Why not? You already drink the beer made from yeast excrement.
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:52 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: if your seafood product fizzes, just bin that shit.
posted by cerulgalactus at 12:38 AM on May 26, 2011


This has been Drunk Science with Liz.

More! More!
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:49 AM on May 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


I once worked in an immigrant detention centre, as a cook. There was a guy in there who was mentally ill and believed that water and food was the devil's work.

He would drink 3 litres of milk for breakfast, 3 litres for lunch and 3 litres for dinner. [Yes, I know, there is water in milk.] And only that.

He didn't wash. He didn't brush his teeth.

French cheesemongers and Russian dairy fanatics have nothing on this guy. It was a struggle to be in the same room as him.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:52 AM on May 26, 2011


Of course, as I said, the answer is simple: very hungry. But it doesn't really give the picture of desperation that must have accompanied the first person to eat natto, or fermented tofu (that can't have been planned), durian, fermented shark, or any of these awfulnesses.

I've been trying durian for years, and last weekend I tried it again and finally enjoyed it. This was probably about the fourth time I've tried it. This time, I made sure to ask a bunch of asian folks I was hanging with—Indonesians in this case—to pick out a good one for me. We are in Thailand too, and evidently there is a variety here that is quite mild comparatively.

Anyways, we set off on our after-lunch adventure. They spent a good ten minutes poking around a fruit stand's durian stock, negotiating with the vendor, and we walked away with a whole durian which had been chopped up into big slices for us (and a few ripe, in-season namdokmai mangoes...oh god those are so f'ing good). There were about seven of us, three Indonesians, a few Germans and two Americans (me being one). The Indonesians broke off the first chunk of durian, exposed the pulp, and offered it to me. "Here goes" I said...

I pushed it into my mouth without breathing or considering the consequences. The first bite was the good old durian stink, combined with the disturbing sweet custardy texture, but...what's this? The smell wasn't so bad. In fact, the not-so-subtle notes of—honestly, I really don't know how to compare it to anything not nasty, so I'll just say—durianness started to morph into a pleasant, but complex flavor unlike anything I'd had before.

I finished that piece. I ate a second piece. I'm now thinking about getting another one of these before I leave Thailand...

On a related note, one of the same Indonesians I was hanging out with asked me what we had in the U.S. that they might consider disgusting like we found durian disgusting. There wasn't one animal product I could think of that grossed them out—they use everything inside of anything they kill, pretty much—until I got to cheese. Cheese does seem to be the equivalent of how westerners experience durian/natto/etc. for asians, as this article shows rather compellingly.
posted by dubitable at 2:50 AM on May 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


I guess that the disgust with the brie was mostly due to the ammonia odour. It's more pronounced in Brie that in other cheeses.

But this reminds me of a real-life occurrence in an engineering course I followed in Belgium. As it is quite customary there, after the introductions the first day, we were offered drinks and cheese. Cheese in Belgium is usually served with mustard and celery salt plates to dip the cheese in.

There was a lone Chinese student. It was the first time in her life that she had left Shanghai. She was quite nonplussed and pointing in the general direction of the cheese blocks, she asked me: "What is that?". I thought she was referring to the salt, so I answered: "Oh, it's celery salt."

Looking quite incredulous, she picked up one of the cheese cubes. At that point I remember about the widespread lactose intolerance in Asia and how cheese is quite a stranger to China. She put the cheese into her mouth before I could warn her, though.

I will never forget her face of utter, profound disgust as the cheese hit her tastebuds.
posted by Skeptic at 3:21 AM on May 26, 2011


great article. I'd never thought about the lack of cheese in China. I will definately be keeping an eye out for this fermented / sticky tofu products.

I also ate some of the fermented shark in Iceland - a few little cubes in a restaurant - downed with a shot of Brenivin. I thought it tasted quite Stilton-y and wasn't that bad. I'd try it again.
posted by mary8nne at 3:57 AM on May 26, 2011


I love stinky tofu, and I can't say the smell particularly bothers me, even. It's particularly good as a late night snack when one has had a few drinks.

But despite growing up in the US, and eating pizza and pasta, I can barely handle cheese. Parmesean are about as good as it gets for me, and only on pasta where it be gracefully dissolved into a cream sauce. The smell is so strong, and my taste buds will literally recoil in horror. And yes, if I think about it too hard about this being rotten milk with mold on it, it grosses me out far, far beyond stinky tofu.

Yeah, I'm Chinese.
posted by so much modern time at 4:55 AM on May 26, 2011


In further stories of unfamiliar food experiences, while I was in China, some friends were invited to visit their student's family home over a long weekend. I was lucky enough to be included in the invite and went along gladly. The kids mother made so much food for her son's six guests that the table was covered in two layers of plates full of some of the best food I've ever had, some of which I only tried because as a guest, I was mortally afraid of embarrassing the student or his family through rudeness. Amazing time, wonderful food.

To say thanks to the kid, we take him anda couple of his friends to the Shangri-la hotel, easily the nicest hotel in town, and treat them to the western buffet they had. The buffet had a sushi bar as well, which the students stayed away from, except for one kid who was intrigued by the green paste, thinking it was a custard of some sort. We all saw it, like a slow motion shot in a movie where a guy is gunned down and falls in slow motion. Before we could say anything, the student put a full spoon of wasabi in his mouth. The poor kid was in agony for a good while after that, and we all took turns apologizing for not warning him sooner.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:17 AM on May 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Dear rest of world: forget the Stilton. Get yourself some Quebec blue and prepare to truly be wowed by amazing flavour.
Bleu Bénédictin (producers) is my go-to blue, and when I'm feeling luxurious, Le Ciel de Charlevoix (producers [flash])

I will try Stilton again on some occassions if I am told it is a very good batch, but it often dissapoints now. And for the love of god, stay away from the Rosenborg saltlicks...
posted by Theta States at 7:08 AM on May 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Man, I would drink a gallon of chicha before I got near stinky tofu, natto, or any fermented seafood product.

It's kind of like this seaweed Ask.Me. Nori makes me want to hurl because I didn't grow up eating it.

But I'm fine with stinky cheese*. Probably because Mom's favorite salad dressing was roquefort.

* Except Morbier.
posted by elsietheeel at 7:56 AM on May 26, 2011


North Americans dissing Stilton have almost certainly never tried the really good stuff. Hint: the sweaty little shrink wrapped packs you get in grocery stores are not it.

For real fetid cheese stink that presumably would send Chinese folk screaming for the fire exits, you really have to go to an over-ripe (ie practically liquid) Camembert. Holy God. I love it, but even I know what I am consuming smells like Satan's armpit.
posted by unSane at 8:42 AM on May 26, 2011


This is probably the most disgusting food.
posted by mike3k at 10:54 AM on May 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's not about stinky food, but if you like Fuschia Dunlop's writing, here's her appreciative take on Chinese ear cleaners
posted by Calloused_Foot at 12:40 PM on May 26, 2011


mike3k: This is probably the most disgusting food.

Hell yes. I've said it before and I'll say it again: if consumption advice includes "be careful not to eat a maggot" then that food is just not for me. Also (from the Wikipedia article, emphasis mine): "Casu marzu is considered to be unsafe to eat by Sardinian aficionados when the maggots in the cheese have died." Think about that for a minute.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 3:09 PM on May 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


As it now seems appropriat, I'll just leave this here. You can thank unSane.
posted by coriolisdave at 3:54 PM on May 26, 2011


Cool! "Derived from Pecorino, casu marzu goes beyond typical fermentation to a stage most would consider decomposition, brought about by the digestive action of the larvae of the cheese fly Piophila casei." Who knew?

One of our friends had an expensive cheese party once. I don't know where she got all that stuff, but there was a selection of the weirdest, most colourful and semi-liquid cheeses I've ever seen. My favourite was a deep bluish-green that had originally been tied onto a stick, but had mostly become liquid and oozed off. It tasted like particularly delicious dirt.

Plus someone was using the occasion to flog a new line of wines from Argentina. So, putrid cheese + free wine = SCORE!
posted by sneebler at 7:05 PM on May 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


peripathetic: "dunkadunc, you may be able to find stinky tofu if there's a Taiwanese cafe or restaurant near you."

ha
ha ha ha ha ha ha

not within 200 miles, probably. I live in Maine, the way life shouldn't be.
posted by dunkadunc at 3:37 PM on June 6, 2011


(Thanks, though! I really want to try some.)
posted by dunkadunc at 3:37 PM on June 6, 2011


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