I had my first encounter with stinky tofu three years ago at a hotpot joint in Monterey Park. Though the neat, triangular slabs of pressed soy bubbling beneath the broth didn’t taste as gnarly as they smelled, their wildly odious flavor failed to capture my affections.
My second brush with the stanky delicacy came a few months later at a San Gabriel pub known as the “Taiwanese Hooters.” The deep-fried rendition served here was certainly more palatable than the simmered variety, but hearts and minds were not won this time either.
I was inspired to seek out stinky tofu for a third time at Tofu King after stumbling upon C. Thi Nguyen’s brilliant article, “Stinky tofu restaurant may find converts” in the Los Angeles Times. It’s a must-read for anyone who appreciates delightful prose.
The Astronomer, normally an adventuresome restaurant-goer, refused to dine at Tofu King since he absolutely loathes stinky tofu. Fortunately, my friend Pat from Eating L.A. stepped up to the plate.
Tofu King serves two sizes of deep-fried stinky tofu—large slabs and small cubes. Pat and I chose the “Bite-size Stinky Tofu” ($5.50) to minimize the amount of actual tofu and maximize the deep-fried surface area.
To make the stinky tofu, they make a mash of mixed vegetables and ferment it for six months. Then they take fresh tofu and give it a nice, long flavor-soak in the fermented mash. The tofu burial ought to last for a week, and that’s how they used to do it, but the health department didn’t approve, so they’ve shortened the fermentation bath to three days. Thus: half-ripened, gateway stinky tofu.
Served hot from the fryer in a shallow pool of sweetish soy sauce, the stinky tofu wasn’t too foul. In fact, soaked in enough of the sauce and eaten with the accompanying kimchi, it was downright pleasant. However, as the tofu cooled down to room temperature, its characteristic off-putting scent reared its ugly head. Word to the wise: eat this one real fast.
To supplement our pungent starter, Pat and I shared a slew of Taiwanese dishes. My favorite of the bunch was the “Mushroom Sliced Pork Rice with Soy Sauce Egg” ($4.50), a sweet and savory braise punched up with minced pickled mustard greens and accented with a hard boiled egg.
Melt-in-your-mouth pork served over steamed white rice—little else in this world is more comforting to me than this winning combination.
Due to the sheer awesomeness of C. Thi Nguyen’s writing, I had to order the rou yuan ($3.50), which is listed under the “Memorable Side Dishes” heading on the menu. Sure enough, the glutinous dumpling was exactly as he promised, “a big, greedy Gummi bear that swallowed a meatball and then fell in a sweet-sour soup and drowned happy.”
Pat’s favorite dish of the day was the “Wonton in Chili Oil” ($4.50). Two parts oily and one part slippery, the wontons were scarfable parcels that we didn’t have any trouble finishing.
The final dish we sampled was the “Taiwan Style Fried Dry Rice Noodle” ($3.99). I cannot stand beansprouts (a.k.a. flavor diluters) and this plate of thin rice noodles was chock full of ’em. Pass.
I hoped very much to be seduced by Tofu King’s signature offering, but alas, there were no sparks between us. Still, a very solid lunch was had thanks to the porky rice, the chili oil-soaked wontons, and Pat’s good company. If you’re the least bit curious about stinky tofu, this is the place to take a walk on the putrid side.
713 West Duarte Road Ste. C
Arcadia, CA 91007
One year ago: Noodle Guy – Alhambra
Two years ago: La Super Rica Taqueria – Santa Barbara
Three years ago: Hollys Coffee – Los Angeles (Koreatown)
Four years ago: Orange Berry Muffins
Five years ago: Cháo Lòng
Six years ago: Thịt Kho – Caramelized Braised Pork and Eggs