When a pungent and rotten stench fills the air you know you are getting close to Dai’s House of Stinky Tofu, one of the Taiwanese capital’s most popular and putrid-smelling restaurants.
For nearly 30 years, Wu Hsu Pi-ying, now in her 70s, has been running the family business at Dai’s, using a secret fermenting process passed down by her parents to create 10 varieties of stinky tofu, a beloved Taiwanese dish that’s full of live bacteria.
According to legend, stinky tofu was accidentally invented in China hundreds of years ago when a struggling tofu merchant opened his container of unsold goods after several days to discover that his bean curd and soy milk mixture had started to ferment.
At some point, the merchant built up the courage to bite into the rancid, green-hued concoction and realised it was quite tasty.
He quickly started selling the fermenting food, and the stinky snack became so popular that China’s Empress Dowager Cixi added it to the list of imperial foods served at her Qing Dynasty palace.
The dish arrived in Taiwan during the Chinese Civil War, when some two million people followed Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek in 1949 as he fled to the island after being defeated by Mao Zedong’s Communist government.
Stinky tofu now exists in various forms across Asia, but nowhere else is it more beloved than in Taiwan, where vendors deep-fry it, pickle it and enhance it with different flavours at small outdoor carts at the island’s night markets.