Stinky Tofu Origin Story

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Taiwanese American
Age: 17
Occupation: Student
Residence: Newport Beach, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: March 15, 2012
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Chinese

A long time ago, there was a man and a woman who loved each other very much.  They were both married and very poor.  One day, a war broke out, and the man had to leave the woman to help fight the war.  Her husband told her that she would be back in six months.  While the husband was gone, the woman stayed at home and waited for him to come back.  She missed her husband very much so with the last of her savings at the end of the sixth month, she bought some very expensive tofu in order to prepare a fantastic dinner for her husband’s return.  However, on the day that he was supposed to come back, the wife received a letter informing her that her husband had to stay in the army for another month.  Since all her savings were gone, the wife had to start begging for food and picking plants from the wild in order to sustain herself.  She refused to eat the tofu because she wanted to save it for her husband.  At the end of the month, her husband finally returned.  The wife quickly went to prepare food for her husband, but noticed that the expensive tofu had rotted.  She started to cry and her husband saw her and asked, “Why are you crying?” The wife replied, “I bought this expensive tofu just for you but it has rotted away so now I can’t make you your dinner.”  The husband felt really bad so he told her, “Just cook it any way. I’m sure that it will still taste fine.” So the wife took the rotten tofu and cooked it anyways.  While she was cooking it, a putrid stench filled the air.  When the wife presented the dish to her husband, she said, “You don’t need to eat this. It smells horrible.”  But the husband, seeing how loyal and loving his wife was for waiting for him all this time, replied, “No, it’s ok. It smells fine,” and then he took a bite.  With that, he told his wife, “This is the most delicious tofu I have ever eaten! You have to make more!”  After that, the wife started making rotten tofu all the time and the husband would invite his friends over to try his wife’s dish.  The smell would always make people hesitant to try it, but after taking a bite, they would always love it.  And that’s how stinky tofu was invented.

Stinky tofu is a very traditional comfort food in Taiwanese cuisine and is basically fermented tofu that has been fried.  It is known for its disgusting stench which many people describe as being similar to garbage or used diapers.  My informant and I were eating stinky tofu at a restaurant inRowland Heights, and she asked me if I knew where stinky tofu originated from.  She then told me this story. When I asked her where she had heard it from, she told me that her mother had told her this story the first time my informant was trying  stinky tofu.

I think the main purpose of the story is to help convince people who are hesitant to eat stinky tofu to try it.  Evidence for this comes from the fact that my informant told me that this story convinced her to try stinky tofu for the first time.  The tale puts a romantic spin onto an otherwise seemingly disgusting product.  At the same time, this tale reveals many characteristics of Taiwanese society.  For instance, the idea that a woman should stay at home while the husband can go out to work is definitely present.  Simultaneously, this tale places a value on loyalty which can be seen through the wife character who waits for her husband and seeks to keep him happy no matter what.