Stinky am I Alone throughout Heaven and Earth
Let’s start with a saying: Holy am I alone throughout heaven and earth. This divine wisdom was divined by none other than the Buddha when he was born, with the right hand up and left hand down. Now, take the holy out and put in stinky; and it becomes the motto of the House of Dai: Stinky am I alone throughout heaven and earth.
However, how does one attain this divine level of stinkiness? By wandering through the desolate wilderness of closed shops and shut apartments in the middle of nowhere, hid on the hypotenuse of an obtuse isosceles (the 3 points being 2 metro stations and 1 train station: can you guess where it is now?). After 15 minutes of darkness, all of a sudden, there was light - a whole light of light. As this venerable institution is an entire building lit up in yellow, with an unmistakable signage: Dai’s House of Unique Stink.* At last, we have arrived. Here, we will find salvation.
Welcome to Dai’s House
We thought we could surreptitiously walk in and blend in with the worshippers. But no. Instantly, we were spotted; we needed to be initiated. “You won’t be able to eat it,” Mr. Dai shook his head. This must be the first hurdle that we need to surmount in order for the gatekeeper to allow us inside the temple, thus we tried to convince him with all sorts of fermented foods we had practiced upon in their varying degrees of regression into nature (a.k.a. rottenness). Relenting a little, Mr. Dai recommended the light-weight, which was of only the 12th degree of stinkiness: the fried stinky tofu. But we wanted more, “We will also take the 13th degree - the stinky tofu salad and steamed stinky tofu.” Still not enough. After some more catechism, finally, he agreed to bring out the most sacred, 15th-degree treasure: the stinky paste.
First round, the stinky tofu salad. Our eyes were not drawn to the pretty bits of fried shallots, green seaweeds or the sprigs of coriander, but directly and immediately to the tofu: it was gray. In our previous life, the stinkiest and tastiest fermented tofu was, well, green (yes, we are still talking about food; yes, the edible kind). Now it was gray, and it was in its truest, rawest state of glory.** At the 13th degree, the molecules of tofu had broken down to the consistency of cream cheese. Moreover, the tofu also tasted like some kind of a cheese. As umami is essentially created by certain amino acids, if one can appreciate cheese, then one can also appreciate stinky tofu, we figured. Compared to this pure rawness, the steamed version was delicious (with mushrooms and in a clear soy sauce soup) but bland. Mr. Dai looked at the way we gulped down the first two rounds from the corner of his black-rimmed glasses.
The 13th Degrees
The third course was the crispy, fried stinky tofu. This was simply the best fried tofu we had ever eaten, seen, tasted and heard (the crisp and the crunch), regardless of whether it was gray or green or rotten. The ethereal web of crispiness was so light that crunching it was a sheer pleasure, while the interior was uncommonly delicate and soft. Usually, the fried stinky tofu is eaten with fermented/pickled cabbage. However, Dai’s fried version does not require any accompaniment; it soared on its own to the heaven.
Last, the long-awaited stinky master arrived: Taiwanese cabbage sautéed with the stinky paste. At, the 15th degree, the tofu structure had completely broken down; it could no longer sustain its own stinkiness or weight. The cabbage was tinted gray, and it was not because of the fluorescent lighting. As we took a bite, instant déjà vu: where have we tasted this before? Yes, in Vietnam. The stinky tofu paste resembled, in texture, smell and taste and even color, the famous fermented shrimp paste of Vietnam. It had the similar tangy, salty, briny, bitter flavors. With the sweetness of the cabbage, it was a perfect balance of body and soul.
Thus we were initiated, converted and managed to enter into the stinky heave of Dai. Now, every time we go to Taiwan, we will have to make a pilgrimage to the Dai’s House of Unique Stink because where else can we find such unique stink again?
House of Dai (戴記獨臭之家)
Address: No. 2, Alley 3, Lane 120, Yongji Road, Xinyi District, Taipei City, Taiwan 110
* Although on his facebook page, he calls it Dai’s House of Unique Stinky Tofu, but I choose to be a little more literal than that.
** The stinky tofu is usually found in the forms of fried, stewed and steamed.