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If your first thought is "Why in the world would I want to try these nasally-repellant dishes?", we admit you have a valid point. Putrid foods aren't exactly on everyone's bucket list, but they exist for a reason. In Asian cultures especially, many of the stinkiest dishes available are fermented. It is said that fermented foods are full of antioxidants and are beneficial to the gut. They're also digestive aids.
Fermented foods have an intense umami flavor, and while some may argue the smell of dirty socks is far from the desired point of umami, there are legions of devoted fans who would disagree.
Let's just say it's an acquired taste. So if you're up for it, here are some really stinky dishes in Los Angeles:
Stinky Tofu from BeBe Fusion
Stinky tofu, known as choudoufu in Chinese, was created by accident during the Qing Dynasty -- nearly 300 years ago. In Beijing, a food vendor by the name of Wang Zhihe was left with a surplus of tofu, so he put the leftovers in a jar with salt and various spices in an attempt to make bean curd. The tofu turned a greenish hue and became a huge hit. The Empress Cixi was known to be a fan and named it qingfang, which means green cube. The original stinky tofu was actually a greenish, black color. The cubes were soaked in amaranth juice and then rotted in straw, which turned it into a corpse of its former self -- black with spots of green mold. Most versions these days don't sport such an offensive hue. Stinky tofu in Los Angeles has the same color as regular tofu. BeBe Fusion in Alhambra shapes their versions into French-fry-like strips before deep-frying and sprinkling spices and pepper on the final product. On the side is a saucer of garlic-soy sauce. You can immediately tell when the kitchen is whipping up a fresh batch. 201 E Bay Street, Alhambra, CA 91801; (626) 284-1288.Read more: 4 Ways To Enjoy Stinky Tofu in Los Angeles
Durian cake from Sunny Bakery
Durian is a polarizing fruit and the only item on this list that is naturally nasty smelling. While others have compared the smell and taste to gym socks, feces, or rotten meat, our two cents is that the smell is reminiscent of overly-ripened mangoes. While you can pick up the spiky fruit at most Asian supermarkets, it is also commonly found within desserts. In Southeast Asian restaurants, the tropical fruit is usually mixed into creamy milkshakes. For great durian sweets, Sunny Bakery in San Gabriel is a marvelous option. During the Autumn Moon Festival, they have a durian mooncake wrapped in a translucent skin, but on the daily, they make a wonderful durian-infused cake. It's a light, vanilla sponge pastry stuffed with durian cream and topped with fresh strawberries and kiwi. 743 E Valley Blvd, San Gabriel, CA 91776; (626) 307-7381.Read more: Durian Served Four Ways
Natto from Torihei
Natto is fermented soybeans aged with a very potent strain of bacillus subtilis var. It has a slimy texture and sticks to whatever you put it on. Legend has it that the delicacy was discovered by accident when Japanese warriors were forced to leave their camp while boiling soybeans. In a rush, they packed up the beans and by the time they opened the pack, the beans were already fermented. The stinky soybeans are great sources of vitamin E and vitamin B2. Torihei serves a big dollop of the stuff over raw slices of fish. Natto over sashimi is one of those dishes that pairs well with alcohol. It's served with a raw egg on top, with a bit of wasabi on the side for that extra kick. 1757 W Carson St, Torrance, CA 90501; (310) 781-9407.
Cheonggukjang from Olympic Cheonggukjang
Olympic Cheonggukjang is a very small establishment, so when you walk in, you'll immediately be hit with the smell of something rotten. The offensive odor comes from cheonggukjang soup -- a fermented soybean paste served in a tofu and dashi broth. The texture of the soup is like a chili. It's thick and hearty, and once you get over the smell, it makes for a very substantial and tasty meal. Some folks call it "Dead Body Soup." The story is that a handful of Korean students in Germany were making the soup and the neighbors called the authorities because they thought there was a dead body in the apartment. The bean base is similar to natto, but differs in that it is created with a different strain of bacteria. Cheonggukjang is 1,500 years old and dates back to the Three Kingdoms Period. 2528 W Olympic Blvd #104, Los Angeles, CA 90006; (213) 480-1107.
Fermented Anchovy Soup from Ha Tien Quan
Bun mam is a Vietnamese anchovy soup and sports a dark and murky hue. It's intense and has a mixture of sweet, sour, salty and spicy flavors. There's a complexity to it that reeks but that's just the signature smell of fermented fish. The soup is garnished usually with chunks of fish cakes, shrimp, and scallions. 529 E Valley Blvd, San Gabriel, CA 91776; (626) 288-1896.