On the second night in Kenting, the southernmost town of Taiwan, Alex took us to a night market in downtown. He was formerly a physician practicing in San Francisco. We were staying at the same hotel located outside of the town, by a quiet beach. At the hotel cafe, Alex told us that after having lived in the US for years, he returned to Taipei to pursue his dream of becoming a filmmaker. During this trip, he was writing a screenplay.
The main strip was packed with people and many tiny food stalls, hundreds of them. It reminded me of a state fair in the US, only noisier and smellier. Sweet and pungent aromas were mixed in the air, and my nose and ears couldn’t process them quickly. Every food stall made noises and emitted a particular smell. I even felt like listening to a smell, smelling a noise. Deep fried sweet potatoes with sour powder, grilled squid, papaya milk, pork blood in soup, coconut juice, deep fried custard square—Alex kindly explained what each food stall was selling.
Then we came before a “stinky tofu” cart. It is made from a brine of fermented milk, cabbage, meat or shrimp. To describe its stench is difficult. It can shut down your senses and not in a good way. The stench was like rotten vegetables and a sweaty dude, or a sweaty dude wallowing in badly made sauerkraut. Don’t get me wrong: I’ve never met such a dude. In any case, of course, I had to try it. Alex ordered one for me. The guy behind the cart deep-fried and served it with pickled cabbage and hot sauce.
The taste was much milder and delicate than I imaged. It had a hook that made me want more. But J. was freaking out watching me eating it (he must have imagined it like an intense version of “natto,” the fermented soy beans Japanese love), so I restrained myself.
As we walked back, Alex pointed out a printed sign posted near the entrance of a souvenir store. It said, “No stinky tofu beyond this door.”