Hey, kids, guess what time is it? It's time to restart that Long March known as 100 Favorite Dishes [INSERT YEAR]. YEAH!!! Hey, don't ding us for listicles: Weekly DataLab studies show ustedes love this gimmick, launched in honor of our coming Best Of issue. Besides, it is rather fun for us Forkers--an opportunity to highlight dishes from restaurants we'll never fully review or secrets from old standbys. Anyhoo, let the march begin. . . .
The name alone ought to warn you what you're in for: "stinky tofu." Depending on the cook's sadistic predilections, this fermented soybean curd ranges from "barely tangy" to "hog farm" stank. If you wander into a restaurant that leans toward Spanish Inquisitor-level cruelty, a noxious cloud of barnyard stench will escape the kitchen as though a gas attack caused by frying the foul fritters.
But flip that cultural bias around. Ask someone raised in Taiwan to describe their first taste of over-ripe runny cheeses such as Taleggio, Brie de Meaux or Robiola Bosina, and they'll use similarly frightful terms. Whether the protein is milk- or soy-based, fermentation breaks it down into a savory, umami powerhouse that pleases the palate. Despite stinky tofu's fearsome reputation, a mildly fermented one is about as a tangy as chunk of Parmigiano Reggiano. Once fried, that cube takes on a crisp shell that counters its firm, silken interior.
The brand-new Tofu King in Irvine makes what devotees might consider an effete baby step into this world. It offers three versions, but the bite-size version with spicy sauce is the most beginner-friendly. Top a cube with pickled cabbage, then dip it into a chili-laced raw-garlic sauce, and you'll get why this is a Taiwanese favorite.
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Tofu King, 5394 Walnut Ave., Ste, L, Irvine, (949) 654-0486.
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