Culture Shock: WTF Is That Smell?

Stinky tofu.

According to Wikipedia Stinky Tofu is (Chinese: 臭豆腐; pinyin: chòudòufu) is a Chinese form of fermented tofu that has a strong odor. It is usually sold at night markets or roadside stands as a snack, or in lunch bars as a side dish, rather than in restaurants.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say ‘Stinky’ is not enough of a descriptive adjective for just how smelly this tofu actually is. Stinky is a baby’s soiled diaper or pair of socks due for a washing. This tofu is not just stinky.

I immediately noticed the smell on my first night market in Kaohsiung, but like a well-traveled (I’m not) fellow, I decided to pay no attention to it as nobody else made any mention of it. As the night wore on, however, I legit couldn’t understand how NOBODY was reacting to this revolting smell completely swallowing the street. I was terrified to eat anything (certainly with a smell like this everything must be spoiled). But, if you’ve been following my insta-stories you know I did try some fun things (pig intestines are so not my jam). I attempted ignoring the smell the entire night and just nibbled on as many things as I could get down with the smell encompassing my every bite. It was nauseating.

I feel like I’m being dramatic here, but c’mon. This stuff is STINKY. I’ve experienced summer eves in NYC’s China town. I’m no stranger to gross and unexplainable smells of a big city. This was nothing like that. And what got me the most was that nobody even noticed. Like, how?!? a8cf196c-de9d-48ac-9b32-28041180dbb3[At the night market in Kenting (near Hengchun) Taiwan. (I’m devouring some grilled octopus right here) This night market had stinky tofu, but the smell was only present near the stalls selling it… thankfully the smell did not follow you everywhere you went.]

Eventually the couple who were showing us around made mention of a stinky tofu spot at the end of the night market and it all started to make sense. Until I realized someone voluntarily ate something that smelled like… I don’t know… Like a pungent explosion of sour vinegar combined with cat pee that was set on fire. Does that make sense?

Apparently it’s a world famous dish that made the list of one of Anthony Bordain‘s weirdest eats and one that Andrew Zimmern could barely swallow.

almost worked up the nerve to try it myself, but couldn’t do it. You guys. It’s SO stinky. I’m not sure how I’ll ever get it down without gagging.

IMG_7832.JPG[We’re currently in Tainan. A city on the south western edge of Taiwan filled with tiny little alley-ways like this one. Like, HOW CUTE?! Every little street looks different with a completely different character of it’s own. I spent the morning wandering between alley-ways and then we made our way down to Anping district where we had lunch and wandered some more. This was also where I got myself some Duo Hua (see below). I ordered it without my brother which was only possible because the red beans were right in front of my face so I just pointed and smiled. Most menus have no English translations or pictures sooooo you better hope someone will come to the rescue. There’s no way to even translate from Chinese to English.]

On that note: culture shock.

My brother and I were recently chatting about culture shock and how it affects each individual. Both mentally & physically.

Nothing has been THAT unusual for me as of yet (except for that smell)… but a couple small things I’ve noticed:

The ice cream truck song.

As we rode through small towns along Taiwan’s southern border & I kept hearing the notorious ice cream truck song… Only I couldn’t find the ice cream (cuz you know, I’m always down for ice cream). No, they use this same song for their trash trucks… like the trash men who drive around picking up trash (those guys).

Restaurant manners.

Whether it’s peelings from shrimp or discarded chicken bones, my manners tell me to put these somewhat neatly on a plate. Not here. You’ll see people putting these types of items on the table itself and apparently it’s normal to just throw them straight on the floor though I haven’t seen that yet.

These things don’t bother me, but because of my American upbringing, they seem strange.

The way we see the world around us has everything to do with the way we see ourselves or the way we have been conditioned to behave as right or wrong. If we’re having a bad day, chances are we’ll see the bad in those we come across that day. If we’ve grown up with a certain song signifying the arrival ice cream, it’s pretty upsetting (ok, not upsetting at all) to see a truck filled with trash.

Tracing disharmony back to ourselves will help us unpack a box we have ourselves wrapped in.

— quote from the book (The Yamas & Niyamas: Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice by Deborah Adele) I’m currently reading for my Yoga Teacher Training that I thought was pretty applicable here.

The traditions, customs and norms we grew up with (both from our individual families and the culture with which we were surrounded) has provided the many layers we wrap ourselves with. When we experience or witness something outside of these norms we experience discomfort or even anger. Aka culture shock.466d83ff-a46f-4095-bf77-60119720c77d[The result of some exploration on the southern coast near Hengchun. It was crazy beautiful and crazy windy here.]

We were also discussing how culture shock can manifest itself in physical form. Diet is a simple example. My normal diet of fresh produce and lean meats is a long lost memory here. Although most of what we eat is insanely delish, I’m sure my body is going to start going into shock from the lack of veggies. Time will tell. For now, I’m in search of Duo Hua – a sweet Taiwanese dessert made of tofu pudding & syrup (UPDATE: I found it and it was just as yummy as I had hoped).

Some people may be turned off from some forms of travel because of the discomfort it may bring out in them — aka culture shock. There’s another quote that really sings to me. While it can be applied to just about anything in life… It’s really applicable to where I am now.

“If we close our eyes, our very lives rest on a false foundation. We can’t be afraid to look.”

Or to eat in this case. Stay tuned — I will buildup the nerve to try this stinky stuff before I leave Taiwan at the end of this month.

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