You may recall that a few years back I paid a visit to Shanghai and had some of their stinky tofu (aka chou doufu in Mandarin). At that time it was pretty much the only variety of stinky tofu I really knew of because I had spent a year living in that city. Stinky tofu, however, seems to come in as many flavors as bread or pasta, with Taiwan claiming one of its own.
While riding our scooters back to Isabel in Vieques, we couldn’t help but be stopped by some street food. The street food in this case turned out to be Pinchos, which is basically a Spanish word for skewer-grilled meat. Or, at least that’s what it means in Puerto Rico.
At night in the Djemaa El Fna (Big Square) in Marrakech’s Medina, the street food comes to life. Of course, the place is still full of street performers and snake charmers, but the food looks oh so much better. The only trouble is the insane amount of people working in the stalls that badger you about as hard as possible to stop by their stall. My favorite line, though, was “same shit, different stall.” And he was right, it all looked the same, so I stopped by one to see what they had.
By day, a stall just down the street from my riad (hotel) in Marrakesh was perpetually busy. Not with customers, but with workers grinding beef, putting together sausages and butchering away. It was interesting to watch, but didn’t exactly whet my appetite. Yet, when I returned later that night I found the place bustling with locals jockeying for some food. At this point I knew whatever it was had to be mine.
After Portland we made our way into the Great White North, although surprisingly Canada wasn’t quite covered in white in the middle of the summer. We began in Vancouver, and I found myself a Japadog stand to satisfy my hunger. In case you are unable to read between the lines, Japadog is simply a Japanese hot dog stand, serving up typical Japanese-style hot dogs and other interesting hot dogs with Japanese toppings on them. It’s been around since 2005 and is pretty well-regarded in the street food scene. At least it was regarded enough that I can say that I had heard of them at some point in my life.
After Shanghai, we headed to Xi’an to see the Terracotta Warriors. We landed at night and although it was pretty late, I was a hungry unvegan. I remembered Xi’an having some great late-night street food, but after four years so much had changed in China and I hoped this was not one of them. I took a quick stroll just south of the Bell Tower and found just what I was looking for. While Shanghai had some good street skewer food (none of which I actually had on this trip), it was nothing compared to what could be found in Xi’an.
Just what is chou doufu (pronounced cho dough-foo)? If you don’t know Mandarin, you might think it sounds pleasant. The words roll off the tongue pretty cleanly and it sounds like it could be some sort of doughy deliciousness. Like a doughnut or something. But if you know Mandarin, then you know the true meaning of the words and they are nothing at all like a doughnut. Chou doufu means, quite literally, stinky tofu. And the name is certainly appropriate. As with much of the rest of Chinese cuisine, chou doufu comes in many forms, but the form I know best can be found on the street.
In my experience, I’ve learned that some of the best food in the world can be found on the street. No, not literally on the street (although the 10 second rule certainly applies for some of this food), but food that is sold on the street rather than from some brick and mortar building. A major part of the allure is the tracking down of the street food. There’s no address, so you really just have to stumble upon it. Plus, since it’s mobile and there are no hours, there’s no guarantee the food will be there again the next time you look for it. The biggest part of the allure, though, is the taste. It takes someone with an iron will to seek out this kind of food, but when you find something great, the payoff is huge.