Well, a recent trip to Henry's Taiwan in the international district was a roller coaster of disgust and delight. Dinner began with a powerful, immensely stinking smell that hit me like a wave of airborn vomit soon as I opened the restaurant door. I thought I was going to have to turn right back around, but instead made my way into a booth with my dining companion and discretely, laboriously attempted to close off my olfactory senses and gag reflex as my stomach turned.
I later learned that stinky tofu is a specialty at Henry's, and I can only assume that the offending odor was related to a high quality product. When my dining companion asked if I wanted to order some stinky tofu as an appetizer, every speck of my being knew the answer: NO. Perhaps if it had been offered on a windy seaside bluff the spirit of culinary adventure would have over powered the self preserving demands of my appetite. But not tonight.
There was just one vegetarian main dish on the menu: Rice with Tofu, and it sounded pretty boring. So I asked the waitress if they could combine a few items on the menu to make me the dish of my dreams: hand shaved noodles, tofu, vegetables. Her answer? No. You're a vegetarian? You can order rice with tofu.
And so it was. As I sat, doing my darnedest "mind over matter" stomach control I was prepared to really dislike my meal.
And then it came. And the moment the waitress brought it to the table, I knew I was going to love it.
What arrived was a nice size slab of silken custard tofu in a light, crisp batter, with a garlicky savory sauce, a pile of purple rice with some kind of pickled garlic on top, a pile of (mild in comparison) pungent kimchee, and a cute little stack of some sort of cold, slightly cooked but still fresh green leafy vegetable.
Everything was completely delicious and I cleaned my plate.
I realize that I had a pretty classic ignorant "I'm not part of this culture and am too weeny for it's specialties" reaction. I believe this was in large part because I was completely unprepared, unwarned, unaware of the potential smell. Uneducated about both stinky tofu and Henry's, I really wasn't sure what was going on... was I smelling a specialty dish? Or was there an old man with horrible breath throwing up beneath my table? The mystery wasn't a good mystery.
I believe that the power in going to Henry's is in KNOWING that, depending upon what your fellow restaurant mates are ordering, you may well be in the midst of a traditional Taiwanese stink-nado. If you're ready for it, maybe it won' t be such a challenge and you can fully enjoy your delicious meal!