Bizarre Smelly Foods: What’s Your Favourite?

Every culture has its own version of smelly (but often tasty) food. We have our smelly cheese. Others have naturally pungent fruit, such as durian (you either love it or hate it – I can barely stomach it). I like to try a bit of everything, especially when I’m abroad and I’ve had more than my share of pongy delights. But I’m not sure I’ll have the courage to add hákarl (fermented shark) to the list on our upcoming trip to Iceland. Just look at Ian Wright! He looks like he can barely stomach it.

Although not nearly as bad as ‘rancid’ shark, I thought I’d introduce you to some of my favourite smelly foods. What are some of yours? I’d be keen on trying them so please feel free to share!
  • Stinky tofu (臭豆腐) – Yes, that’s what it’s literally called in Chinese and you can smell it a mile away. But don’t be fooled by the strong odour (a bit like toilet), as it tastes nothing like it smells. It’s popular in Taiwan and is usually served deep fried, often drizzled in sauce and topped with sour pickled vegetables.
  • Natto (納豆) – This is a traditional Japanese food made from fermented soybeans.  It’s got a very sticky/gooey/slimy consistency so it might look a bit off putting, in addition to having a raw fermented smell.  It’s not as pungent as stinky tofu and has a rather nutty taste. I usually mix it with a touch of soy sauce and karashi (a type of mustard) and have it over rice. Natto is also rich in vitamin K2 so it’s good for you, too!
  • Kimchi (김치) – One of my all time favourites is a traditional fermented Korean dish, usually spicy and made with napa cabbage, radish or cucumber.  It’s very garlicky so your fridge can quickly start smelling a bit pongy, but I find if you wrap your jar of kimchi in a plastic bag it usually keep the odours from oozing out. Kimchi is fabulous with rice, in soups, fried rice or stir fried with thinly sliced pork (jae yook bokum, aka 豚キムチ in Japanese).
  • Century egg (皮蛋) – These preserved eggs really aren’t that smelly, though they kind of taste how they smell.  I quite like the creamy dark yolk and the consistency of the clear gelatinous outer layer that was once the egg white.  Somehow I’m able to ignore the odour of sulphur and ammonia.  I like my century eggs Taiwanese style with a bit of soy sauce and parsley with fresh silken tofu or with rice porridge (century egg and lean pork congee – I think it’s originally a Cantonese dish). Even London mayor Boris Johnson has given century eggs a try.  Well, he sort of wusses out toward the end.
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2 thoughts on “Bizarre Smelly Foods: What’s Your Favourite?

    • Thank you! I think umami refers more to a ‘sixth tatse’, which leaves a pleasant aftertaste on the tongue. These ‘smelly foods’ more likely cause people to gag than salivate, depending on what you’re accustomed to. I know that even native Icelanders can’t stand rancid shark so it is more of an acquired taste, perhaps like wine!

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