Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Trying stinky tofu and a visit to a Buddhist monastery (慈濟高雄靜思堂)

My culture shock and homesickness must finally be starting to wear off - returning to our apartment from our trip to Xiao Liuqiu felt like coming home! We weren’t allowed to fester for long, though, as Stanley had other plans for us. He came over before our bags were unpacked Thursday night to encourage us to try a local delicacy we’ve so far been successful in avoiding - stinky tofu.

We’ve mentioned this little treat a few times on the blog, never actually believing we would have to eat it. Stanley had been threatening us with it for a while but we were unable to wriggle out of trying it when he brought three take-out cartons over along with big, cold cups of sour plum juice. Sour plum juice is a smoky, sweet drink thought to cool the body down in summer heat. I’m noticing the Chinese-herbs-used-to-cool-the-body-down-in-summer as a popular theme in a lot of the meals we’ve been introduced to here.

Anyways, back to the stinky tofu. Stanley did his best to completely freak me out by telling us the popular rumor that in the old days, stinky tofu was originally made by preserving fresh tofu in clay jars filled with horse urine. He explained that it’s now made with a brine and no horses are involved in its production... but still. I did some Googling and the official confirmed source of the brine is a mixture of fermented milk, meat, and vegetables. Whatever they use - it smells acrid, sharp, and is an olfactory slap to the face.

Stanley brought us three kinds from one of his favourite shops. We were presented with fried cubes, steamed slices, and crispy spring rolls. The fried variety was served with pickled cabbage, spring onions, and a nice-looking sauce. I figured that since everything fried is lovely, this would be a perfect way to start the experience. The texture inside was like a firm, coagulated cottage cheese. Stanley, like most Taiwanese people, absolutely loves stinky tofu. He laughed and wasn’t surprised when I said it wasn’t my favourite dish, but he continued to encourage our cultural growth by nudging us towards the steamed version. The steamed tofu was served in a warm broth. Its texture was much more like the tofu we’re accustomed to, but the flavour was still “stinky”. Brett didn’t mind it though and would definitely have it again. The last was the spring roll. It was served with cold sliced cucumber as well as a sweet and spicy sauce. While it still had the stinky/cottage-cheesy taste and texture, the spicy sauce really helped! I would try that one again for sure.

The next day Stanley wanted us to try yet another Chinese delicacy. He and Vicky picked us up and took us for lunch at a Hong Kong style restaurant with crispy whole ducks and chickens hanging in the window. It smelled delicious in that shop - like sticking your head in the roast chicken case at a grocery store. We sat down to cool green tea and gigantic plates of rice, meat and vegetables. The main attraction, however, was a plate in the centre of the table where we were presented with three kinds of cured Chinese meat - a bright pink sausage (much like what we had at our special dinner in Xiao Liuqiu), a dark red sausage, and what looked to be candied bacon. These had all been cured in wine and tasted sweet, salty, and amazing! The bacon was my favourite. It tasted like someone had combined candy, booze, and bacon into some sort of miraculous superfood.

After lunch we went to a beautiful Japanese-style Buddhist temple (慈濟高雄靜思堂) nearby. The building is enormous and is not only a place for prayer but is also a sort of community center. We took our shoes off at the door and carried them around in drawstring bags. They have a cafe where you can buy a coffee, borrow a book, and read in a peaceful courtyard for as long as you’d like. There are classrooms, yoga/dance/martial arts studios, kitchens, apartments for monks, gardens, covered walkways, and places for prayer and worship. The whole facility is beautifully maintained. People in Canada could learn from the eastern custom of removing footwear before entering public buildings. The floors were immaculate!

When we’re not being kept busy by friends, we’ve been spending our time this week preparing for Singapore. I’m trying to figure out how I’ll pack four days’ worth of our clothes into my little canvas backpack, as Brett’s backpack is reserved almost exclusively for his camera and its accessories. The airline allows us each to bring two carry-on bags, but I don’t have anything suitable. Much to Brett’s chagrin, I think that means it’s time for me to buy a bigger purse! :) 

Traveler’s Tips:

If you’re interested in visiting the Buddhist temple, it’s not far from Aozihdi MRT station. Just don’t forget to remove your shoes! Some additional pictures and directions can be found below...

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Fried stinky tofu and the spring rolls in the bottom corner
Steamed stinky tofu
Wine-cured bacon & sausage
Enjoying a delicious lunch
The Buddhist temple (慈濟高雄靜思堂)
Vicky & Amanda
A dog relaxes outside of the Buddhist temple

1 comment:

  1. You takes an inside look!!
    Cooling the body down is very common and important for people living in such a hot place in summer! Excellent observer!! ^^