food 04.11.12

Failing the Smell Test
Walking Off the Big Apple

Not everyone shares our perverse enjoyment of foods with a funky smell—but here's a quick rundown for fellow odor eaters of some of the worst offenders.

The most infamous, perhaps, is durian, sometimes called stink fruit, which is grown primarily in Malaysia. The jagged skin smells melony but when you open it, one of nature's little jests: a horribly gaseous miasma is released. The fruit has something of the texture of buffalo mozzarella, more yellowish in color, and an intense, slightly sweet, cheesy taste. Many airlines have, understandably, added it to the banned-on-board list. Durian is available at many markets in Chinatown.

A Taiwanese favorite (practically a national dish) is called tso dofu or stinky tofu. Order it and you'll be served mousy brownish-gray rectangles with the consistency of thick french toast, emitting a pungent, sharp smell. The taste is rather mild but distinctly fermented. If you were eating a piece of chicken and got a taste like that, you'd be rightly alarmed. Stinky tofu is often served with spicy pickled cabbage on top. Find it at places like Gu Shine in Flushing.

Devil's dung and stinking gum are the alternate names for asafoetida, a fennel resin that is used frequently in Indian food. Oof, it smells funky. But it also imparts a wonderful oniony-garlicky flavor to dishes. Kalustyan's of course. [The website was down when we went to publish.]

Limburger is no dainty cheese but we think Livarot is the real category killer. This marvelous cow's milk cheese from Normandy has an odor described in terms of sweaty feet and manure. Pick some up at Artisanal.

Surströmming is one of the world's foulest-smelling dishes. Thank you, Sweden. When the can of fermented Baltic herring is opened, all smell breaks loose. It's probably more myth than anything else that the cans explode a lot, though they do expand as the fermenting takes place. In any case, the airlines, again sensibly, will have nothing to do with it. We've never seen it in New York, not that we've looked that hard. For some reason, there isn't much demand in these parts for canned fermented herring. When we mentioned to someone at the Swedish Consulate that we wanted to track down some surströmming, he said, "Oh, I don't think that's a very good idea."

Some images
courtesy of Shutterstock

Cultural and literary notes, plus self-guided walks, courtesy of Walking Off the Big Apple, a strolling guide to New York City.

One Hundred Years Ago in Bohemia: Greenwich Village 1912

When the ocean liner Carpathia sailed into New York Harbor bearing survivors of the Titanic, the residents of the lower west side neighborhood of Greenwich Village, close to the piers, would have been stirred, like everyone else, by the news of the disaster. While a diverse neighborhood, the Village in 1912 was socially stratified in ways similar to the first class and steerage compartments of the fated ship - upper class socialites on the north side of Washington Square Park and on lower Fifth Avenue, a large Irish contingent in the West Village, and in the South Village, many Italian immigrants. Scattered throughout the neighborhood below 14th Street were new pioneers from elsewhere, some from big cities and others from Smalltown USA. Some escaped wealthy families, while others ran away from the middle class.

Many scholars of Greenwich Village have marked the beginning of the neighborhood's early bohemia, one that long preceded the folk revolution of the 1950s and early 1960s, in the years around 1912. The rebellious and unorthodox contingent of artists, poets, and theater people included John Reed, Mabel Dodge, Djuna Barnes, Walt Kuhn, Max Eastman, Lincoln Steffens, Eugene O'Neill, Susan Glaspell, Theodore Dreiser, Stuart Davis, Marianne Moore, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and William Glackens. They mingled and talked in places like Polly's restaurant, Mouquin's, the Old Lafayette, or the Brevoort. On April 15, 1912, the artist John Sloan and his wife Dolly were away from their home in Greenwich Village and in Philadelphia. While his diary entries usually provided colorful descriptions of his day as a socially engaged artist, the entry for that day was short: "The steamship Titanic, largest vessel afloat, is wrecked on her maiden voyage. Hundreds of lives are probably lost."


[Image: John Sloan, Carmine Theater, 1912.]

Cooper Union

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