food 03.14.18

Every Person in New York

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, reliable smell test fails.

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 Ku Shian 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.

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 Murray's.

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 surströmming, he said, "Oh, I don't think that's a very good idea." If you're determined: try here.

Jason Polan started Every Person in New York in March of 2008. He plans on working on the project until it is finished. Look for more at Jason's site and his book Every Person in New York.

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