As part of my Leaving Boston '02 tour I stopped by Taiwan Cafe last night with some friends for dinner. Both my friends are vegetarians so out options were limited but I wanted to throw 2 more dishes in to the pool of knowledge...
We had (of course) the homestyle braised eggplant with basil, special mustard greens with edamame and fresh bean curd, taiwan style pan fried (braised) tofu, an order or the vegetarian steamed ravioli, and, because my friend thought he knew what he was getting into, fried fermented tofu with paou tsai (ie stinky tofu).
The first 2 are well documented here and were good as always.
Taiwan style pan fried (braised) tofu was a dish of braised tofu with lots of mushrooms in a brown, slightly thick sauce. The dish was good but not as excellent as, say, the eggplant. The best part was the consistency of the tofu chunks which were crunchy on the outside but soft and almost milky in the center which is what made the dish worthwhile. I wouldn't hurry back for this one but I'd definitely consume it again.
The Vegetarian Steamed Ravioli which came with a nice little bowl of ginger/soy sauce were quite tasty. Indeed they were quickly pronounced "the best dumplings ever" as a friend greedily munched. While I wouldn't go that far I'd definitely rank them up there on the veggie dumpling scale. I wish I could give an accurate description of the filling but, truth be told, I have no idea how they make these guys. The filling was very very finely chopped vegetable matter, it was (mostly) green, and it tasted good, and I'd order them again whether or not I was with vegetarians.
But the stinky tofu. The friend who had suggested we order it announced he'd had fermented tofu in sushi preparations before, he liked it, and therefore he wanted to order this appetizer. I gently explained to him that what would appear was more than a little fermented tofu neatly included on a plate of sushi stuff --this was hard core. When I asked for it the waiter blinked at me, pointed at the menu listing and muttered "chau dofu? are you sure?" If I had looked across the table at my friend's fiance at that moment I would have halted the impending fiasco in sympathy for what she would soon perhaps unwittingly kiss. But I didn't. Instead I looked at Matt who had missed the questioning comment from our waiter, and I insisted that yes, this was what we wanted. Anyway, soon it arrived in all its glory. The bite-sized tofu chunks were just out of the fryer and covered by pickled cabbage with (i think) vinegar, chili oil, and a little soy sauce. I stared at it in abject horror. For I was remembering when, sitting at the very next table I had once tried this dish with my Taiwanese then-roomate who loves the stuff. To put it mildly, the sensation was certainly unforgettable to my palette. I tried vainly to utter another warning to him before he dove in but was unable to muster sound in the face of the StinkyTofu in my immediate vicinity. With ill-advised, naive eagerness he popped a cube in his mouth. Needless to say, for this mild-mannered American from the mid-west, what he subsequently experienced he did not find pleasant. For as he bit into the innocuous looking cube, the perfectly prepared stinky stuff released its payload full-bore into Matt's unsuspecting mouth. And his sinuses. And soon every nook and cranny in the interior of his head as the fermentation did its work. Without getting into the exact details Matt grew a little misty eyed, contorted his face oddly, and probably wished for a quick death. In perhaps the most hilarious comment anyone has made to me in a long time, somehow he managed to look in my direction and note "wow, the frying process really *locks* in that flavor." He did not, however, feel it necessary to unlock any more and asked his fiance for "3 or 4" pieces of minty gum to pop in his mouth as we were leaving because "there's a war going on in here, hon."
So, for all you who like fried fermented tofu (and I know many people who do -- no offense is intended towards its fans) if you didn't know it's available at Taiwan Cafe, now you do. As the friend who introduced me to the stuff really likes their rendition I have reason to believe TC does a good job with it as well.
And for all you who have never tried it by all means do but remember -- this is not a dish to be taken lightly. If you don't like it chances are you will REALLY not like it.