Before the apocalypse: stinky tofu

Story originally published in the China Post.

I didn’t want to do it.

In that boiling pot of stink is my doom.

I’d seen friends try it, and their reactions were enough to warn me against it. But my students and their mothers were joyfully and noisily leading me to the stand, the stand where square, golden slices of stinky tofu fried in vats.

We sat at small adjacent tables, and I could smell it; I joked with the kids that it smelled like dirty socks. They all vehemently disagreed, the moms smiled, and I continued my exaggerated complaining. Soon, the plates of fried stinky tofu arrived.

Crispy and golden and light and... rank.

I negotiated with Jack, one of the oldest students. We agreed that I would eat one full piece. He and I shook hands, and I stared at the food, searching for the smallest piece.

The first bite was small, and while I made ugly faces to amuse the kids, it wasn’t that bad.

Doing this before the world's apocalypse... but this could be my stomach's apocalyptic nightmare.

Several minutes later, I had my second bite. It, too, was fine. Dipped in a red sauce, there was a hint of the stinky scent, but overall it was flavorless and just a very strange texture in my mouth. I started to think I was somehow cheating; this was stinky tofu, but it wasn’t SUPER stinky tofu. Was I getting the real experience?

Down the hatch!

Only a little tofu was left, what amounted to two small bites or one big bite. I decided to get it over with and put the entire piece in my mouth.

This was a bad decision.

Very quickly, I regretted eating the last piece.

It was about to be bad. Very, very bad.

The smell was overwhelming, and the flavor took over my mouth. My throat involuntarily closed, and my stomach cramped. It was going to be a fight to finish chewing and keep it down once I finished. My gag reflex was ready to ruin my outfit.

In this moment, every cell in my body was rejecting what my brain was telling it to do. "Swallow... please don't throw up... just swallow... please, please don't puke in public..."

I swallowed, and I survived, but the look on my face must have said it all. Sunny, Jack’s mom, grinned at me from across the table. “Do you like it?” she asked.

“Uh, it’s not my favorite…” It was more an apology than a statement, and Sunny laughed. “It’s okay!” she said. “You tried. That is very good!”

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