I have written about Cantonese food before, so I will not go on and on about how it tends to lack the heavy spices and seasoning of other Chinese food, because people in Guangdong strive to bring out the natural flavors of their food. Nor will I wax eloquent about the brilliant colors and enormous selection of Cantonese menus. Rather, I want to simply describe one dish that I enjoyed tonight in an article that, like fishhead meat, is short and sweet.
It is so difficult to describe Chinese culture. At once an ancient, monolithic culture, and a culture as diversified as anything Europe has to offer, China is like its own contradiction. Everything that is, also is not, and then is its very own opposite. How else could I possibly explain my belief, for example, that Chinese people are both industrious and lazy? Or that Beijingers are both welcoming and rude? Or that Chinese traffic is both efficient and chaotic? The moment that a Westerner tries to explain Chinese culture, or put it in a box, it jumps out of that box, smiles, and waves a finger, as if to say, “Ah, silly Westerner, you will never understand us!”
Well, I think I have finally found a food that I can honestly think of nothing good to say about. Wow. I thought I knew stinky tofu. I really did. After all, it stank. But the tofu that the friendly woman sells at one of my regular street vendors smells like roses compared to the horror that I discovered tonight. Right now, a sealed plastic bag containing some stinky tofu that I bought at a fresh market, is sitting outside — outside — on my balcony, and my entire flat smells like a fresh charnel house, or maybe like a landfill or a garbage dump. This stinky tofu is, hands down, the most repulsive-smelling food that I have ever considered putting in my mouth. It is as if I have unleashed all the terrors of hell, in olfactory form, upon my entire neighborhood.
* Several months ago, I attempted to re-create an ancient Roman recipe. It turned out rather odd, but I suppose authentic. In any case, it inspired me to try out some other ancient recipes from different world cuisines. In this article series, I attempt to cook an ancient Maya dish.
I have always been obsessed with the ancient Maya. For thousands of years, they built an advanced, metropolitan civilization in the Americas, complete with a complex religious and political system, an intricate writing system, and stunning architectural wonders. Unfortunately for the Maya, and for the world, Europeans arrived with guns and diseases, and wiped out almost all of the indigenous American population in a tacit genocide. By the way, the correct adjective for this civilization is Maya, not Mayan. The word Mayan only refers to the language.