Episode 32: Carson Yiu + Stinky Tofu

Photo credit for Carson Yiu portrait: Craig Nisperos

This week we switched gears to talk about an Asian dish that gets almost no love in the West--stinky tofu! Carson Yiu, founder of Outer Borough, joined us in the studio to talk about this Taiwanese and Hong Kong street food, what makes it stinky and delicious, and how it’s breaking into the NYC food scene. You’ll also hear from Jowett Yu, chef of Ho Lee Fook in Hong Kong.

We kick off the show with the best things we ate in the past week. Lynda had a chance to go to DC and eat at Lao restaurant Thip Khao, run by Chef Seng whom we interviewed on Episode 24. Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, Iris continues her banh mi obsession and is loving Co Thanh's take on the sandwich.

We then introduce the dish, stinky tofu, and share our personal stories with the food. Iris explains what this street snack is, its accidental invention, and the various ways people have described the smell (garbage, farts, rotting cheese--so sexy!) 

Iris also had a chance to interview Jowett Yu, the Taiwanese-born chef at the contemporary Chinese restaurant Ho Lee Fook in Hong Kong. In this clip, he talks about his personal love of this street food and the different ways it can be served in Taiwan. He also tells us that it's been falling out of fashion in Asia due to the bad rap it's gotten from the lack of transparency when it comes to mass-produced stinky tofu.

Lynda then introduces Carson Yiu. He’s the founder of Outer Borough, a pop-up that reps Queens and serves Taiwanese-inspired street food. His mom runs a stinky tofu operation that supplies restaurants in Flushing, as well as Win Son in Brooklyn, who we interviewed on Episode 4.

First, Carson talks about his upbringing and how that led him into the food industry. He then tells us the story about how his mother obtained a "fermentation bucket" of fermented vegetables, fried shrimps, and milk--miraculously transported from Taiwan. This brine has not changed in 20 years and she uses it to continue making small batch tofu with her perfectionist touch.

Lynda then asks Carson how to appreciate stinky tofu. He tells us that when you grow up in the West, you're just not used to the smell, but how smelly it is can also be a good indication of its quality. Aside from the smell, you should also look for a crispy yet crumbly texture if fried, and the balance of the accompanying sauces and pickled cabbage.

Carson has felt that he's really only been able to serve stinky tofu in very Taiwanese-centric events or restaurants in the past, but that may change. He believes that if Americans have come to embrace other pungent foods like raclette it's only a matter of time for stinky tofu. The rest of Taiwanese cuisine, however, is not just on the up and up--it's always been here and appreciated.

32:30 "I don't think we need someone to tell us, 'that's the next big thing'. We have so much joy and happiness already in our community, trying to promote Taiwanese food, that the next big thing is not going to change Taiwanese food." - Carson on the popularity of Taiwanese food in the West.

Finally, Carson tells us how his food career is going to take him back home to Queens. He's planning to open a healthy fast-casual spot in Flushing--a place he believes has some of the best food, yet right now, the healthiest thing you can probably find there is a McDonald's salad! We're super excited for Carson's mom's stinky tofu to end up on more menus and to see what is next for this food entrepreneur.

If you don't already receive our newsletter, sign up here to get episode and content updates right in your inbox!