Asian teahouses have always been synonymous with snacking; they’re where dim sum—the popular Chinese small-bites brunch—finds its origins. Now, boba, or bubble tea, cafes have essentially become the teahouses of a new generation. And although many tea drinks that are sipped nowadays have gone through some transformations with the inclusion of exotic flavors such as kiwi, winter melon, and lychee along with extra wide straws for the inhaling of fat tapioca pearls, the snack side of things has remained relatively traditional with a few relatively modern updates.
Yami Teahouse in Gardena takes its snacking quite seriously, offering lots of fried goodies from fried popcorn chicken with lemon pepper to fried mini hot dogs. Yami also traffics in Taiwanese sausages and squid jerky. But if you’re any kind of food thrill seeker like me, the one item that will leap off the menu at you is fried stinky tofu. (Expect the server not to be enthusiastic about your order of this odiferous item or even steer you to another more palatable selection. Remain strong.)
This tofu that begins its life perfectly un-stinky will be marinated in a fermented brine of rotting vegetables and meats for a few days depending on much putridity is desired. The resulting taste (if you can call it that) is an overpowering ammonia punch that comes along with its own cloud of malodor much like the reek you’d experience in a music festival’s porta-potty.
If there was a Scoville scale for stinky foods—let’s call it the Smellville scale—the stinky tofu at Yami would easily rank above Stinking Bishop cheese but perhaps under the stench power of hákarl, the Icelandic delicacy of fermented shark. Yami’s stinky tofu has a pleasing, crispy/crunchy fried crust but lacks in the fresh custard-like interior of a top-notch stinky tofu. But don’t underestimate its stinky strength; the fetor doesn’t simply violate your mouth for a moment. No, it clings to your tongue and infuses your belches for days with that special stinky tofu foulness. The accompanying thick, sweet soy sauce drizzled all across this nidorous appetizer doesn’t appear to have a snowball’s chance in hell at playing condiment but actually does a decent job of sweetening the stink long enough to make the meal somewhat pleasant—almost like that first sweet breath of fresh(-ish) air you take after exiting an Andy Gump at Coachella.
Yami Teahouse, 1451 W Artesia Blvd., Suite 1, Gardena, and 24705 Narbonne Ave., Suite 101, Lomita, YamiTeahouse.com