Happy Halloweeeeeen! In today’s post you won’t find photos of me dressed up as a superhero, sexy cowgirl, robot, or even a binder full of women (though I thought about that last one). Over the last few years I just haven’t been into dressing up, so I don’t, simple as that. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t celebrate the season with fervour!
At first I had a hard time thinking of what I should eat; I couldn’t think of a restaurant serving up anything particularly Halloween-y, and figured the best I could do is a ghost cookie from a bakery. So instead I thought of which foods I’ve yet to try that scare me, and the answer came quickly.
With a name like that, it’s easy to understand why I hadn’t embraced it yet, as well as comments on the blog like “Wait til she tried stinky tofu!” which I always imagine to be followed by evil laughter. I’m not necessarily afraid of stinky foods – I love blue and washed rind cheeses, for example – but usually the first tastes of anything that’s strongly fermented/encouraged to grow mould is a bit of a shock. You can learn to love them, but that process can be painful.
Stacey recommended I try out Boiling Point Restaurant, where the house specialty is a stinky tofu hot pot. It’s located near West Lake Vietnamese on No. 3 Road, and is part of a chain of restaurants across Southern California and Seattle. It’s modern inside, and wasn’t too busy when I arrived (dripping wet) for a late lunch. I asked for the house special, a half-sweet almond milk tea, and helped myself to a plate of sauces from their self-service condiment station. Haven’t seen one of those before!
I don’t normally complain about service, but it was a little weak at Boiling Point. It took ages for someone to come over and take my order (I’m not used to flagging someone down unless I’m in an HK cafe), and when my hot pot arrived, it was at least another five minutes before my rice and drink came too, and then later I had to hunt down my bill.
But anywaaays, the hot pot was $10.99 and came in a shallow pot. Actually, today I shall call it a cauldron. It’s set in a square base, with a burner at the bottom lit by your server when it’s brought to the table. The flame keeps the broth simmering while you eat, ensuring your hot pot does indeed stay hot. There’s a bowl of rice on the side, and you’re given a pair of chopsticks and a large spoon.
The house special is full of goodies: cabbage, clams, fish cakes, paper-thin slices of pork, tomato, cilantro, green onion, congealed pig’s blood, sliced intestine, fish balls, and of course, stinky tofu.
There are a number of ways to ferment tofu, and if you’re interested in reading its history, there’s a very extensive account of it here. The stinky stuff is believed to have originated in China, but has since spread to surrounding countries such as Taiwan, where it’s especially popular. As street food, it’s often eaten fried, but my first taste of it was boiled, which is apparently stronger.
If you’re unsure if you’ve received stinky or plain tofu, your nose will tell you the difference. It’s innocent-looking enough, but the stuff definitely smells, like feet that have been in damp socks too long. Or over-boiled eggs left in a bag of sweaty hockey gear.
The chunks of tofu in my hot pot were quite large, very firm, and all hiding at the bottom. I bit in, grimaced a little, but went back for seconds. You know what? The more times I tried it, the less stinky-tasting it was. I could NOT have had a second bite of boiled liver, and most certainly not a second bite of durian, but the stinky tofu was manageable. Thank you, all you Years of Strong Cheese Eating!
My technique for eating the hot pot was to smother my rice in sauce (I loved the garlic soy bean), then top it with things I plucked from the simmering broth. I asked for mild spice, and it was plenty spicy, so unless you have a high tolerance, I’d stick with something on the lower spice spectrum.
It was a very filling meal, so I didn’t have room for one of their Taiwanese icy desserts (nor did I really want to fill myself with shaved ice before heading back into the pouring rain). Too bad though, because they look pretty good!
If you’d like to give Boiling Point a try but don’t want to eat anything that smells/tastes like damp feet, you’re in luck. They also offer plenty of other options, including lamb, Thai, vegetarian, seafood, Korean, curry, Japanese miso and other combos, and dozens of add-ins you can pick to personalize your hot pot. Or hot cauldron, I should say.
After my lunch at Boiling Point, I made my way home, changed into dry clothes, and welcomed my friends Jill and Codi over for a night of pumpkin mayhem. That means drinking wine, eating fried sausages/apples/onions/rosemary, carving a pumpkin with Edgar Allan Poe’s face on it (EDGAR ALLAN POE-MPKIN) and stuffing a sugar pumpkin with toasted sourdough, gruyere, and cream + stock, then baking it. I know, right? You do need to try that.
It’s way easier than pie, and Ruth Reichl (the creator of this magical orange wonder) has her recipe for it right here. We used a farmers market sugar pumpkin, and a small one easily feeds six people as a side course.
I saved my Richmond Pumpkin Patch pumpkin for Jill to carve – she’s a master!
She brought over an Edgar Allen Poe stencil (found on zombiepumpkins.com) and worked on it solidly for a few hours.
The result? I now have a dead poet on my porch. He’s still less scary than stinky tofu.
Happy Halloween everyone! In celebration, a video of last night’s pumpkin mayhem. Enjoy.
Cash and cards accepted
Vegetarian options available