A young man from Anhui Province named Wang Zhihe came to Beijing nearly 300 years ago to take the imperial examination. But he failed the exams the first time. Determined to take them again, Wang set up a small tofu mill to finance his continued stay in Beijing, but his business did not go very well. Then, one hot day in summer, Wang Zhihe cut his surplus fresh tofu into small pieces and dried it to eat the next day. He put some salt and Chinese prickly ash onto the tofu to preserve it, and put it into a jar. However, he forgot all about his jar of tofu until several months later. When he opened it a strong smell came out. The snow-white tofu had turned dark green. Not wanting to throw it away, Wang plucked up courage and tasted a little. And to his surprise, -the smelly tofu tasted great. Following closely on his experience, he asked some neighbors to try it. They love it and asked Wang to make more.
Wang Zhihe never did pass the examinations. But he made loads of money selling tofu and eventually set up a smelly tofu shop. In the late Qing Dynasty when Empress Dowager Cixi came to power, its reputation soared. The down-to-earth dish finally started to appear in recipe books and it was put on the imperial menu. The new food caught on and across the country smelly tofu producers mushroomed.
In 1949 the Beijing municipal government brought together the local ur-ban producers and set up the Beijing Smelly Tofu Factory. And, of course, the smelly tofu brand was called“Wang Zhihe.”