You want to feel comfortable at work… or at least as comfortable as you can feel somewhere that isn’t home, and you really have no choice about being there. You might personalize your desk, cubicle, or office. You might bring a comfy seat cushion, listen to your favourite music while you work (wearing headphones, or course), take a relaxing walk outside during your break, or socialize a bit with those colleagues that you genuinely enjoy being around (and not the ones you have to pretend to like but secretly might not brake for if you saw them on the road while driving to or from work).
And you want to have the foods that you enjoy. For snacks. For lunch. It’s not too much to ask for, right? Comfort food: one of life’s simple pleasures, and a culinary boost to get you through to 5 o’clock.
But… there are some things more important than what you want, and when it comes to the office – a closed and confined space shared by many people – your food preferences should take others into consideration. People like to eat some strange and pungent items. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. You’re entitled to eat whatever you want to eat.
At home. You’re entitled to eat whatever you want to eat at home. Within reason, of course (you’re not allowed to eat fillet of panda or Siberian tiger burgers).
Some things should never, ever be brought to the office. Ever. Not ever. Like, not in a million years ever.
If you love kimchi, then eat kimchi (fermented spicy cabbage, very popular in Korea). Just not at your desk or in the break room.
The following foods are so overpoweringly pungent that they should not be allowed out of the house… and maybe not even there. Bring them to work, and you “run the risk” (i.e.: it’s an absolute certainty) of making your coworkers hate you. The smell will linger for hours, if not days, and will assault their olfactory sense relentlessly like some kind of a pungent ninja.
It’s bad. Very bad. Want your colleagues to hate you? Bring these smelly foods to work.
1. Tuna and sardines
This one is – or should be – a no-brainer. Fish smells like, well, fish. We all know the smell and can identify it immediately. There is nothing like it. We even use the expression “smells fishy” to comment on a circumstance that is odd, off, unsettling, or suspicious.
Fish may taste good, but the odour is the opposite of good… what’s the word I’m looking for? Oh, right. Bad! A tuna fish sandwich on fresh baked bread is delicious. The smell it leaves hanging in the air and plastered to every surface, on the other hand, is grotesque.
Ditto for sardines. I know many people that swear by the salty satisfaction that comes from snacking on a tin of sardines. No harm, no foul. But open it anywhere in the office and everyone immediately knows what’s on your plate. Clients visiting the office six days later can still detect it. It’s a lunchtime no-no.
Durian is a tropical fruit popular in many places. You’ve probably seen the round and spiny fruit in your travels, if not at the local grocery store. The inside is creamy, nutty, and strong-flavoured, and it used in sticky buns, puddings, candy, and various southeast Asian dishes, or simply sliced up and enjoyed.
But cut it open, and it smells like death. Actual death. Rotting, stinky, putrid, decomposing excrement. It’s vile. Why oh why would nature create such a delicious item (at least to some) with such a horrible aroma?! It’s actually banned on the subway system in Singapore.
British naturalist and explorer Alfred Russel Wallace said it brought “to mind cream-cheese, onion-sauce, sherry-wine, and other incongruous dishes”. American chef and food writer Andrew Zimmern described the stench as “completely rotten mushy onions”, while another food writer, Richard Sterling, described it as “turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock”. Sounds good, no? Don’t bring it to work.
3. Blue or limburger cheese
Let’s just call a spade a spade. Most cheese smells a bit funny. Even good cheese that you love – whatever kind that is – has a strong aroma. Some cheeses, though, have a place of honour at the “What’s the horrible smell?” parade. Limburger and blue cheese are two of those, and proud of it.
Limburger is a semi-soft cheese that originated in the Duchy of Limburg. The bacteria used to “ripen” it – Brevibacterium linens – is the same type found on your body and especially between your toes. It’s the reason we have smelly feet… and the reason Limburger cheese smells like, well, smelly feet.
Blue cheese, meanwhile, is actually a group of cheeses that includes Blue Stilton and Gorgonzola. The mold Penicillium is added in the later stages of production, resulting in streaks and veins of blue or blue-grey mold throughout. It’s the mold and various bacteria thrown in the mix that give the category its infamous “aroma” (aka stench).
Limburger cheese and crackers for lunch? No. Stop that right now.
4. Stinky tofu
Stinky tofu, or chòu dòufu in Mandarin, is an extremely popular street snack in China. It looks harmless, and the experience of eating it (if you can get past the smell… many people pinch their nose while putting it in their mouths and chewing) is often described as light, airy, and extraordinary. But the smell? Well, they don’t call it stinky tofu for nothing. Walk around the night markets and you’ll smell it long before you see it. It’s an overpowering and pungent aroma that smells like rotten everything. Tofu itself is quite bland and flavourless, but stinky tofu is soaked for a few hours in a rancid brine of fermenting vegetables and possibly shrimp that’s left to its own devices for up to six months. The post-bath tofu cubes are then rinsed, deep fried, and served with a spicy sauce.
I’ll be completely honest: I tried this several times while living in China, and it tastes absolutely glorious. The smell though will have your coworkers cursing you, your children, and your children’s children… at a minimum.
5. Cooked veggies
Okay. Not all veggies. But some of them send out invisible tendrils of stick when cooked or reheated. The biggest offenders include broccoli, cabbage, and asparagus (to say nothing of what it does to your pee). The smell has been described as flatulence (farts, for the less verbal among us) and slightly sulfuric. No matter what word you prefer, it’s all unpleasant. The smell of asparagus can only be described as asparagus (just like fish). It’s that bad. These vegetables may be good for you but they won’t win you any popularity points with your colleagues downwind from you.
Oh, and onions. Raw, cooked, or otherwise. Onions have an incredibly strong smell, not to mention that they bring many of us to tears and leave your breath smelling dreadful. Best left at home for those nights when you won’t be seeing or talking to anyone.
6. Reheated fish
This one is a subcategory of tuna and sardines. Reheating fish in the microwave – any fish in any style – will leave the unmistakable “fishy” smell in the air for a very long time. It will move in, unpack, put its (stinky but metaphorical) feet up on the coffee table, and not move a muscle for days. The stench will cling to the inside of the microwave forever. Nothing can get it out, short of a bath in nuclear waste.
Not cool, man.
7. Microwavable popcorn
What? Not popcorn! Everyone loves popcorn. While that may be true, it’s another example of “tastes great, smells like ass”. Microwavable popcorn always ends up smelling acrid, artificial, and oily. And almost everyone inevitably ends up leaving it in there for too long, and you get to throw “burnt” on top of that smell hit list. Yum!
You know that unpleasant aroma that hangs in the air at the movie theatre but you just can’t place it? It’s popcorn.
“Stinky” is a subjective term… for the most part. But some smells transcend it and make it on to virtually everyone’s list of things to avoid. The office is not the time or place for any of these foods, no matter how much you love them. It’s inconsiderate and rude. No one deserves to be trapped with any of these pungent, stinky, rancid stenches.
Leave it at home for a happier workplace. Your colleagues and I would like to thank you in advance.
Did I miss anything? What’s the worst smelling food you’ve ever encountered at work? Leave your answers in the comments section below!