Authentic Sichuan Mapo Tofu | 麻婆豆腐

how to make sichuan mapo tofu

Let’s admit it, who doesn’t like a good story, especially when the story is associated to food. One of the reasons I became attracted to food was that I always enjoyed a good story behind a dish. If you don’t know what I mean, check out this earlier post on story behind the Chinese dish called Lu Wei.

Growing up, I was fascinated by this kind of stories. One of my favorite food tales has to be the story behind the world famous Mapo Tofu – the famous Chinese dish that originated from my hometown Sichuan (Szechuan). The most widely accepted story says that Mrs. Chen owned a restaurant in Sichuan province. To deal with leftover tofu and meat that she couldn’t sell, she started to cook the leftover tofu with the meat and other spicy condiments. She eventually came up with a delicious spicy tofu dish that her restaurant attracted many patrons to taste this tofu dish. Over time, Mrs Chen became known for this spicy tofu dish. Because Mrs. Chen had pockmarked face, people called her Mapo or lady with pockmarked face. Her tofu dish became known as Mapo Tofu.
how to make sichuan mapo tofu
Not only I learned this story when I was young, I also learned how to cook Mapo at young age. Although very tempted, I will not call my recipe the most authentic Mapo Tofu because every family or restaurant in Sichuan cooks this dish differently and I am fully aware that there are many variations around the world ranging from the ketchup infused Cantonese style to Japanese style Mabo Dufu.

Before you cook this dish, you should know that this recipe is a lot spicier than the non-Sichuan versions. Tune it down if you don’t handle spicy food well. Also, in Sichuan, ground beef is normally the preferred choice of protein but I use pork in this recipe. You can certainly substitute with your choice of meat and cook it meatless. Lastly, this dish is absolutely a rice killer so make sure you cook enough steamed rice 🙂

**update 11/2016** I also made a YouTube Video for this classic dish. Please check it out:

step-by-step recipe

Authentic Sichuan Mapo Tofu | 麻婆豆腐

Yield: 2 Servings

Prep Time:20

Cook Time:10

Total Time:30

Ingredients:

  • 14 oz Tofu (use medium firm or soft)
  • 4 oz ground beef or pork
  • 2 clove garlic minced
  • 1 tsp dried fermented black beans
  • 1 tbsp spicy Sichuan chili bean paste (???)
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tbsp Chinese cooking wine
  • 1 cup water or stock
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1/2 tsp ground Sichuan peppercorn
  • 1 stalk scallion, chopped
  • 1 tsp cornstarch

Directions:

Cut the tofu to 1x1 cubes. Soak the tofu in boiled salt water for 5 minutes in order to reduce the pungent soy taste. Remove the tofu using a mesh drainer and set asidemapo tofuHeat 1 tbsp of oil in a wok, add minced pork to the wok and stir fry the meat until the meat is turning brown and fat is rendered. Push the meat to the side of the wokmapo tofuAdd garlic, ginger, spicy bean paste, and fermented black beans and stir fry until fragrantmapo tofuMix the cooked meat with the condiments. Add chili powder and stir fry for another minute or so. Add the water or stock to the wok. Bring to boilmapo tofuAdd the tofu cubes to the sauce. Add cooking wine and bring the wok to boil. Let the tofu simmer for about 5 minutes in low heat. Add additional salt if necessary. Thicken the sauce with some dissolved cornstarch then add the sesame oil before turn off the heat. Dish the tofu.mapo tofuLastly, evenly sprinkle the ground Sichuan peppercorn on top of dished tofu. Heat up 2 tbsp of cooking oil. Splash the hot oil on top of tofu. Garnish the dish with some chopped scallion.

Once again, do forget to serve with white rice 🙂
how to make sichuan mapo tofu

37 comments

  1. Pingback: Avocado and Tofu Salad with Truffle Infused Soy Sesame Dressing | Yi Reservation

  2. 17

    1. What brand of “sichuan chili bean paste” do you use?
    2. The tofu looks firm. Is it firm tofu?
    3. What kind of chili powder? Mexican chili powder usually includes some cumin and I believe cayenne. Is there some sort of chili from Sichuan that can be used in the recipe?
    4. Is that enough sichuan pepper corn to get the “ma” tingliness? We have a bunch of peppers that my wife got as gifts last time she was in China.

    Thanks for the post. I have been wanting to make mapo dofu.

    • 17.1

      Hi Neal, thanks for being interested in the mapo tofu dish. Here are my answers to your questions:
      1. I’d recommend a type of spicy bean paste called Pixian bean paste. It might be under different brands depending on the distributor.
      2. I use medium-firm tofu. It’s in between firm and silken. The firm tofu will be easier to handle but I prefer my mapo tofu slightly softer.
      3. I grind my own chili powder using toasted dried chili. I don’t add any other spices to the chili powder.
      4. The tingliness of sichuan peppercorn varies depending on where you get it and how fresh it is. I am able to score some green sichuan pepppercorns and they are very strong so I use about 1tsp. I put 1/2 tsp in the recipe to make it more accessible to readers who can’t handle the regular amount of ma (numbness).

      I hope this helps and please don’t hesitate to let me know if you have any other questions.

  3. 16

    Hi, this recipe is excellent and so nicely presented. I just have one problem: I never manage to get the numbness from the Sichuan peppercorns. I’ve tried it in many recipes and in many different ways – cooking/frying with whole peppercorns, grinding and sprinkling (like here), toasting (frying in a dry pan) and then grinding, making flavoured oil, nothing really helped. One or two times I got a little bit of numbness, but I had to use a lot of ground/toasted peppercorns and then it had a not so nice texture in the mouth, like sand or powder (because I used so much), and still the numbness was very very weak. I must say they still have that citrus-like taste, just no numbness. I even went to some specialty Sichuan restaurants when I was in NYC to taste how it’s supposed to be, and I’m never able to reach that amount of numbness. Maybe the peppercorn I’m buying is of low quality? I even tried once putting several whole peppercorns in my mouth and chewing them for a couple of minutes, there was some numbness but not a lot, and it went away very quickly (while the numbness at the restaurants stayed away for a long time even after I finished eating). Do you have any idea what the problem might be?

    • 16.1

      hello Noamto, I first of all, thank you for checking out my blog. To answer your question, I see that you have already taken the right steps to maximize the numbness so I am 90% sure that the problem might be from the sichuan peppercorn you use. My family and I have been on an endless quest of looking for the good quality peppercorn in the States. I have tried almost brands of peppercorns I could find in local supermarkets and I have to say most of them are really weak compared to the real deal I am used in Sichuan, China. With that said, most of the time, most of the time I source my peppercorns directly from China. Recently I discovered a brand that’s pretty decent. It’s called “Chuanzhen” brand and it’s in a small green package. These are green peppercorns that are slightly different from the red variety. If you can find it definitely give it a try. I hope this helps your situation a little bit. Please don’t hesitate to let me know if you have any other questions.

      – Yi

      • Hello again Yi, I hope you will still see this after such a long time.
        I managed to mail order some Sichuan peppercorns from China through the internet, both red and green. I didn’t see the brand you mentioned though. I actually got from 2 different vendors, I got red from the first one, and more red (with a brighter colour) and green from the second. I haven’t cooked with them yet, but I did taste the first (dark) red ones and the difference is huge! The numbness was much more strong and long lasting when tasting just one pod of the new ones, compared to a mouthful of the old local ones I bought back then. It was also extremely sour, to the point I could barely handle it.

        Now, since I won’t finish up this amount in the very near future, would it be okay to freeze some of them? Would that not ruin the taste? Because I think that if they sit unused for too long in the cupboard they will lose some taste and aroma. What do you suggest?

        • Hi There, i am glad that you are enjoying the taste of Sichuan peppercorn. I normally store my peppercorn in a well sealed glass jar in cool and dry place. It normally stays good for up to 6 months. The peppercorn unfortunately will gradually loose its flavor over time so if you don’t plan on finishing it soon you might consider making Sichuan peppercorn infused oil to get most out of the peppercorn you have. Just simply heat peppercorn in a pot of oil over low heat for 30 – 60 minutes and use the infused oil in place of Sichuan peppercorn. I hope this helps.

  4. 15

    What type of rice would you serve with this? Sticky or non-sticky? “Flavored” (like Basmati or Jasmine or plain? Is there a type of rice that is used in general in the Sichuan cuisine?

    • 15.1

      Hey Emma, I personally like to serve it with plain jasmine rice. But any plain non-flavored rice should work very well as it will soak up all the glory sauce from the dish:)

  5. 14

    I made this the other day. It’s a nice dish! I was very cautious with the spices, as you warned it might be too hot. It ended up a bit bland, so for me the basic recipe wasn’t too hot at all. The same goes for my girlfriend, who isn’t into the really spicy dishes.

    Nice dish, quick and easy 🙂

    • 14.1

      i see so you can really take spicy food! You can add more chili powder at step 4 to your liking. if spicy is your thing then you’ll definitely like some of my other Sichuan recipes. Thanks for the feedback.

  6. 13

    I just posted a Mapo Tofu recipe (Hong Kong Style) not long ago but I truly love your Siuchuan style one! I love love love spicy food and the chili oil on top of yours scream flavor and deliciousness to me! Can’t wait to try this out. 🙂

  7. 12

    Hey Yi! This mapo tofu looks fabulous! I’ve made mapo tofu before, but not sichuan style. I’m sure it’s extra spicy, just the way I like it. I’m excited to try it! Thanks for sharing the recipe. 🙂

  8. 11

    I love sichuan mapo tofu, such a comforting, delicious and spicy dish…all three in one! Your recipe is fantastic! Tempting too like you said, and yes we do need a lot of steamed rice to help burning mouth, because do I love spicy!

  9. 10

    Extra hot for me! Love this spicy treat

  10. 9

    Wow, this looks fantastic! I can’t believe I haven’t made anything with tofu in such a long time. Weird, because i love it

    • 9.1

      Hello ATasteofMadness, thanks for stopping by at my blog. Yes this is one of my all time favorite tofu dish and you should definitely give it a try if you like tofu or spicy food.

  11. 8

    My absolute favorite dish!! Love the story behind it too – wow! I grew up with the Japanized version growing up in Japan, but quickly fell in love with the real Sichuan mapo tofu. In Japanese we always referred to this as “ma-bo doufu”. I have to try this too, oh gosh too many dishes to try!!

    • 8.1

      I actually like the Japanese version of mabo doufu as well. It’s amazing how popular this dish is around the world. Thanks for dropping by!

  12. 7

    I love your blog!

    If some adaptations of these dishes or anything you can think comes your way that would be good for diabetics, it would be greatly appreciated. The Mapo Tofu recipe seems great. I guess I would just cut down on the rice, use a leaner protein with the tofu. By the way, when you say “spicy bean paste,” what is that? I think I’ve seen it but I am not sure. Thank you for your great work here!

    • 7.1

      Hello GregorSamsa, thanks for dropping by. I agree if you want to make the dish more diabetes-friendly, you can cut down the rice. You can also make the dish vegetarian by omitting the meat or substituting it with shiitake mushroom. Here is a short description i wrote on chili bean paste. It comes in different packages such as this one. Please let me know if you have any other questions. Thanks!

  13. 6

    love mapo tofu too! but unfortunately dont cook it much because it’s a pain gettign hold of tofu, well not really btu I’m lazy to travel to chinatown most times haha. good one!

    • 6.1

      hey shuhan, i don’t buy tofu all the time but when I do i tend to get two packs because I can pretty much finish one pack all by myself in one meal 🙂 Hope you get to hold of some tofu next time you go to Chinatown.

  14. 5

    i have been eating tofu for a few months and haven’t really liked the smell. i can’t wait to try your tip of boiling it in salt water 😀

    • 5.1

      Hey cakewhiz, thanks for visiting my blog. Soaking the tofu in salt water will definitely cut down the smell. Please let me know how it came out for you.

  15. 4

    Hi Yi! I love the Mapo story also, even though I don’t think it’s very nice to address someone by the marks on their face, so hopefully Mrs Chen took it as a turn of endearment…

    I’ve not made authentic Mapo Tofu before, because my daughter is still young, and we are slowly training her taste buds to taste spicy food. Though lately she’s gotten fond of spicy Indian dishes, so maybe it’s time I give your recipe a try!

    • 4.1

      hey Cindy, you can definitely tune down the heat when you cook for your daughter. I hope she’ll like it like I did when I was little.

  16. 3

    Yi, thanks for sharing the recipe! Anyone who thinks tofu is bland or boring must try this dish!

  17. 2

    I love spicy mapo tofu! Wonderful to pour over some Jasmine rice 😉

  18. 1

    I love Mapo Tofu! And the spicier the better. I often make it vegetarian style, without the meat, but I must admit the traditional style is wonderful and might be more flavorful (it depends on how much chili bean paste one uses in the vegetarian version!). Good stuff – thanks so much.

    • 1.1

      I have no doubt that the vegetarian style would taste just as good as the traditional style. I agree with you that if you want to really flavor it up you need to use a little more chili bean paste. Thanks for stopping by!

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