Mapo tofu, also called mapo doufu, is a Chinese dish consisting of tofu or bean curd in a thin, red colored oily suspension which is actually a bean based sauce, which is mostly cooked with minced meat. It is a spicy dish from the Sichuan cuisine with several variations made by including additional ingredients like onions, water chestnuts or Judae's Ear mushrooms. Authentic Mapo tofu is extremely spicy, and contains the numbness or "mala" characteristic of the Sichuan cuisine.
Ingredients and Preparation
The most significant ingredients that is responsible for giving the dish its characteristic flavor include chili broad bean paste sourced from the Pixian county of Sichuan, chili flakes, chili oil, fermented black beans, green onions, garlic, Sichuan peppercorns and rice wine. Other ingredients are stock or water, starch which is used as a thickener and sugar.
The preparation involves marinating ground pork with soy sauce and tapioca starch and then stir frying it and cooking with beans, chili, stock, blanched tofu, green onions and leeks for a couple of minutes. Water, corn starch and soy sauce are also mixed in this sauce while cooking.
Mapo tofu is served hot with accompaniments such as steamed rice. This Sichuan dish can be found on the menus of Chinese restaurants across the world.
- Japanese Version: In Japan, the dish is called mabo tofu and was introduced by the first Sichuan restaurant opened here by Chen Kenmin in the 1950s. This version of the dish was less oily and spicy than the original one as Chen used sweet bean paste in it as an additional ingredient.
- American Version: The spiciness is reduced to make the dish suit American tastes. Besides this, vegetarian variants are also prepared for non-meat eating people by inclusion of vegetables instead of meat. The common American version consists of vegetables, a sweet and sour sauce and very little spiciness.
- Vegetarian Version: A vegetarian version called Mala doufu, which is not as popular as Mapo tofu, is prepared by omitting the use of meat, rest of the recipe remaining the same.
- Authentic Mapo Tofu is described by the Chinese by use of seven adjectives, each of which characteristic should be there to make the true version of the dish- spicy hot, numbing, fresh, hot temperature, aromatic, tender and flaky.
- Legend goes that Mapo tofu was invented by an old woman who had a pock-face. She was sent out of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan due to her disfigured face and lived alone. Once a trader visited her shack, and it is said that she was so delighted with the company that she put together whatever ingredients were available in her shack to make a dish which is now called Mapo tofu.