See the previous post for information about mapo tofu and its history.
Want to make mapo tofu? Great! Now, you have to find some ingredients at a Chinese supermarket. If this is your first time making Sichuan food, you may need to grab quite a few! But don’t worry, these ingredients will be used many many times in my recipes.
First step is to find a Chinese supermarket. 99 Ranch Market is a chain, so it is located in many places, especially California. If you live near Los Angeles area though, I recommend going to Hawaii Supermarket in San Gabriel. It’s 1 1/2 hours away from my house, but it is worth going there once in a while for their ingredients. They have so many ingredients not even available in 99, and their prices are much cheaper too. I am sure that in other areas where there are large Chinese population, there are supermarkets similar. Finally, if you live near a Chinatown, you may want to visit the Chinatown (unless in LA, because Chinese near LA don’t visit the Chinatown, they prefer supermarkets in San Gabriel area). Be warned though, whether a Chinatown or a large supermarket, many people will not speak English and it will be hard to find the correct ingredient.
After locating a Chinese supermarket or Chinatown, keep the information and pictures on this website to find the correct ingredients you need.
Format for the names of ingredients:
ENGLISH NAME (simplified Chinese name* – Pinyin** – English pronunciation that approximates the correct Chinese pronunciation***; literal meaning)
* Usually the words in Chinese supermarkets are in traditional Chinese characters, but they will be similar to the simplified characters.
** Pinyin is the official Chinese system for showing Chinese words in English letters.
*** The English pronunciations are not the same as the correct Chinese because the correct Chinese pronunciations include tones, which I cannt describe in English without pronouncing the words myself.
TOFU（豆腐 – dou fu – “doh foo”; “bean curd”）
Tofu is available everywhere now! I get it at health food stores, regular supermarkets, or even Costco. However you may as well pick up tofu when you visit the Chinese supermarket, because it is cheaper. Get the brand that is on sale 🙂 or you can buy fresh tofu, just made on the day you bought it. Get medium firm tofu or soft tofu. Some brands’ firm tofu is more like medium firm, such as House brand (which I often buy, from Costco). Soft and medium firm have different textures, and both work for this dish. I prefer medium firm, but soft tofu is also very good.
GREEN ONIONS（葱 – cong – “tsohng”; has no meaning except “green onions”）
Sometimes these are called “scallions”. These give green color to the dish.
GARLIC（蒜 – suan – “swuhn”; has no meaning except “garlic”）
Garlic is important to Chinese cooking, and you probably have it in your kitchen already!
GINGER（姜 – jiang – “dzyawng”; has no meaning except “ginger”）
Ginger is also important to Chinese cooking. It lasts for weeks, but do not buy too much if you do not plan to cook Chinese food often.
OIL（油 – you – “yoh”; has no meaning except “oil”）
Do you only have olive oil in your kitchen? Sorry, you cannot use it for Chinese cooking because it cannot tolerate high heat and its flavor is not good with Chinese food. Unless it is extra light olive oil. If you only have extra virgin, or virgin, or just “olive oil” (virgin blended with refined), please buy another oil for Chinese cooking. Peanut oil is the best oil; it is healthy, has a good fragrance, and pairs well with Chinese food, as well as tolerating high temperatures. You can use American peanut oil, which is refined to remove the fragrance. However, Chinese peanut oil, Lion and Globe Brand, which comes from Hong Kong, is best. The problem with peanut oil is that it costs a lot of money, and some people are allergic to it. Other oils can be used for Chinese food: canola, corn, or “vegetable” (soybean oil). In many parts of China, including Sichuan, they use an unrefined rapeseed oil not found in the USA. It has unique fragrance and dark color. Canola oil is made from refined rapeseed oil.
Lion and Globe brand peanut oil:
GROUND PORK OR BEEF
Vegetarians can enjoy this dish without the ground meat. I recommend non-vegetarians to use the meat though, because it tastes much better with it.
FERMENTED PASTE OF SALTED FAVA BEANS AND DRY “TWO GOLDEN STRIP” CHILIES FROM PI COUNTY（郫县豆瓣 – Pi Xian dou ban – “pee syehn doh buhn”; “Pi County bean segment”）
From now on, I will refer to this paste as “Pixian douban”, a name derived from the pinyin. This paste is made from fava beans, fermented in a salty brine, combined with dry chilies of the variety “two golden strips” (er jin tiao) and more salt, and fermented more. This is done in Pi County, Sichuan, in a few factories. The most famous and best one is Juan Cheng Pai, which does not label the brand name in English:
This is also one of the two brand from Pi County that I can find in the USA; the other is Chuan Lao Hui. However, I prefer Juan Cheng Pai, and it is also easier to find. You must scan every row of the sauce aisle to find this, and not every Chinese supermarket may have it (99 Ranch Market DOES have it). This ingredient is vital to Sichuan cuisine, and almost no substitutes are permitted. The only one substutute I allow is this paste, imported from Taiwan instead of Pi County. And only use Lan Chi brand’s “Preserved Horse Beans with Chili”, which is the best brand from Taiwan. It comes in a tub instead of the more rustic looking packaging of the Pi County’s paste. However, if you can find the one from Pi County, definitely use it instead of the one from Taiwan!
SHAOXING “HUA TIAO” WINE（绍兴花雕酒 – Shao Xing hua diao jiu – “sholl seeng hwah dyall dzyoh”; “Shaoxing flower drop wine”）
This wine, from the city of Shaoxing, is the best variety of huang jiu, wines made from rice, yellow-ish color, used for cooking and drinking. Only use the Pagoda Brand! Make sure you are using it. There are many, many copycat brands with almost the same bottle! And also do NOT use “Shaoxing cooking wine”, that is low quality and salted. Pagoda Brand makes a red bottle and a blue bottle. The blue bottle is better, so you can get it if you can find it. Here is the blue bottle:
FERMENTED BLACK BEANS WITH GINGER FROM YANGJIANG（阳江姜豉 – Yang Jiang jiang chi – “yawng dzyawng dzyawng ch”; “Sun River ginger fermented beans”）
These beans are a kind of dou chi, fermented black beans. However, this brand is the best one. I only recommend it over all the other brands of dou chi. Soybeans are salted, and fermented with some ginger, in the town of Yangjiang in Guangdong Province. Here is what it looks like; it comes in a cardboard canister!
The rest of the ingredients will be discussed in the next post: