Have you heard of mapo tofu? Maybe you have and maybe not. Chances are, if you do not live in Sichuan Province in China, you have not eaten real mapo tofu. If you like spicy food, this dish is for you!
Mapo tofu, or the Chinese 麻婆豆腐, originated in the city of Chengdu（成都）which is the capital of Sichuan Province. The story goes that an elderly woman with the last name Chen had a face with smallpox scars. She owned a restaurant, and sold a dish with tofu, meat, and strong flavorings, with lots of oil, to the workers in the area. It became known as ma po dou fu, meaning “pockmarked old woman’s tofu”. Her descendants own the restaurant Chen Ma Po Dou Fu（陈麻婆豆腐）on Xi Yu Long（西玉龙）(West Yulong/ West Jade Dragon) Street in Chengdu. This spicy, rich dish is made with the flavors of the local region, and has the savory taste of Pi Xian dou ban（郫县豆瓣）, a fermented paste of fava beans, dry red “Two Golden Strip” chilies, and salt, coming from Pi County, Chengdu. It also has the flavors of a unique Sichuanese spice, Sichuan peppercorns, hua jiao（花椒）, which have a very fragrant and appetizing flavor. It is one of my favorite foods to make and eat.
Actually, I ate it at the Chen Ma Po Dou Fu restaurant last August, when I visited Chengdu. Here are some pictures:
It was really spicy and yummy 🙂
However, the so-called “mapo tofu” in the USA is usually nothing at all like the one in Chengdu. In fact, it usually tastes like “sweet and sour tofu” instead!
Even though this is true, you do not have to fly all the way to Chengdu to eat this yummy dish. It is really easy to make at home. All you need to do is go to the Chinese supermarket and find a few ingredients. Don’t be afraid of finding them because I’ll give you a guide and pictures! Once you start cooking, you’ll have a yummy pot of mapo tofu in a short time. Look forward to the recipe and ingredients posts in the near future. Thanks for reading!
(this part added later) I know that most Americans cannot stand tofu, viewing it as “bland”, “health food”, “only for vegetarians”, “weird”, “disgusting”, and the list goes on. However, Chinese food with tofu is usually not any of the above. In fact, I believe mapo tofu is none of the above.
1. Bland? No, it is really spicy, salty, and makes your mouth numb when you eat it. Of course plain tofu is bland, but the Sichuanese love strong flavors.
2. Health food? No, it is extremely high in sodium and fat (1/2 cup oil for the traditional!). It does have a lot of protein though. I don’t recommend eating mapo tofu often because of its extremely high sodium contents, and that it wastes your cooking oil. Also, it’s hard to eat without a lot of rice…
3. Vegetarian? No, it has pork or beef in it. It can be modified to be vegetarian, but the vegetarian version does not taste nearly as good (sorry vegetarians).
4. Weird? Maybe- if you’ve never had real Chinese food.
5. Disgusting? I believe not!