Easy Oriental Part 5 – Mapo Tofu

Mapo Tofu If you’ve come this far with me in this little series, you may as well go the whole way. No, this one can’t be done with your usual supermarket ingredients. You are going to have to make a trip to the Asian supermarket. But, before you throw your hands in the air and mutter something that demeans your spirit, take my word for it, the journey will be worth it. This is probably the most famous dish from the Szechuan region, a provence famed for it’s fiery food. The bad news is that it is very, very (extremely very) hot. The good news is that it is really easy to prepare. The bonus is hot or not, it is delicious.

Mapo Tofu translates literally into Pock-Marked Old Lady Tofu. This refers to how the chopped pork looks sitting on the tofu (I hope). If done correctly, the hot chili burns your mouth, the Szechuan peppercorns numb your lips and the tofu cools things down a bit, making the whole experience bearable. It is more than bearable. It is wonderful.

Mapo Tofu IngredientsThe Ingredients:

  • 2 pork chops
  • 500 gms of tofu
  • 2 tablespoons of spicy bean sauce
  • 2 teaspoons of hot chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon of chili oil
  • 1 tablespoon of soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of Szechuan peppercorns
  • 2 teaspoons of fermented black beans
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 inch or so of ginger
  • 3 or 4 spring onions

I served it with some rice and tong choi. The tong choi is probably only available in the Asian supermarket. I also had a long cold beer. That was essential. As with much Asian cooking, there is a fair amount of knife work involved. I got my trusty Chinese cleaver out for this one.

The garlic and ginger are the first to get the knife treatment.

The spring onions, garlic and ginger are the first to get the knife treatment.

The big knife might be over the top for cutting tofu but what the hell!

The tofu needs to be cut into cubes, big enough to pop into your mouth (even with numb lips).

The tofu needs to be cut into cubes, big enough to pop into your mouth (even with numb lips).

The big knife comes into it’s own when reducing the pork chops to a corse mince.

Chopping the chops is good fun and gives the knife (and me) a workout.

Chopping the chops is good fun and gives the knife (and me) a workout.

Soak the black beans in warm water. Then fry the peppercorns in a dry pan until they are smoking. Then put them in a mortar.

The peppercorns, hot and smelling nice and smokey.

The peppercorns, hot and smelling nice and smokey.

Then bash them into a fine powder.

A gratuitous Szchuan pepper shot. My first ever!

A gratuitous Szechuan pepper shot. My first ever!

Add some cooking oil and the chili oil to a hot wok.

The first layer of fire is added through the chili oil.

The first layer of fire is added through the chili oil.

When the oil is starting to smoke, add the ginger and garlic.

The garlic and ginger can not be let burn. Your throat will do that later.

The garlic and ginger can not be let burn. Your throat will do that later.

Quickly add the pork and start stir frying. You will know you are doing it right if you make the same distinctive metal on metal, scraping and echoing sounds you hear from a Chinese restaurant kitchen.

Stir in the sauce. Your eyes will probably start to water at this stage.

Stir in the spicy bean sauce. Your eyes will probably start to water at this stage.

Next, add the hot chili powder. At this stage, I steamed the tong choi.

This is what the tong choi looks like. Very tasty.

This is what the tong choi looks like. Very tasty.

Things are heating up nicely now. Stir to mix in the powder. You don't want a mouthful of that.

Things are heating up nicely now. Stir to mix in the powder. You don’t want a mouthful of that.

Add the black beans, soy sauce and chopped spring onions. Turn the heat down and simmer to cook the pork through. This should not take long.

The dish looks at its most evil at this stage. Very hot!

The dish looks at its most evil at this stage. Very hot!

Fold in the tofu, making sure to not break it up too much. Warm it through. Last thing to do is to sprinkle the Szechuan peppercorn powder over the dish and fold in.

Time to man up and serve the fiery deliciousness. Brace yourself.

Time to man up and serve the fiery deliciousness. Brace yourself.

Serve with rice, and the vegetable of your choice.

I will be doing this again. It's easy to prepare and delicious.

I will be doing this again. It’s easy to prepare and delicious.

I don’t want to put you off. This was very fiery. It was also extremely tasty and very well worth doing. The only thing you need to do that is out of the ordinary is make that trip to the Asian supermarket. Go for it. I guarantee you will not regret it.

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Latest comments
  • That is so appetizing! All the ingredients I like and a couple of my brands in the jars 🙂

    • Do give it a spin Rosemary. Well worth the pain.

  • It looks delicious, but it’s one I’m not even going to try because I’m a total wuss about fiery foods. Love to be close enough to inhale the aroma, though…

    • The aromas were pretty special too. A pity you won’t ever enjoy it.

  • Mapo tofu is one of the most appetizing dishes to go with rice. While the ingredients are simple, it takes skill to control the heat of the wok. Judging from your photos, you’ve done a good job! 🙂

    • Too kind. Controlling the heat in my mouth was not so easy!

  • The basic sauce is great with eggplant too if you don’t like tofu.

    • Good call. Eggplant would also have a calming effect.

  • I think I’ve had this before. I worked at a Japanese restaurant owned by a couple guys from Taiwan, and some of their friends staffed it. Since they worked 12 hour days, they’d make their own breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They made enough for everyone, and we had something that looked very much like this quite a bit. It was pretty spicy, and I liked it with scrambled eggs.

    • I’d say it would be delicious with scrambled eggs too Amber.

  • Nice post, Conor. Baby Lady and I love Mapo Tofu. Also, we love shopping at the Asian Markets. They always have fun and interesting items.

    • Thanks Richard, A lot of heat but well worth the sweat.

  • So simple and it looks so flavoursome! I always go the whole way, Conor, and I’m glad I did in this instance too. Delicious. Now I just need to take you cycling and show you the true meaning of going all the way…

    • I went all the way on Saturday, up the Wicklow Mountains in the cold and low cloud. I am still feeling it in my thighs. I could have done with some Mapo Tofu up there.

  • I prefer pork with my tofu. I like this. I love going to our huge Asian Market in Seattle when I get the chance. It’s the size of costco and way better. thanks for another Asian inspiration. wt

  • Oh, so lovely and inviting. I’m sure I’d love it. Now if only I could fool my daughters into thinking the tofu is chicken…

    • Tell them it’s environmentally friendly, meat free, chicken. That should do it.

  • Until I tried Mapo Tofu, I didn’t think I could eat tofu! Lao Sze Chuan in Chicago surprised me with a delicious extremely spicy vegetarian version of this dish! don’t the Sichuan peppercorns smell incredible?

    • I have to say this is a truly fantastic dish high aromas, loads of flavour and long aftertaste. Hot as a hot thing too!

  • When I’m off my juice diet I’ll give it a whirl for definite, but no to tofu, as usual informative, amusing and mouth watering.

    • Thanks Liam, I’ll gladly cook it for you guys any time.

  • OMG this looks gorgeous. It’s so authentic and delicious. I had something just like this recently in a restaurant and never dreamed of recreating it. Thank you for doing this. I just may do it. Your photos are stunning. My mouth is watering!!! This is one of the first times i’ve really just wanted to reach in and eat what i’m looking at.

    • Thanks Amanda. Glad to be of help and nice of you to say so.

  • Laughing and looking forward to trying your recipe ~ methinks mine is slightly different, but can’t find it at the moment to compare! Living in Oz don’t have to > Chinese supermarket as these are ingredients we use almost every day!! Actually I first learned about Mapo Tofu from the ‘Iron Chef’ series – it seemed to be prepped almost every episode 🙂 . Love tofu so no problems there, love heat, but one can turn that up or down!! Thank you heaps . . .!!! Nice plating also!!!

    • Thanks Eha, I was delighted with this one. Even our heat averse enjoyed it.

  • You are very convincing. I’ll do it. We absolutely love fiery food and I rather enjoy a trip to our Asian Supermarket. If only I could read the packaging though. 🙂 I’ll figure it out, believe me. Thank you for the recipe and the encouragement to try to cook something new and different!

    • Excellent. Do post it. I’d love to see the different experiences.

  • This is one Part too many, Conor. I’d be willing to bet that it would be a bit too hot for my tastes. (My eyes were watering looking at your photos!) The post was well-written and photographed, though. I’ll go sit with the children now.

    • Thanks John, I admire your honesty and openness. Not for everyone but I did enjoy it.

  • Whoa! Did you use the whole tablespoon of sichuan pepper? I recently used 2 tsp for a similar amount of food and it was very tasty but also too hot (lip numbing indeed). I think I’ve just used the same veg for the first time. Great post!

    • Thanks Stefan, the peppercorns seem to lose any real heat and just do the numbing thing. Perhaps they don’t stand out too much with the chili powder and chili oil…

      • As I also the sichuan pepper together while chile pepper, I am not sure but I think that it was very similar for me with the sichuan being more numbing than spicy.

  • Thats impressive tofu. Any tofu I have ever tried to work with is always too wet or falls to bits, no matter how much compression I give it. I think I will have to return to the Wing Yip and take another look…

    • Do give it a whirl. It really is wonderful(ly) hot.

  • The fiery the better, Conor. While the name “pock-marked old lady tofu” leaves something to be desired, the finished meal looks fantastic. I’m really impressed that you’ve done 5 recipes in this series. Can we expect an other Oriental treasures from you?

    • I’m only warming up Tommy, if you will pardon the awful pun.

      • Ha. And by awful you mean appropriate. 🙂 Can’t wait!

  • Our Chinese supermarket does insanely hot noodle soup. A great pick me up.

    • I am planning hot and sour soup later in the series. Mind you, it tends to not be that hot.

  • I had no idea that mapo tofu was ‘pock marked old lady tofu’!!!! Ha! Your version looks incredible. I am a big fan of this dish, even though in general I’m not a huge fan of Chinese food! Great photos too Conor.

  • Damn, i can barely smells the szechuan peppercorn when you stir fry it!
    btw, i love to made this kind of preparation with eggplant or french bean too……

    • Hi Dedy,
      You are the second person to suggest eggplant. I must give it a go.
      Best,
      Conor

  • Speaking of comfort food, this is very much the food of my home. Having spent a little time in the northern regions of China, (visiting family and such,) I can attest to eating green capsicum stir fry with meat (and being somewhat shocked) to discover they were slivered jalapeño’s instead. Spicy!

    Mapo is something my dad makes for us and it’s the perfect in between food. Often in the fridge in my parents home (and ready for a bowl) of delicious rice. Just like yours!

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