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Jan 12, 2007 02:28 PM

Ma Po Tofu - So many variations, what is the proper way?

I'm just wondering - what is the proper / authentic way for Ma Po Tofu to be prepared? I've tried Ma Po at about five different restaraunts, and overall its one of my favorite dishes, but between these five or so places the preparation is very inconsistent. Its always got tofu in it and its always spicy, but beyond that it seems very varied - a) once place had big chunks of meat, while some other places list it in the vegiterian section of their menu while others do not but theirs does not have any apparent meat b) some places use a red sauce, others a brown sauce c) vegatable content seems to vary - at some places a lot of stuff like carrots and baby corn even while at other places it seems to be maily onion adn waterchessnuts d) usually the tofu seems steamed / boiled, but occasionaly its arrived with fried tofu e) at one place, it had a very distinct roasted flavor. So how is it *really* supposed to be prepared?

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  1. I believe the dish originated in the Sichuan Province and can be poorly translated to "pock-marked woman's tofu."

    This since has been heartily adopted by the Japanes people which have contributed their own permutations to the dish.

    I believe Fuschia Dunlop has a recipe in her, "Land of Plenty" cookbook re. Sichuanese cuisine - you may want to check there for an authentic recipe.

    You could also eschew authenticity and pick up House brand Mabo Tofu sauce, which is a personal guilty pleasure of mine.

    7 Replies
    1. re: kare_raisu

      Co-sign! I get the "Hot", and kick it up with fresh ginger, a little garlic, fermented chile peppers and sichuan peppercorns. I add a little ground meat (usually beef, will try pork next time).

      1. re: kare_raisu

        This is an excellent recipe. could replace bean sauce with dark miso. is a must, I add a little extra tobanjan that I fry in the oil.

        1. re: kare_raisu

          On Iron Chef (the original), it was stated more than once that the father of Tetsujin Chen (IC Chinese) invented Ma-Po Tofu - if true, it doesn't sound like it's that old.

          1. re: applehome

            I thought it was a chili shrimp dish that he was supposed to have originated.

            1. re: Allstonian

              I went ahead and looked it up in wiki - they say:

              "Chen Kenmin is considered the father of Chinese Sichuan cooking in Japan. He introduced "Prawns in Chili Sauce" (Gongboxiaren) and "Mapo doufu" to the island nation."


              Kare is right - the actual origination of Mapo tofu is sichuan, and they note the pock-marked woman legend.

              1. re: applehome

                Chin's mabo dofu, from the Kita, Tokyo branch of his m.d. restaurants:


                There are three types, and I'm not sure what the differences are. I chose the one with dried shrimp and pork. Not scorching hot, but strongly spiced, with a dark, complex sauce. From my experience (mostly local, low-end chinese restaurants, and the aforementioned House mix), this was the best I've had.

          2. When I had it in Sichuan, it often had ground pork on it, although not much. The sauce was dark red and chunky with bit s of peppercorns. Veggies would consist of a bit of chopped scallion at the most. the tofu was definitely steamed. The roasted flavour I noted came from toasting the Sichuan peppercorns before using them.

            3 Replies
            1. re: jcanncuk

              This is the true classic preparation of Mapo Tofu.

              1. re: yen

                Yes, and very oily, not with a thick brown sauce as many places serve it.

              2. re: jcanncuk

                When I had it near Chengdu more than a decade ago, the tofu was in thin oily broth and I don't recall any pork (whoops if there was as I am and was a vegetarian), but there may well have been but such a small amount I didn't notice. It was definitely spicy but not painfully so and, yes, I'd agree the tofu was steamed. I don't remember any vegetables at all, but it was a long time ago. I bought it from a roaming vendor at a train station and it was delicious and satisfying.

              3. I'm no expert on the subject and in fact recently have become enamored of this dish due to a post by Mabziegurl on the Home Cooking board...oh, it is so delicious! And spicy! I've tried the ma po at PF Chang' is NOTHING like the recipe I have from Mabziegurl and I don't like it at all. I think the fermented black beans and hot chili paste are what make Ma Po so distinctive in my mind anyway, especially from what I've read on line about this dish. Mabziegurl's has only a small amount of ground pork in it and it's marinated in soy sauce before browning and of course, there's tofu in it. Fresh ginger pieces are also in her recipe, just awesome.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Val

                  I agree. The dish is MUCH better with the fermented black beans and a hot chili paste than with one of the "Ma Po" jarred sauces. And no ginger for me, please.

                2. No expert here either, but I do love the dish. It usually has ground pork in it, and most places that I get it from here in Manhattan include scallions and green peas. Never had carrots or baby corn in it.

                  1. I love MaPo Tofu!!! And there are probably numerous "authentic" (that word again) ways to prepare it... and one of those things that picks up more varieties as it moves around the world.

                    I have a friend (Hong Kong born) who insists it must be made with a bit of tomato ketchup and vinegar (in addition to the "usual" ingredients). I've added the vinegar, but usually use a touch of tomato paste instead of ketchup.

                    I like it on the spicy side, so I really like to add a few spoons of a jarred spicy chili-garlic sauce (like Lee Kum Kee brand or any of the various asian brands available). I happen to prefer extra-firm tofu, but I've had it in restaurants where it seems extra-soft. I have never put vegetables in it nor had that in a restaurant -- scallions at most, though water chestnuts are kind of good too for some crunch.

                    I find this one of the easiest things to make at home and I can't stop eating because it's so succulent. I actually haven't made it for awhile, so thanks for reminding me! I may whip up a batch this weekend.