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Feb 11, 2008 07:27 AM

Ma Po Tofu

This cold weather has me in the mood for Ma Po Tofu. Does anyone have a favorite place for this dish? I imagine Szechuan Tasty House must do a killer version (they seem to do a killer version of everything). How about Shiao Lan Kung or Lee How Fook (that's the thread that's led me down this path). Is this a favorite of any Philly Chow Hounds?

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  1. This is my all-time favorite dish, and yes I think Szechuan Tasty House does the best version in Philly. Theirs is hotter than Chungking Garden's, since it has that extra little kick of spicy hot, but both have copious amounts of flower pepper (the numbing sichuan pepper). I like the 'ma la' (numbing spicy and hot spicy) of the Sichuan version. The dish originated in Sichuan province. So I almost never order the dish at Cantonese restaurants like Shiao Lan Kung or Lee How Fook--it's made with more black bean, and pretty much no hot pepper.

    7 Replies
      1. re: Dib

        can you tell me what this dish is?

        1. re: Bigley9

          I think Dib can do a better job, but to me, it's a spicy tofu dish with ground pork. I believe it usually has peas as well.

          1. re: Bigley9

            I would say the main ingredients in ma po doufu are beef or pork (purists would say only beef, but I like both), hua jiao (flower pepper = sichuan pepper), tofu, and lots of red oil (you really need to eat this dish with rice, like most good Chinese food). Cantonese versions tend to add extra ingredients like mushrooms, peas, water chestnuts. If you want to cook it, try Fuchsia Dunlop's Land of Plenty. Here's her recipe:
            It's the third recipe. Sidenote: the first recipe is the -real- kung pao chicken.

            If you want to eat it, my first choice would be Szechuan Tasty House. For a Sichuan ma po doufu comparison, also try Chungking Garden and (as recommended below) Four Rivers. Four Rivers used to be my favorite for years, but something happened about two years ago (family troubles for the chef, I heard) and their food is not nearly as good any more; the ma po doufu got unpleasantly sour. After the third time I had an all-around disappointing dinner at Four Rivers I had to give up going there, even though I really liked the friendly waitstaff. As for Yue Kee, I couldn't even finish the ma po doufu because it was extremely salty. But that's just my opinion. Try it at any of those places for yourself and see what you think.

              1. re: Dib

                I don't know about the idea of purists only using beef. I've been to China several times and to my knowledge, it's always been 100% pork (meat).

            1. re: Dib

              4 Rivers has the best Ma po tofu in Pennsylvania.
              9th and Race

            2. Yue Kee food truck in between Walnut and Locust on 38th St. Great, great mapodofu. LeBan gave it 2 bells, fwiw...

              1. I found this on Chung King Garden's Web site:

                Legend of the Má Pó To Fu
                Legend says that the Má Pó was a leprous widow who lived near the ancient Chinese city of Sichuan. Due to her condition, her home was placed on the outskirts of the city. By coincedence, it was near a road where goods carriers often passed. Although the rich merchants could afford to stay within the numerous inns of the prosperous city while waiting for their goods to sell, poor farmers would stay in cheaper inns scattered along the sides of roads on the outskirts of the ancient city.

                It is said that the first people who tasted the Má Pó's cooking were a farmer and his son who arrived late to the city during a terrible rainstorm. They were forced to find shelter in the Má Pó's home having found that all of the inns were full.

                Eager for the company, the Má Pó prepared them a meal out of her paulty larder, now know as Mápó dòufu. The dish was so delicious that soon each time the father and son passed the Má Pó's home they would stay for a meal. In this way, the Má Pó's reknown spread as other goods carriers joined the father and son in visiting and staying at the Má Pó's home. These visitors would often bring the ingredients for her dish so as not to burden the Má Pó's larder.

                As time passed, the dish evolved. However, the core ingredients has always been: an ounce of ground pork, a few ounces of dòufu, and an ample amount of chili.

                1. This is an interesting thread for me, as I'm a vegetarian and one of my all-time favorite dishes is a ma po tofu that I used to order religiously when I was in grad school (like, 4 or 5 times / week!). It was definitely more of the Sichuan variety than Cantonese, but meat-free. I've been pining for it for years now, but the only vegetarian versions I've found in the area have been the not-very-spicy Cantonese variety w/ frozen carrots and peas added to a rather bland brown sauce. If I add a ton of chili sauce to the dish, I find that it's passable, but I'm still desperate to find a good veg'n version to savor that will bring me back to my grad school days. Any thoughts / suggestions? The best I've found so far is at Su Xing on Sansom...

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: spyturtle008

                    I've ordered the ma po doufu without the meat at Szechuan Tasty House. It's not on the menu, but they will do special orders. Make sure they know that you are vegetarian, so they don't use chicken broth in your food.