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Sep 3, 2008 05:16 AM

Ma Po Bean Curd

My daughter is moving from Philadelphia to Boston to attend Northeastern University. Her favorite dish is Ma Po Bean Curd, especially the way it is made in some Sichuan restaurants here in Philly. Who does a good job with this dish in Boston?

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  1. Great to have another Philly person up here...

    While there must be a bunch of places in Boston proper, if she comes out here to shop in Framingham, she should go to Sichuan Gourmet on Route 9 for what I feel is one of the world's best Ma Po Bean Curds...Sichuan Province included ! Order up lots of water before she starts because this has a real kick to it..The clientele is about 4 to 1 Asian on any given night ..and this is in the we're talking authentic Sichuan.

    5 Replies
    1. re: pondrat

      "One of the world's best ma po bean curds" is awfully big talk. I got addicted to the stuff for good on two trips to Chengdu when I spent a year in China a decade ago. The one time I was underwhelmed by the food at Sichuan Gourmet, I was especially disappointed by a flat, one-note ma po doufu. To me, a great ma po has to have a good balance between the blazing heat of the chiles and the numbing citrus note of the Sichuan peppercorns, and a great ma po also has depth of flavor from black bean paste and other goodies, and SGourmet's just didn't measure up for me.

      I will concede that even the best Sichuan restaurants have "on" nights and "off nights," and nobody has been universally consistent (partly this is because you're dependent on how fresh your Sichuan peppercorns are and how expertly they're handled; the one consistent guy has been Qun Li at New Taste of Asia, may it rest in peace). IMO, though, the best ma pos are made at (in descending order of quality):

      Sichuan Garden (Brookline Village and Woburn)
      FuLoon (Malden Center)
      Red Pepper (Framingham; not as good for heat, excellent for depth of flavor; more details at
      )Sichuan Gourmet (Framingham and B'rica)
      Chilli Garden / Anise (Medford / Kendall Square)
      Zoe's (Somerville/Cambridge line)

      And I agree with aromatherapy that Sichuan cookery is not a strength in Chinatown -- I'd take the Orange Line from Chinatown out to Malden Center long before taking a trip to Taiwan Cafe specifically for mapo doufu.

      375 Main St, Malden, MA 02148

      Sichuan Garden
      295 Washington St, Brookline, MA 02445

      1. re: Dr.Jimbob

        I cook with Sezchuan peppercorns all the time and the reason I like the Sichuan Gourmet in Framingham is because I sense the "middle of the tongue numbness" when I order the dish. I admittedly may have just been lucky that their peppercorn "flowers" were at their prime...I need to make a trip over to Red Pepper to compare....based on your comment about depth of flavor...

        1. re: pondrat

          As I warned, I would not expect blazing heat or overwhelming numbing -- Red Pepper's staff has toned down the heat, I suspect in an effort to try not to alienate the local clientele. But the depth and complexity of the flavor there is quite interesting, and has turned up that way on several tries.

          I have tried the ma po doufu at Sichuan Gourmet, and at a (now defunct) place in Somerville whose chef was supposedly a former employee of Sichuan Gourmet. Both preparations came up flat and uninteresting for me.

          My nomination for best ma po in the New England region would go to Clinton's Taste of China (Chuan Yuan in Chinese), which is on Route 1 in Clinton CT (though they too are not consistent on the quality of the peppercorns either). For the best on the planet, you'd have to look in Chengdu (where the dish was invented by a stall/cart cook) or Chongqing.

          Taste of China
          233 E Main St, Clinton, CT 06413

          1. re: Dr.Jimbob

            Yes and the Chinese characters for Ma Po actually translate into a "pock marked woman" who was supposedly banished to the outskits of town ...but fortunately her property was on the route of traders who fell in love with her dish.

            1. re: Dr.Jimbob

              Yeah,but it's far enough from Northeastern that she may as wll go back to Philly!

      2. Sichuan Garden in Woburn and Brookline also does a very credible and authentic version

        2 Replies
        1. re: RoyRon

          Ma pa tofu is my favorite food. As noted above, Sichuan Garden in Brookline makes it very well and, most importantly, it's very close to the Brookline Village T stop so your daughter can reach it.

          1. re: lergnom

            Another vote for SG....If out in Frramingham, tho, I'd hit Red Chili, becasue they do those Ma La items very well....

        2. I've had it at Fuloon in Malden, and I thought it was very good.

          1. I think it's fantastic at Taiwan Café. Every time I go there I try to get something else but often seem to get their Ma Po Tofu. In fact, I think a trip there soon is in order...

            1 Reply
            1. re: tlk

              The Kid and i are fans of MPT at TC also.

            2. Thanks for all the replies. It looks like there is nothing special in Boston's Chinatown. Wonder why you have to travel outside the city for good food.

              5 Replies
              1. re: dspilkia

                "nothing special in Boston's Chinatown"


                for your OP Taiwan Cafe in CTown is excellent.

                as for the general Chow-worthiness of CTown i would suggest Best Little Restaurant, Peach Farm, Hong Kong Eatery, King Fung Garden, Windsor Dim Sum, Xinh Xinh et al....

                1. re: dspilkia

                  Chinatown's strengths are not Sichuanese, that's all.

                  1. re: dspilkia

                    Mary Chung also does a decent version. While not in Boston proper, it's just as easy to get to as any other city spot.

                    Oops sorry - forgot to add, it's in Cambridge in Central Sq.

                    1. re: dspilkia

                      Er...Boston's Chinatown is primarily Cantonese. So complaining that there aren't any good Sichuan restaurants there is rather like going to an Sicilian neighborhood and complaining that there aren't any good German restaurants.

                      I'm also puzzled by the "outside the city" comment. No one who actually lives here considers Brookline, Cambridge, Malden, etc. "outside" the city.

                      Anyway, I concur that the best I've had is at Sichuan Garden, but given how good everything else at Fuloon is, I have no doubt that their ma po tofu is equally outstanding. One that I haven't seen mentioned is Jo Jo Taipei in Allston -- for a place that doesn't specialize in Sichuan cuisine, the dishes I've had there are surprisingly tasty, and the ma po tofu lunch special is cheap and tasty.