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Ma Po Tofu (Dofu) adventures

Ferrari328 Jun 28, 2010 11:47 AM

I had convinced my self that I don't like tofu, never would, period. But the more I thought about Ma Po dofu, the less convinced did I become and more curious and I started to eat a bit of the tofu that comes in the Hot and Sour soups at my favorite Sichuan restaurants. It was worth a try, so on a recent visit to Sechuan Garden in Medford I took a gamble and ordered it and it was delicious! Bowled me over! It was medium spicy and served with meat and had a good Mala.
Next of was Sichuan Gourmet in Billerica, who I had high hopes for. No meat and very very mild, not very exiting at all. The leftovers extruded a lot of water.
Lunch at Sichuan Garden II in Woburn yielded a very tasty version even if it was meatless and had little Mala. Next time I try it spicier, this one has great potential.
Next was Fuloon in Malden, no meat but super tasty, it helped that they had ground Sichuan peppecorns sprinkled on top. NO heat and little Mala, again great potential.
Off to Formosa Tapei in Lexington for a takeout. This was more like Ma Po soup, no meat, some heat and the more I did eat the more watery it become. No Mala.
Lastly was Sechuan Chef in Chelmsford, Wayne is an old friend, I used to eat here a lot when working in Nashua. Ma Po is not on the lunch menu and he has two version, one meatless and one with meat and that was what I ordered. This was excellent, good spiciness, really good Mala, nice consistency on the sauce and a humongous portion for $8.99. I think this was the winner but I got it spiced appropriate for me and have to retry the places that was low on heat and Mala to make it fair. All of the above was off the lunch menus, except Sichuan Chef.

Sichuan Gourmet
502 Boston Rd, Billerica, MA 01821

Sichuan Garden II
2 Alfred St, Woburn, MA 01801

  1. justbeingpolite Mar 22, 2012 12:22 PM

    I've recently had the Ma Po Tofu on the lunch menu at Sechuan Palace in Chelmsford (in the strip with Sakura), and found it quite good. Have you tried this, Ferrari, as you seem to be in the area?
    They tend to be a little up and down on their sichuan dishes, but I think they've improved a bit recently. The MPT was definitely less "soupy" than at Sichuan Gourmet in Billerica, and has meat in it.

    2 Replies
    1. re: justbeingpolite
      Ferrari328 Mar 23, 2012 10:52 AM

      justbeingpolite, thank you for the post! Went there today for lunch and the MPT was excellent! Same location as a previous Chinese restaurant that got 1 visit from me. This place just opened 3 months ago and was really busy at lunch. The rest of the menu looked excellent so I asked the manager (Owner?) where the chef had worked before and I wasn't really surprised when she said Top Garden in Tewksbury Yeahh! The missing chef is found! Address is 7 summer St in Chelmsford. Lunch special Sichuan Duck takeout for tonight.

      1. re: Ferrari328
        tatsu Mar 23, 2012 12:54 PM

        That is so funny, good Chinese chefs can't get away from us if they tried! It's like we have RF collars on them, lol.

    2. tatsu Mar 21, 2012 01:26 PM

      Well, if you want a Ma Po Tofu adventure, I tried making it myself. And you know what? It's just about the easiest thing I've ever made. I am so addicted I'm eating it twice a week for a couple weeks in a row.

      The really hard part was finding all the ingredients. Those smaller markets in Chinatown or in local neighborhoods? Forget it. It's the big C-Marts or Kan Mans.

      I posted my recipe on tumblr, and it's a very long intricate recipe with sourcing, prep, cooking, variations, and what inauthentic recipes do. Also, it's targeted towards vegetarians but still very traditional. If you want pork and chicken stock, it's pretty obvious what to do.

      You can check it out and tell me what you think if you make it. http://tatsuikeda.tumblr.com

      I made it because I was just sick of striking out on bad Ma Po Tofus in otherwise great restaurants, my favorite Taiwanese places included. I just can't always go to Malden or run to Chinatown when I want it. Now, I can keep everything in the pantry and if I have silken tofu, I'm all set!

      Despite the length of the recipe, it takes 20 minutes, for reals.

      11 Replies
      1. re: tatsu
        liangpi Mar 21, 2012 01:35 PM

        I am really intrigued. Can you post a picture??

        1. re: liangpi
          tatsu Mar 21, 2012 01:56 PM

          I have a lousy cell phone pic in my facebook... But I can honestly say it's nearly as good as Fuloon, and just as good looking!

          1. re: liangpi
            tatsu Mar 22, 2012 11:27 AM

            I put up a step by step "photo" recipe up on fb but here's a pic of the finished product. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fb...

            1. re: tatsu
              PainterGirl Mar 24, 2012 08:26 AM

              Damn, now I want Ma Po!! Great pic, gotta wipe drool from keyboard...

          2. re: tatsu
            Luther Mar 21, 2012 07:08 PM

            No more whole dried facing heaven peppers at Super 88/HK Supermarket? I guess that makes sense, their selection kinda sucks these days.

            1. re: Luther
              liangpi Mar 21, 2012 07:31 PM

              Got some a week or two ago @hi market allston

            2. re: tatsu
              Jenny Ondioline Mar 21, 2012 09:40 PM

              I've been making my own ma po tofu for years, using my own slight alteration of the recipe in Fuchsia Dunlop's Land of Plenty. (I too skip the tofu-blanching step, having found it makes a minimal difference at best to omit it.) It's a simple enough dinner that I can usually make it, some choy and some long beans with pork in the time it takes me to cook a pot of rice.

              However, I've bought broad bean paste with chili (the only ingredient that's particularly hard to find) at Hong Kong Market, the place in Union Square Somerville, at least one small Chinatown shop -- it's not actually that hard to find, once you know what you're looking for. It helps to keep a photo on your cell phone of the Chinese characters, just for confirmation if you're confronted with a brand you haven't seen before.

              1. re: tatsu
                chickendhansak Mar 22, 2012 08:55 AM

                Nice posting (here and on Tumblr) and your Hackintosh recipe looks good too!

                At home we use Fuchsia Dunlop's recipe and also like the results. I haven't had anything tastier in a restaurant, though I haven't been to some of the places people talk about on this thread either.

                1. re: chickendhansak
                  tatsu Mar 22, 2012 11:28 AM

                  Fuloon's is definitely great. I haven't tried New Shanghai but it sounds promising.

                  1. re: chickendhansak
                    Chefmyron Mar 22, 2012 03:52 PM

                    My efforts have been modeled after the version served way down south in North Haven CT at Formosa. You have to ask for the "traditional" menu as the "Fusion" menu that is regularly handed out is typical suburban CT up priced. I've been playing around with it for about a year. It is a simple dish. I use coarsely ground or chopped fatty pork from the shoulder or even belly. Soft sliken tofu is mandatory (I think). I use some fermented black bean and Lan Chi chili/bean paste. I garnish with the Szichuan peppercorn which I "roast" to fragrance quickly in a dry wok.

                    1. re: Chefmyron
                      tatsu Mar 23, 2012 12:57 PM

                      That is so coincidental! I roasted mine the other day on a whim. It alters it somewhat - it is more fragrant, but tones down the extreme menthol taste. There is a surprising amount of oil in there. In fact, sichuan peppercorn oil would be awfully convenient. Maybe I'll figure out a way to make it. I liked it overall, so I added that step to my recipe. Thanks for pointing out!

                2. l
                  liangpi Mar 3, 2012 09:02 PM

                  The Mapo Tofu at Jojo Tai Pei is not hugely Ma La-- there are sichuan peppercorns but few and far between. Decently hot and sort of nice small pieces of everything very nicely presented. I'd still rather go down the street to OotK for a cheaper, spicier more Ma La version. But for people who don't want to eat in a food court, its pretty decent.
                  The Mapo Tofu at Mary Chung (lunch menu) is not Ma La at all and not worth discussing further. I fail to see why this restaurant garners so much enthusiasm. Anyone?

                  Mary Chung Restaurant
                  460 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02139

                  JoJo Tai Pei Restaurant
                  103 Brighton Ave, Boston, MA 02134

                  23 Replies
                  1. re: liangpi
                    Luther Mar 4, 2012 05:06 AM

                    Mary Chung seems to have been grandfathered in or something. It's basically an awful Chinese-American mediocrefest but it's a "Cambridge institution" so it gets props from time to time.

                    1. re: Luther
                      chickendhansak Mar 4, 2012 10:59 AM

                      One dish does not make a restaurant but maybe suan la chow show does right? It is very, very good.

                      Zoe's also make a very bland MPT/D.

                      1. re: chickendhansak
                        Luther Mar 4, 2012 03:38 PM

                        I've had their SLCS twice and both times I was totally baffled why anyone thinks it's so great. I'd rather have a decent Sichuanton from pretty much anywhere else.

                        1. re: Luther
                          chickendhansak Mar 5, 2012 09:09 AM

                          More than happy to hear of specific better examples. I'd like to try them.

                          1. re: chickendhansak
                            lipoff Mar 5, 2012 10:06 AM

                            Fuloon has terrific "wonton with special hot sauce."

                            I am not a big fan of Mary Chung's, however, I do think there are a few very good dishes on their menu, notably the scallion pancakes and the dun dun noodles with shredded chicken, and their weekend brunch is pretty good too. I think their good location (for MIT anyway), longevity, friendliness, and a few good, authentic dishes on an otherwise generic Americanized-Chinese menu are enough to elevate Mary Chung's above ordinary. I wouldn't go out of my way to go there, and rarely would choose it specifically over Mulan or Thailand Cafe, but I don't fight when other people want to go there, in the way that I refuse to go to Yenching in Harvard Square.

                        2. re: chickendhansak
                          nickls Mar 5, 2012 08:37 AM

                          Last time I had Ma Po Tofu at Zoe's it was definitely not bland. It was loaded with ma la and very good. This was several months ago.

                          1. re: nickls
                            chickendhansak Mar 5, 2012 09:05 AM

                            I had it there the other day and even asked for it ma la and got bland, unfortunately. They have sichuan peppercorn in other dishes so I am not sure why. I've had the same experience every time with their MPT, but I've had it only about four times in total, so it's possible I've been unlucky. In fact the last two tries have been purely to give it another shot.

                            There are some things I have there about once a week (e.g. the "chicken chong style") which have some ma la quotient but even that is slightly inconsistent.

                            1. re: chickendhansak
                              jgg13 Mar 5, 2012 04:34 PM

                              I find Zoe to be very inconsistent in general. I used to order from them weekly (or more), lately it's been a lot less. But over the years I've had to chalk these things up to them having different chefs because there was just too much variation to explain otherwise (to the extent that certain items would appear to arrive as 2-3 completely different dishes to my western eyes).

                              I've had this experience with the MPT at Zoe, it's ranged from very bland to very not bland.

                              1. re: jgg13
                                chickendhansak Mar 6, 2012 10:33 AM

                                I tend to order from only a small range of things and still find a little inconsistency, I agree. It is my local, so it gets more trade than it might otherwise.

                                P.S. Are you possibly hypercorrecting? It really is "Zoe's" :)

                                1. re: chickendhansak
                                  jgg13 Mar 6, 2012 01:21 PM

                                  It's listed that way on something i look at, but I can't figure out where it is now. Maybe it used to say it that way on yelp or foodler or something - I remember it being the differentiation between that and the other place outside of harvard sq. who knows :)

                        3. re: Luther
                          rich patina Mar 4, 2012 11:58 AM

                          you are painfully wrong luther

                          1. re: rich patina
                            Luther Mar 4, 2012 03:39 PM

                            So wrong it hurts! Could you point out a couple dishes they make there that are as good or better than what's available in Boston/Cambridge/Brookline?

                            1. re: Luther
                              KWagle Mar 5, 2012 02:01 AM

                              Hear, hear. Can anyone cite a dish for which Mary Chung's is the best example in the Boston area? The only candidate I've heard of is the scallion pancakes, and then only when Mary herself is in the kitchen.

                              Many people who "grew up" eating at Mary's while they were at MIT and have since branched out admit they can't be objective about that restaurant. So I assume there's some kind of sentimental attachment, which I personally don't understand--for me, the only important aspect of a meal is the quality of the food. So in general i concur with Luther's articulate description.

                              1. re: KWagle
                                femmevox Mar 5, 2012 09:07 AM

                                I live right around the corner from M. Chung, and I am crazy for Chinese food.
                                So I'm sort of glad I don't find their food good, or I'd be in there constantly.

                                I used to like the "salty soy bean" milk on the weekend brunch menu.
                                It used to be creamy, umami-filled, and studded with pickles and dried shrimp.
                                But the last time I got it it was curdled and felt carelessly put together.
                                Haven't been back since.

                                1. re: KWagle
                                  jgg13 Mar 5, 2012 04:39 PM

                                  I don't think you'll find too many people claiming that any of their dishes are the "best example in the boston area", and frankly that's fine by me. You might be different, but I don't choose where to eat based on a place having the best exemplar of a dish in the boston area. You might find people citing the suan or the dun dun.

                                  For me, I find it to be a place that does classic american-chinese dishes in an above average manner (in a fairly unique-to-them style, it doesn't taste the same as most other a-c places) with various dishes that are a nod towards the authenticity direction vs. other a-c spots. So yeah, it might not be fully authentic sichuan (or taiwanese, considering their heritage) but discussions about the authenticity issue are usually best served in General & Not About Food.

                                  1. re: jgg13
                                    KWagle Mar 6, 2012 11:21 PM

                                    "I don't choose where to eat based on a place having the best exemplar of a dish in the boston area."

                                    I generally don't either. Typically I choose to eat at places that produce (at least in their area of specialty) consistently "good" or better cooking. (Usually "better", since I only get one dinner per day.) Mary's certainly doesn't satisfy that criterion.

                                    But, since I find Mary's overall quality to be *at best* mediocre, they aren't going to get me in the door for the same reason as, say, Chilli Garden, namely by producing food that's consistently both interesting and delicious. Having some standout dish (like the steamed beef with rice powder at Shanghai Gate or the tofu with 'dry bean sauce' at MuLan) would give me a reason to choose Mary's over one of the dozen other excellent options in the greater Boston area alone.

                                    If they don't produce consistently interesting and delicious food, and they can't suck me in with some particularly excellent morsel, what *other* reason would I have to choose Mary's over one of at least a dozen local places whose overall quality is "good" or better?

                                    1. re: KWagle
                                      jgg13 Mar 7, 2012 07:37 AM

                                      "whose overall quality is "good" or better"

                                      Therein lies the problem I have with the anti-Marys crowd in this thread - the assertion that they're simply "not good". That's going to be an opinion, and clearly not one shared by everyone. If people had been saying something more personal such as "I don't like it", so be it - everyone has tastes. All one has to do is to look at the variance of opinions to realize that not everyone agrees that it is "not good".

                                      As I said, it's difficult at best to point to a single dish that's better than all like dishes in the area, but that's different than admitting that it's "not good".

                                      As a personal example, I live right there. sometimes I go to Marys and sometimes I go to Thailand Cafe. It all depends on my mood (as opposed to Royal East which I never go to and Pu Pu Hot Pot which I'll only go to for their lunch specials which have a decent bang/buck ratio) - I don't see why one would directly compare the two.

                                      1. re: jgg13
                                        KWagle Mar 8, 2012 02:19 AM

                                        I don't know whether the opinion that Mary's is "not good" is shared by everyone. But in my experience, the more exposure people have to the dozen or so places around here that I and many others would describe as serving "good or better" food, the less likely they are to choose to eat at Mary's.

                                        And I can speak from personal experience too. I ate and liked that kind of Americanese mediocrefood when I was a child, but as I experienced more authentic styles of cooking, first at New Big Wong in DC and then at Qingdao Garden, Taiwan Cafe and Wing's Kitchen in Boston, my preferences changed. These days, i can't imagine eating that stuff when I have other choices.

                                        1. re: KWagle
                                          chickendhansak Mar 8, 2012 02:09 PM

                                          My thoughts on this sub-thread:

                                          1. There are things at Mary's that aren't standard Americanized Chinese food.

                                          2. It is possible to think those things are good, without claiming they might be the best in Boston.

                                          3. This view seems to be held by people who have eaten widely.

                                          1. re: chickendhansak
                                            KWagle Mar 8, 2012 03:42 PM

                                            Those things that aren't standard Americanese I'd be willing to try. Apparently she has a new specials menu now. And I'd certainly be willing to try the mapo tofu to determine if there's any Sichuan peppercorn in the kitchen. If those things are good enough that I don't feel I should've had my one dinner per day somewhere else--well, that was why I asked my original question, though perhaps "best" was too strong.

                                        2. re: jgg13
                                          StriperGuy Mar 8, 2012 07:03 AM

                                          Sorry but the sweetness, preponderance of breading, general overuse of corn starch as thickener, for me is NOT GOOD in the same way that the food at most American Steak places is not particularly good. The execution is just a bore and I feel no call to eat there. The food isn't bad per se, but nor is it particularly interesting, or even executed with any care or finesse.

                                          I do make a small exception for a well prepared dry aged steak.

                                          1. re: StriperGuy
                                            jgg13 Mar 8, 2012 01:09 PM

                                            Uhh, I don't know what you order at Marys but I don't really see any of that with what I order. Even their general gau doesn't really fit that description.

                                            I can't even remember the last time I had a breaded dish there, and I don't always just get the same thing.

                                2. re: rich patina
                                  StriperGuy Mar 6, 2012 01:40 PM

                                  Mary Chung makes mostly half decent Americanized Chinese food. The near religious fervor Old time Cantabrigians have for the place has always mystified me. Even the mythical Suan La Chow Shou is just not that good.

                                  Honestly Rich, do you eat at ANY other Chinese places in Boston. If you did I cannot possibly imagine you would hold MC in such high esteem.

                            2. KWagle Feb 28, 2012 07:56 PM

                              I've never liked standard tofu at all--I think it's a poor substitute for congealed blood, and I find even that fairly boring. Why eat something that has no flavor and a worse texture than the original? But I've grown to like many derivative forms of tofu, like dry tofu, egg tofu, tofu skins, and so on.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: KWagle
                                liangpi Feb 28, 2012 08:05 PM

                                Love Yuba-- but where to get decent Yuba in Boston, idk

                              2. l
                                liangpi Feb 28, 2012 09:11 AM

                                How about the amazing mapo tofu at one of the kind?

                                One of the Kind
                                1095 Commonwealth Ave, Boston, MA 02134

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: liangpi
                                  chickendhansak Feb 28, 2012 10:20 AM

                                  I'm excited to try that.

                                  Spicepepper Garden in Acton does a surprisingly good one on the lunch menu too.,

                                  1. re: chickendhansak
                                    liangpi Mar 6, 2012 07:34 AM

                                    Heres a depiction of the Mapo Tofu at One of the Kind

                                    One of the Kind
                                    1095 Commonwealth Ave, Boston, MA 02134

                                    1. re: liangpi
                                      Luther Mar 6, 2012 06:13 PM

                                      Solid "ma" with strong beany flavor, just enough heat, it's a good one.

                                2. m
                                  mrsx Sep 10, 2010 08:01 AM

                                  The Ma Po Tofu is my go-to dish at Shangri La in Belmont - super delish!

                                  1. Ferrari328 Sep 9, 2010 12:54 PM

                                    Update. I do eat other dishes but thought it would be fun to do a thread about Ma Po

                                    Spice Pepper garden in Acton. Very nice Ma Po, lots of flavors including both ma and la. It's marked on the menu as 3 peppers and the waitress warned me that it was hot. I'm not a pepper fiend but this wasn't more than maybe 1 1/2 pepper. I got one bowl of Ma Po and a cup of rice and no plate! Most confusing. I also got an app and soup included. On my second trip, no app and no soup! Turns out that you only get soup and apps with certain dishes on the lunch menu. They gave me a cup of soup anyway and their Hot and Sour soup is pretty good.

                                    Fuloon, ordering of the regular menu, again at lunch time. It was good, had ground Sechuan peppercorn on top and ground beef and was tasty but not very spicy or numbing. Maybe it's the white guy thing or maybe the chef was off that day.

                                    Golden Garden in Belmont, lunch menu. Included ground pork and come with a brownish sauce with some chilies in it but that was all I could taste.

                                    Conclusion, I think ground meat definitely has to be included, it makes the dish so much richer and offset the silken tofu.
                                    Looking at prices (I'm frugal) I think the best one is the one on the lunch menu at Chilli Garden in Medford considering that it's almost half the price as compared to ordering of the full menu at the other places when you include the rice. I'll try to order it more mala next time but I really like their spicy noodle soups on the lunch menu, and the spicy wontoons.

                                    Chilli Garden
                                    41 Riverside Ave, Medford, MA 02155

                                    Golden Garden
                                    63 Concord Ave, Belmont, MA 02478

                                    1. StriperGuy Jul 9, 2010 01:01 AM

                                      Now that you have gotten started why don't you broaden your horizons, there are SO MANY amazing tofu dishes in various Asian cuisines over and above Ma po... Heck try one of my favorites, the classic dim sum dish of pork wrapped in tofu skin... yum.

                                      Maybe this is a whole other thread...

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: StriperGuy
                                        lipoff Jul 9, 2010 09:37 AM

                                        I agree that there are many amazing tofu dishes (try the preserved egg with tofu at Taiwan Cafe or the Agedashi Tofu or Hiyayakko at Toraya, or the mustard greens with tofu skins at Mulan). But I don't think Mapo Doufu is in anyway a kind of "starter" tofu dish, unsophisticated or exceeded by other preparations. Them's fighting words to a Sichuanese chef! Mapo Doufu is a real classic dish, within which many chefs are able to make ingenious and original variations. It can be ferociously spicy and numbing while still containing a depth of flavors.

                                        Toraya Restaurant
                                        890 Massachusetts Ave, Arlington, MA 02476

                                        1. re: lipoff
                                          StriperGuy Jul 9, 2010 12:05 PM

                                          No critique of Ma Po intended, but it's like saying the only fish dish you want to eat is bouillabaisse... Spread your wings, it's an interesting world out there...

                                          1. re: StriperGuy
                                            cambridgedoctpr Sep 10, 2010 01:43 PM

                                            i think that the initial plan was to try various restaurants with this single dish to compare approaches and tastiness. it was not meant to be the be all of chinese cuisine.

                                            that said, you are right in thinking that there are plenty of other fish in the sea.

                                        2. re: StriperGuy
                                          gourmaniac Jul 9, 2010 09:45 AM

                                          also my favorite dim sum. I'm liking Winsor's version these days and used to enjoy Chau Chow City's version (though I haven't been there in a while). Which version do you like best?

                                          Chau Chow City
                                          81 Essex St, Boston, MA 02111

                                        3. m
                                          mwk Jul 8, 2010 11:51 AM

                                          I also love this dish, and I work near Chinatown. I find that the Best Little Restaurant has an excellent rendition of this. It's got the right mix of tofu and ground meat, a decent kick to the spice and a nice silky consistency.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: mwk
                                            liangpi Mar 21, 2012 11:27 AM

                                            I went to BLR for lunch. The Mapo Tofu really sucked. It was sweet and not spicy at all. I didn't finish it. Worse than Mary Chungs.
                                            Is it because I'm not Chinese??? Ruined my afternoon to think I could've been next door at New Shanghai eating the best Mapo Tofu around.

                                            Best Little Restaurant
                                            13A Hudson St, Boston, MA 02111

                                            1. re: liangpi
                                              Luther Mar 21, 2012 07:04 PM

                                              Was the old guy cooking? He's there on Saturday evenings. I wouldn't be surprised if it was just a bad weekday lunch cook.

                                          2. litchick Jul 6, 2010 07:39 AM

                                            My absolute fave version in town is at Zoe's on Beacon St (Camber-ville area). It has the perfect balance of spicy and numbing, as well as a good texture from the soft tofu and ground pork. It's a serious winner in my book.

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: litchick
                                              Ferrari328 Jul 8, 2010 10:21 AM

                                              Update. Thanks for mentioning Zoe's, had lunch there today and that was seriously excellent! Definitely one of the better ones but I have to go back to SG Billerica and Fuloon and order of the regular menu. Remember this place when it was Chef Lee's, missing his tea smoked duck.
                                              Also visited Asian Gourmet in Concord and had had their Ma Po from the lunch menu and it was pretty good. but lacking in "ma". A bit sparse on the pork as well. Very extensive lunch menu.

                                              1. re: Ferrari328
                                                litchick Jul 8, 2010 11:56 AM

                                                After posting about it the other day, I (as per usual) began obsessing about Zoe's mapo so much that I had to go get some for dinner. On the hottest day of the summer to date. It was awesome.

                                                ps: the tea-smoked duck is still on the menu, but I don't know if it tastes the same as the version you remember.

                                            2. Ferrari328 Jul 2, 2010 11:46 AM

                                              Update. Thanks for the recommendation for Thailand Cafe. Had lunch there Thursday and that was some REALLY good Ma Po! It did have some leeks and a few fermented black beans in it and it didn't hurt. I also saw some other Sichuan dishes heaped with red peppers go by. Hot and sour soup was also delicious!
                                              I also went back to SG II in Woburn and the Ma Po does have meat in it and this time I ordered it mala and it was way better, not really deadly hot but very tasty.

                                              1. r
                                                robertlf Jun 30, 2010 09:13 PM

                                                Sapporo Ramen in Cambridge offers Ma Po Tofu on their new menu.

                                                Sapporo Ramen
                                                1815 Massachusetts Ave Ste M5, Cambridge, MA 02140

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: robertlf
                                                  tatsu Sep 11, 2010 03:53 AM

                                                  Japanese Ma Po Dofu is going to be quite different from Chinese. It's tasty but a bit lighter in flavors. It's very popular in Japan. Recently the popular YouTube channel "Cooking With The Dog" made it.


                                                2. l
                                                  lergnom Jun 29, 2010 09:03 AM

                                                  My personal ranking of what may be my favorite dish - along with tendon - in any culture. Well, a good pho ranks in there too, but sticking to the tofu:

                                                  1. Sichuan Gourmet on Rt. 9. It has on occasion been perfectly astringent and hot.
                                                  2. Fuloon - more oil, not as much Sichuan pepper.
                                                  3. Chilli Garden. Almost a tie for 2nd. But I eat more often at Fuloon because of the rest of the menu.
                                                  4. Sichuan Garden, Brookline.

                                                  Have not been to Sichuan Gourmet, Brookline yet.

                                                  My favorite in Boston was New Taste of Asia. Qun Li would cut vegetables into perfect small pieces for my non-meating eating girls and he really, really seasoned it.

                                                  Chilli Garden
                                                  41 Riverside Ave, Medford, MA 02155

                                                  New Taste of Asia
                                                  1393 Beacon St, Brookline, MA

                                                  Sichuan Garden
                                                  295 Washington St, Brookline, MA 02445

                                                  Sichuan Gourmet
                                                  1004 Beacon St, Brookline, MA 02446

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: lergnom
                                                    lipoff Jun 29, 2010 10:25 AM

                                                    I miss New Taste of Asia.

                                                    New Taste of Asia
                                                    1393 Beacon St, Brookline, MA

                                                  2. q
                                                    qianning Jun 29, 2010 05:58 AM

                                                    Isn't ma po dou fu traditionally served with ground beef not pork? In truth I rarely order it, but if I did i'd expect it to have a little bit of ground beef unless otherwise stated. Are the pork and veggie versions the norm around here?

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: qianning
                                                      blink617 Jun 30, 2010 12:21 PM

                                                      I've seen it on a few menus that said pork. Chili Garden's menu says "with meat" or something like that, but when I asked if it was beef or pork they said beef.

                                                    2. Luther Jun 29, 2010 03:41 AM

                                                      FYI, "ma" = "numbing" and "la" = "heat/spicy"

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: Luther
                                                        EllenMM Jun 29, 2010 04:06 AM

                                                        Thanks - I was wondering about that.

                                                      2. kobuta Jun 28, 2010 12:56 PM

                                                        You should also consider the version offered on Thailand Cafe's Sichuan menu. Covered in red chili oil -- spicy but not overly so. Excellent with rice.

                                                        5 Replies
                                                        1. re: kobuta
                                                          litchick Jul 8, 2010 11:59 AM

                                                          Are we talking the Thailand Cafe that's on Mass Ave in Arlington (by the Capitol Theatre)? Or the one on Mass Ave in Cambridge near Porter Square?

                                                          1. re: litchick
                                                            jgg13 Jul 8, 2010 12:54 PM

                                                            Neither. The Thailand Cafe that's on Mass Ave in Cambridge near MIT

                                                            1. re: litchick
                                                              kobuta Jul 8, 2010 01:10 PM

                                                              The one on Mass Ave in Cambridge between Central and Kendall (aka Kentrall). Either there's a 3rd Thailand Cafe - who knew? - or it's the one you described as near Porter Sq. Not really so close to Porter Sq; that would be a good 30-40 minute walk at least.

                                                              1. re: kobuta
                                                                litchick Jul 8, 2010 08:24 PM

                                                                Oh, you're right. My bad. I saw the google maps street view of the MIT one, and mistakenly thought it looked like Porter Sq. In my defense, I hadn't eaten lunch yet and was delirious. For ma po.

                                                            2. re: kobuta
                                                              samsoon Sep 12, 2010 07:37 AM

                                                              Second the suggestion. It is fairly spicy though. Especially with the peppercorns but that is part of the yumminess.

                                                            3. yumyum Jun 28, 2010 12:33 PM

                                                              I'm surprised at your comment about Fuloon's ma po. I'm no expert but I found it full of ground pork with larger than normal tofu chunks and a delicious multi-layered sauce. Not too hot, but with the pleasant ma la tinglies.

                                                              Here's the dish in the carton --> http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4021/4545724573_ea576e4243.jpg

                                                              Here's the dish over rice --> http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4019/4...

                                                              I really like their version.

                                                              2 Replies
                                                              1. re: yumyum
                                                                lipoff Jun 29, 2010 05:31 AM

                                                                Fuloon's is my favorite in Boston. You can order it with or without pork. A similar dish on their menu is the si4 chuan1 dou4 hua1 (Bean Curd with Special Sauce), a version that is less spicy but more numbing and with a more silken texture of tofu. While Mapo Tofu usually comes with pork there, the douhua is usually vegetarian, although each can be prepared either way.

                                                                By the way, I love it when someone compares the same dish at different restaurants. It's nice to see the variations side-by-side. Great thread!

                                                                1. re: yumyum
                                                                  Ferrari328 Jun 29, 2010 06:00 AM

                                                                  Thanks, that's not what's on the lunch menu. I have to try to order from the regular menu.

                                                                2. GretchenS Jun 28, 2010 12:31 PM

                                                                  THanks for the rundown, very interesting. You might want to try the Chilli Garden (Medford Square) version too. Plenty of mala, incredibly flavorful.

                                                                  Chilli Garden
                                                                  41 Riverside Ave, Medford, MA 02155

                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                  1. re: GretchenS
                                                                    marcreichman Jun 29, 2010 04:16 AM

                                                                    Seconded. I just had this the other day. Fantastic.

                                                                    1. re: GretchenS
                                                                      Ferrari328 Jun 29, 2010 05:58 AM

                                                                      I really ment Chilli Garden in Medford in my first review, not Sechuan Garden, sorry about that.

                                                                      Chilli Garden
                                                                      41 Riverside Ave, Medford, MA 02155

                                                                    2. c
                                                                      cambridgedoctpr Jun 28, 2010 12:10 PM

                                                                      I suggest that you try CK Shanghai and New Shanghai in Chinatown, too.

                                                                      I do not think that Ma Po should be very hot.

                                                                      New Shanghai Restaurant
                                                                      21 Hudson St, Boston, MA 02111

                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                      1. re: cambridgedoctpr
                                                                        liangpi Mar 5, 2012 05:08 PM

                                                                        New Shanghai very well balanced ma la. Big scallions! More spicy than tingly though and kind of pricey.

                                                                        1. re: cambridgedoctpr
                                                                          liangpi Mar 13, 2012 10:37 AM

                                                                          Had the New Shanghai mapo tofu

                                                                          I think its really pitch perfect. It has the Ma La seriousness. Great doubanjiang and douchi as well as beautifully chopped green onions. Rice is fantastic and the portion size is huge. I will add that if you just buy Mapo Tofu you cannot sit there and the proprietor is kind of a jerk. Its worth dealing with his weird rules to try this dish (as well as other delicious ma la dishes). It is a bit expensive and I would say there wasn't quite enough rice for the heaping amount of Mapo Tofu, even though rice costs extra.

                                                                          New Shanghai Restaurant
                                                                          21 Hudson St, Boston, MA 02111

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