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Jun 4, 2011 10:02 AM

Mapo tofu at Taiwan Cafe

We just had it yesterday and it was really great. Does anyone know how to make it at home? Looking for a recipe that produces a similar result- moderate heat that let's you enjoy the taste and texture, and a nice balance of chili and meat. I looked on line but the recipes do not call for silken tofu, which was obviously used there. So what is the secret? I tried it in other places and the heat was always too overwhelming for me.

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  1. i am traveling and do not hace the recipte with me. To get the to fu to the proper consistency, you need to use silken to fu and then boil it for a few minutes. I am pretty sure that there is a recipe for it in Delft's the good food of sichuan. you will need to add sichuan pepper to the mix after grinding it by the way.

    1. Fuschia Dunlop's recipe is the one I learned from, it is very good.

      8 Replies
      1. re: Luther

        I love silken tofu & this sounds great - can't wait to try it! Going to get the ingredients I'm lacking & will let you know how it goes. Thanks for posting the link (and thanks to galka for asking!!)

        1. re: Luther

          the recipe looks right except for the use of beef rather than pork which i use.

          1. re: cambridgedoctpr

            I use pork in this recipe instead of beef -- since elsewhere in the cookbook she says something along the lines of "Meat almost by definition means pork in Sichuan," I've never been clear why she chose to use beef in this one dish.

            1. re: Jenny Ondioline

              Dunlop says (p. 313 of the hc edition) that the "recipe traditionally uses a scattering of ground beef, which is unusual in Sichuan cooking, where pork is the most common meat." I looked at a couple of older, more obscure cookbooks on my shelves. "Cooking from Mainland China", a book published in English in 1979, based on one first published in Japan, which in turn claims to be based on a cookbook from China called "Masses Cookbook" (1966), has a recipe called "Ma-la-tou-fu" which is very similar to Dunlop's and also calls for ground beef. And "Mrs. Ma's Chinese Cookbook" from 1960 (with rave review-blurbs from the LA Herald-Examiner, the Times of India, the South China Morning Post, and the Singapore Free Times) also has a close ground beef and tofu dish, but no ground pork and tofu one.

              1. re: FoodDabbler

                thank you; again, you have added a historical context to a favorite dish of mine. I never knew that it was a beef dish though from my chinese friends, it is clear that there is tremendous local diversity to any dish in china thus making it hard to come up with one "authentic" recipe.

                1. re: cambridgedoctpr

                  Yes, I agree about the variations. The versions Dunlop encountered may well have been specific to a particular sub-area.

                  There's a piece on hamburger on the NYT website right now that mentions why beef is the preferred meat for hamburger. The particular combination of protein, fat, etc., in ground beef allows it to have a soft mouthfeel compared to ground pork. I found myself wondering if it was that effect that ma po tofu attempts to achieve.

                  1. re: FoodDabbler

                    I have contemplated this textural aspect as well, since my experiences with veal and even lamb in this dish have fared far better than puerco. I suspect there are authentic regional variants tho. If you haven't already, give lamb a whirl, it's the best !

                    1. re: Nab

                      Boston's regional variant should be with lobster! Try ordering ginger scallion lobster sometime with mapo tofu, adding the melted scallions and lobster from the former to the latter are a welcome addition.

        2. I second Dunlop's recipe, if you are feeling lazy, I've also had pretty good results using a pre-made seasoning, Saner Brand, which I found @ Super 88 in South Bay Plaza

          Saner Brand Ma Po Tofu Seasoning.

          10 Replies
          1. re: Food4Thought

            Third Dunlop's recipe, although personally I almost always skip the blanching the tofu step with no ill effects. No need to feel lazy about it, either: if you have the ingredients at hand, it takes about as long to make mapo tofu as it does to whip up a pot of rice to go with.

            1. re: Jenny Ondioline

              The advantages to me, right now, besides how easy it looks to make - and sounds so delish - is that I can adjust the ingredients (use very low fat beef, or turkey, for instance) so it's low cal/low fat. I haven't been to the Taiwan Cafe (yet), but I'm going to save places like this for when I can safely order a few things to try. (safe for my weight-loss, that is, lol) Right now is too soon for me, but I caught the photos on Yelp (something like a zillion, lol), and I'm salivating here...waiting for the right time for a Chinatown excursion!!

              This will hold me over... :D

              1. re: threedogs

                The sauce is literally oil and stock. Take away the copious amount of canola oil that is traditional in the dish (and whatever fat comes out of the meat) and you might as well call it something else. Of course, you'd be much healthier just skipping the rice, but that would probably ruin the overall experience as much as removing the oil...

                1. re: Luther

                  That's OK with me. I'll call it something else - and save the authentic version for later. It's worth the sacrifice (if actually 'living' can be called a sacrifice, lol)

                  Believe me, in my life I have eaten much more than my own portion of oil, stock & such things. Part of being a creative cook is finding other ways around recipes, anyway.

              2. re: Jenny Ondioline

                The Dunlop recipe blows every restaurant version I have had away. You wouldn't need the Golden Corral oversized desk fan to dismiss those restaurant versions. The only place I've thought it came remotely close is Spicepepper Garden in Acton -- bizarrely. I've yet to make it to the suburban Sichuan Gourmets -- are they any good at it? My favourite nearby Sichuan place, Zoe's, which does certain things amazingly well, also serves terrible, bland ma po tofu.

                Spicepepper Garden
                36 Great Rd, Acton, MA 01720

                Sichuan Gourmet
                1004 Beacon St, Brookline, MA 02446

                1. re: chickendhansak

                  Sichuan Gourmet makes my favorite Ma Po Tofu in Boston - at its best it is complex, spicy, incredibly flavorful and addictive. At it's worst it's still pretty damn good, and still worth the trek. (There's one in Brookline now which I have found is almost as good as the Billerica original version; I prefer Brookline to Framingham.)

                  Sichuan Gourmet
                  1004 Beacon St, Brookline, MA 02446

                  1. re: chickendhansak

                    Zoe's isn't really a Sichuan restaurant.

                    1. re: Luther

                      Of course you are right, but I don't think that necessarily explains why they can do several classic Sichuan dishes superbly, yet do bad MPT. Clearly someone there knows what they are doing.

                    2. re: chickendhansak

                      sichuan gourmet's ma po is good but odd in that it contains no ground meat.

                      1. re: cambridgedoctpr

                        Yes, I remember this from the Brookline rendition now you mention it.

                2. You can adjust the heat.. just dial back the ground chiles and the sichuan peppercorns.. but those are what makes this dish so fun..

                  I had to hunt for a while to get pixian bean paste.. ended up picking some up at Kam Man down in Quincy. The asian market in Medford that used to be Super 88 had it as well - make sure it is a broad bean paste, not soy..

                  1. if you are looking for a milder version of mapo tofu, try Best Little Restaurant.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: barleywino

                      What specific brands of pixan bean paste do people recommend?

                      1. re: lieb

                        I've had good luck with Union Foods brand. It's the real deal with the broad beans and it's available at just about every Asian market I've been to.

                          1. re: lieb

                            I've got a bottle of Union Foods open right now... I've actually started to see it at local Whole Foods. I've got a bag of a brand manufactured by Sichuan Pixian Douban Co. Ltd that I picked up at Kan Man that I'll try next.

                            The Union Foods is better than the Lum Kee stuff I resorted to at H-Mart..

                            3 Old Concord Rd, Burlington, MA 01803