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Ma Po Tofu

JolokiaJen Jul 23, 2012 07:49 AM

What is the difference between Ma Po Tofu, Bean Curd Szechuan Style, and Bean Curd Homestyle? I thought they were the same thing, but my local chinese restaurant lists all three.

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  1. raytamsgv RE: JolokiaJen Jul 23, 2012 04:15 PM

    It's difficult to say, because Chinese menu items often do not have standardized English names. I don't suppose you would have the Chinese names for those dishes?

    3 Replies
    1. re: raytamsgv
      JolokiaJen RE: raytamsgv Jul 23, 2012 05:11 PM

      You mean the chinese characters? The last two characters are the same on all three, but the first two characters are different on all three. So I guess there must be some difference?

      1. re: JolokiaJen
        raytamsgv RE: JolokiaJen Jul 24, 2012 11:43 AM

        Yes, I am referring to the Chinese characters. "Bean Curd" might actually refer to another item also known as "tofu skin" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bean_curd). But without the Chinese characters, all we can do is guess.

        1. re: raytamsgv
          JolokiaJen RE: raytamsgv Jul 24, 2012 12:03 PM

          Thanks. I looked up Tofu on wikipedia and those are the last two characters on all three.

    2. Bacardi1 RE: JolokiaJen Jul 23, 2012 05:07 PM

      To be perfectly honest, all of those Bean Curd titles pretty much do describe the same dish. But as raytamsgv said, it's not standardized. But I will say that I've used recipes titled under all three, & they've all been delicious.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Bacardi1
        JolokiaJen RE: Bacardi1 Jul 23, 2012 05:15 PM

        Thanks. I guess I can't go wrong ordering any one of them then. I wonder why they include all three on the menu if they are basically the same thing.

      2. g
        GH1618 RE: JolokiaJen Jul 23, 2012 05:27 PM

        According to Chang and Kutscher, Ma Po Dow Fu is Szechuan. Barbara Tropp, in The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking differentiates Down-Home Hunan Tofu by having the tofu "first deep-fried to a firm, golden brown."

        11 Replies
        1. re: GH1618
          JolokiaJen RE: GH1618 Jul 23, 2012 05:35 PM

          So maybe one is fried, the other is not? What I'm most concerned about is the sauce, I want the one with the best spicy sauce.

          1. re: JolokiaJen
            chefj RE: JolokiaJen Jul 23, 2012 05:43 PM

            The Szechuan Ma Po (麻婆豆腐) Should be the Spiciest of the lot
            Then the Home Style Tofu (家常豆腐) more common in Hunan

            1. re: chefj
              JolokiaJen RE: chefj Jul 23, 2012 06:30 PM

              Is Ma Po Tofu the same thing as Bean Curd Szechuan Style? Thanks.

              1. re: JolokiaJen
                Cathy RE: JolokiaJen Jul 24, 2012 11:53 AM

                At 'my' restaurant which offers all three on their lunch menu, the Szechuan bean curd is vegetarian, the Ma Po has ground pork and the Homestyle has sliced pork. AI am pretty sure each has different sauces, although I have not compared the dishes side by side.

                1. re: Cathy
                  JolokiaJen RE: Cathy Jul 24, 2012 12:05 PM

                  Thanks! That is very helpful. Now I just have to figure out if the sauces are the same.

                  1. re: Cathy
                    mcf RE: Cathy Jul 24, 2012 12:19 PM

                    In my restaurants, homestyle has always had soft or silken tofu and ground pork and a very savory brown sauce.

                    1. re: mcf
                      JolokiaJen RE: mcf Jul 24, 2012 12:28 PM

                      Thanks. Does the brown sauce taste similar to the Lo Mein brown sauce? Or is it spicy at all?

                      1. re: JolokiaJen
                        mcf RE: JolokiaJen Jul 24, 2012 12:53 PM

                        I don't eat noodles or other starches, but IIRC, lo mein noodles were pretty dry sauced? The good home style that I miss terribly from an out of business place had a very warm and rich brown sauce, it's been so long I can't tell you all that was in it...I seem to recall sesame oil and chili oil, even a hint of brown rice vinegar MAYBE.

                        1. re: mcf
                          JolokiaJen RE: mcf Jul 24, 2012 01:43 PM

                          Vegetable Lo Mein doesn't have a lot of the brownish sauce on it, but it is delicious

                          1. re: JolokiaJen
                            mcf RE: JolokiaJen Jul 24, 2012 01:59 PM

                            I used to love it. But I haven't eaten starches for many years. Chow fun was even better, much smokier tasting.

                            1. re: mcf
                              JolokiaJen RE: mcf Jul 25, 2012 06:16 AM

                              What I hate is when I order a vegetable dish and it comes with a white sauce that just tastes like chicken broth on it. I like the brownish sauces. I never know what I'm gonna get though, since there are no descriptions on the menu.

          2. f
            fourunder RE: JolokiaJen Jul 23, 2012 06:29 PM

            I cannot help with the Sichuan/Szechuan Style, but the Ma Po Tofu at the places I frequent is always cubed tofu with ground meat. The Home Style is always slices of Tofu, coated in cornstarch and either Deep Fried or Pan Fried with some sort of Green Vegetable included.....often Spinach or Shanghai Cabbage.

            6 Replies
            1. re: fourunder
              JolokiaJen RE: fourunder Jul 23, 2012 06:33 PM

              Thanks. What about the sauces on both of them, are they the same?

              1. re: JolokiaJen
                fourunder RE: JolokiaJen Jul 23, 2012 06:38 PM

                Ma Po Tofu has Chili Oil and is slightly spicy. Home Style has a light brown sauce with an Oyster Sauce base from my experience.

                BTW....this is in the Northern New Jersey / NYC Chinatown area.

                1. re: fourunder
                  JolokiaJen RE: fourunder Jul 23, 2012 06:42 PM

                  Thanks. I guess I'll get either the Ma Po Tofu or the Bean Curd Szechuan Style since I want the spicy sauce.

                  1. re: JolokiaJen
                    Cathy RE: JolokiaJen Jul 24, 2012 11:56 AM

                    Tell them you want it very spicy/ hot. They should understand and accomodate that request.

                    Ask when you order "Hot- yes?" They will understand that little bit of English.

                    1. re: Cathy
                      JolokiaJen RE: Cathy Jul 24, 2012 12:04 PM

                      At one place I just wrote on a piece of paper Extra Spicy and they knew what that meant.

              2. re: fourunder
                mcf RE: fourunder Jul 24, 2012 12:20 PM

                I've never had deep fried tofu in home style. I'm beginning to think these terms are just used variably/interchangeably in U.S. restaurants.

              3. e
                Enfielder RE: JolokiaJen Jul 23, 2012 06:54 PM

                Since there doesn't seem to be any consistent answer to this question, it may be easier to ask your restaurant what the differences are.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Enfielder
                  JolokiaJen RE: Enfielder Jul 23, 2012 08:05 PM

                  They don't speak english very well. That's why I came on here to ask. I want to get the right thing because they are priced higher than other items on the menu. If they came in the pints like the lo mein I would just order one of each, but they are $9 each here.

                2. Cheese Boy RE: JolokiaJen Jul 23, 2012 08:23 PM

                  I don't like any tofu dish where my tofu meets its demise in the deep fryer. That could be any one of those dishes you have listed in the OP. Always ask your server (or otherwise) -- because preparations can vary so widely from place to place.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Cheese Boy
                    JolokiaJen RE: Cheese Boy Jul 24, 2012 12:13 PM

                    I try, but it's hard because of the language barrier. Mostly I just write what I want on a piece of paper and hand that to them or on the phone I just try to keep it to one sentence, say the name of what I want and that's it.

                    1. re: JolokiaJen
                      Cheese Boy RE: JolokiaJen Jul 24, 2012 08:47 PM

                      I'm laughing to myself because sometimes less is more. I am always reminded of the time I asked for white pepper and the server hands me a piece of scrap paper.

                  2. g
                    GH1618 RE: JolokiaJen Jul 23, 2012 08:46 PM

                    I would order one of each. Bring a couple of friends along to help.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: GH1618
                      JolokiaJen RE: GH1618 Jul 24, 2012 12:12 PM

                      I love ordering the little Pints. I wish everything came in that size.

                    2. ipsedixit RE: JolokiaJen Jul 23, 2012 09:03 PM

                      The difference is explained in their "secret menu".

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: ipsedixit
                        JolokiaJen RE: ipsedixit Jul 24, 2012 12:11 PM

                        Do you have a copy of it? I wonder why they don't write down the descriptions. I'm sure many people wonder what all these different dishes are. I guess that's why most people around here just order off the buffet, since it's hard to know what everything else is.

                      2. e
                        emu48 RE: JolokiaJen Jul 24, 2012 12:17 PM

                        Whatever they call it, look for one with chili bean paste in the sauce for depth of flavor and a little fire. I've seen some pretty poor versions in which the sauce was mostly soy sauce or oyster sauce, maybe with cornstarch to thicken, maybe a drop or two of chili oil or maybe not. I would expect anything with ma po or Szechuan in the name to use chili bean paste. Something called homestyle might be more likely to be a bland version. If there aren't versions you like served near you, consider making your own. It's not hard. Chili bean paste (or separate jars of chili paste and brown bean paste) are sold in most stores selling Chinese food products. Some people like it with fermented black beans.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: emu48
                          JolokiaJen RE: emu48 Jul 24, 2012 12:32 PM

                          I think I'm going to try the Bean Curd Szechuan Style first. I just hope it's spicy and not sweet. The Mixed Vegetable with Garlic Sauce I ordered was spicy, but it was way too sweet.

                          1. re: JolokiaJen
                            mcf RE: JolokiaJen Jul 24, 2012 12:54 PM

                            I always order Chinese dishes without added sugar.

                            1. re: mcf
                              raytamsgv RE: mcf Jul 24, 2012 02:36 PM

                              I tell them to leave out MSG and to add less oil and salt.

                              1. re: raytamsgv
                                mcf RE: raytamsgv Jul 24, 2012 03:15 PM

                                I love oil and salt, but my typical order is "no MSG, no added sugar or corn starch."

                        2. l
                          lydiainflorida RE: JolokiaJen Jul 24, 2012 12:31 PM

                          The traditional Ma Po Tofu is made with extremely thinly sliced or shaved beef. However nowadays most people make it with ground pork instead. Soft tofu is used and the final product looks like chopped up tofu - http://pic.pimg.tw/happyday05/4951e98.... It's normally very spicy with chili bean paste and chili peppers.

                          Homestyle tofu - by definition varies by which household makes it. Some families make it with sliced carrots & bamboo shoots and sliced pork and others make it with mushrooms & ground pork - depending on what they have in the fridge that day. It can be spicy, or non-spicy - depending on whether or not you put chili peppers in there. American restaurants make it saucier while real Chinese people in Asia probably don't make it with much sauce. The tofu used is usually firmer and has a thicker skin and the dish usually look like this - http://userdisk.webry.biglobe.ne.jp/0... or this - http://www.caipuwu.cn/caipuimg/zhucai...

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: lydiainflorida
                            JolokiaJen RE: lydiainflorida Jul 24, 2012 12:37 PM

                            Thanks! That's really helpful. Do you think Bean Curd Szechuan Style is the same thing as Ma Po Tofu, minus the meat? That sounds like just what I'm looking for.

                            1. re: JolokiaJen
                              lydiainflorida RE: JolokiaJen Jul 24, 2012 04:15 PM

                              Sorry but it's impossible to tell without seeing the name in Chinese.

                              1. re: lydiainflorida
                                JolokiaJen RE: lydiainflorida Jul 24, 2012 04:37 PM

                                I don't know how to post in chinese

                                1. re: JolokiaJen
                                  raytamsgv RE: JolokiaJen Jul 24, 2012 05:01 PM

                                  If you have the menu available, try scanning it and posting the image.

                          2. j
                            JolokiaJen RE: JolokiaJen Jul 25, 2012 11:09 AM

                            Update: I bought the Bean Curd Szechuan Style today. It was good, but way too sweet. It was huge bean curd/tofu chunks with mixed vegetables covered in a thick spicy sweet chile type sauce, like those bottled spicy sweet chile sauces you get at the grocery store. It was okay, but I'd never order it again, especially not for $9. Is Ma Po Tofu sweet at all?

                            47 Replies
                            1. re: JolokiaJen
                              mcf RE: JolokiaJen Jul 25, 2012 12:22 PM

                              Almost everything Szechuan is made sticky sweet, in the U.S. at least.

                              1. re: mcf
                                JolokiaJen RE: mcf Jul 25, 2012 12:55 PM

                                I probably won't try the Ma Po Tofu then, if it is similar to the Bean Curd Szechuan style. It was definitely nothing like I was expecting. I was expecting a spicy and savory type taste, not sweet. I love Lo Mein because there is no sweetness at all. I need to find more dishes that are that type of flavor.

                                1. re: JolokiaJen
                                  Cathy RE: JolokiaJen Jul 25, 2012 01:47 PM

                                  Lo Mein are noodles, stir fried and with various toppings. You seem to want that topping.

                                  Ask for the lo mein dish with rice. Point at it on the menu and say -no noodle, yes rice-. Maybe at another table you will see a plate of just topping with sauce and rice in a bowl next to it. Point at that and then to the menu,- again say no lo mein, yes rice-.

                                  They may even have that dish and show you where it is on the menu.

                                  1. re: JolokiaJen
                                    fourunder RE: JolokiaJen Jul 25, 2012 02:38 PM

                                    With due respect, you are making this more complicated than it needs to be. I've never has a sweet version Ma Po Tofu.....but all you need to do is order it and tell them you want it .....

                                    Little Spicy
                                    Medium Spicy
                                    Very Spicy

                                    No Sugar
                                    or No Meat if that is your preference.

                                    1. re: JolokiaJen
                                      huiray RE: JolokiaJen Jul 27, 2012 06:20 AM

                                      Sounds like the place you went to/are referring to in these queries is not a good place to start with - and/or you are getting the bad "heavily Americanized" versions. As others here have said, sugar is often added to dishes with strong heat character as part of the balancing of the taste profile. Both "Bean Curd Szechuan Style" and Ma Po Dofu should NOT present themselves with a gooey sickly sweet profile. If they do, find another place that does them properly.

                                    2. re: mcf
                                      raytamsgv RE: mcf Jul 25, 2012 04:25 PM

                                      From what I little I know of genuine Sichuan/Szechuan cooking, there aren't too many sticky-sweet dishes. It's more likely an adaptation to perceived American taste preferences.

                                      1. re: mcf
                                        chefj RE: mcf Jul 25, 2012 04:50 PM

                                        That is not true. NY and the Bay area have some very good Szechuan restaurants.

                                        1. re: chefj
                                          mcf RE: chefj Jul 25, 2012 06:10 PM

                                          I've had very good Szechuan food, but rarely if ever has it not been sweetened. I live in metro NY.

                                          1. re: mcf
                                            chefj RE: mcf Jul 26, 2012 06:13 PM

                                            My understanding is hot(chili) Szechuan dishes like Ma Po Tofu should use sugar for balance. It should not be forward or really noticeably sweet. So if it is I would say that it is not "very good Szechuan". That is not to say that people don't like it just that it is not how it is traditionally.

                                            1. re: chefj
                                              mcf RE: chefj Jul 26, 2012 06:45 PM

                                              Actually, the tofu dish I've gotten most often that your link looked just like has never been overly sweetened, if at all, but almost everything else has been, sometimes more subtly, but often to an absurd, candyish extent. Even at some highly rated places that use otherwise very authentic ingredients and preparations. It's like it's the General Tso's Syndrome; batter it and candy it...

                                              1. re: mcf
                                                chefj RE: mcf Jul 26, 2012 06:59 PM

                                                I see that here when people stray from the actual Szechuan dishes into Orange Chicken and the like.
                                                Batter fried___ with generic gloppy (and assumed sweet ) mess that does not remotely resemble any well made Chinese dish

                                                1. re: chefj
                                                  mcf RE: chefj Jul 26, 2012 07:05 PM

                                                  Yes, blecch. But I've had both wonderful and sickening sweet versions of baby eggplant, Szechuan shrimp in a red sauce that was literally candy sweet.... I think too many dishes are made sweet because so many people order that crud with all the goopy sweet sauce. Especially the General Tso's. If it sells, give the people what they'll gorge on...

                                            2. re: mcf
                                              mcf RE: mcf Jul 28, 2012 04:25 PM

                                              This recipe on CH has a lot of sugar, IMO: http://www.chow.com/recipes/29102-ma-...

                                              1. re: mcf
                                                chefj RE: mcf Jul 28, 2012 04:32 PM

                                                You can find recipes with none at all as well. Or that have all sorts of other ingredients. It really does not make a point.

                                          2. re: mcf
                                            ipsedixit RE: mcf Jul 25, 2012 08:51 PM

                                            Almost everything Szechuan is made sticky sweet, in the U.S. at least.

                                            Utterly false.

                                            1. re: ipsedixit
                                              mcf RE: ipsedixit Jul 26, 2012 07:07 AM

                                              I'll add "in my experience."

                                              1. re: ipsedixit
                                                huiray RE: ipsedixit Jul 27, 2012 06:21 AM

                                                "Utterly false."

                                                1. re: huiray
                                                  mcf RE: huiray Jul 27, 2012 06:41 AM


                                              2. re: mcf
                                                linguafood RE: mcf Jul 27, 2012 06:44 AM

                                                I've yet to have any Sichuan food that is sweet. Apart from the cold noodle appetizer on which they often sprinkle some sugar, and which I don't tend to get.

                                                Sweet ma po? Never. Thank freaking goodness.

                                                1. re: linguafood
                                                  mcf RE: linguafood Jul 27, 2012 06:51 AM

                                                  As I said, not ma po, most other stuff. I envy you. Often, even ordering "no sugar, MSG or corn starch, it's still sweet and at least a bit thickened, which lets me know where not to eat again. The highest rated restaurant in my area (by numerous critics and with many good dishes if well chosen) served the most candied Szechuan shrimp dish, it was inedible for me, for example. And this was near a university with a very large Chinese student population and many Chinese in evidence. I'm guessing they ordered off the menu and in Chinese, perhaps, and were not getting the American Sugar Festival menu.

                                                  Just googled around and immediately found numerous Szechuan recipes with sugar, including the first one, a beef dish with 6 tsps. of it.

                                                  1. re: mcf
                                                    linguafood RE: mcf Jul 27, 2012 07:05 AM

                                                    Whoda thunk I could get better Sichuan food out in the boondocks than you in the NY metro area! '-)

                                                    1. re: linguafood
                                                      huiray RE: linguafood Jul 27, 2012 07:17 AM

                                                      Don't forget that mcf appears to have a heightened personal sensitivity to sugar, from what I have gathered.

                                                      1. re: huiray
                                                        mcf RE: huiray Jul 27, 2012 07:28 AM

                                                        Yabbut, back then, my husband absolutely did not, and he couldn't stand it, either. And he was a General Tso's lover. Now that he's been eating low carb for a few years, he, too, can't stand added sugars and has completely lost his outsized sweet tooth.

                                                      2. re: linguafood
                                                        mcf RE: linguafood Jul 27, 2012 07:32 AM

                                                        It's kind of shocking that I live in a town with a gadzillion good restaurants of various ethnicities and price points and the single decent Chinese restaurant here shut down a few years back and nothing has taken its place. Only horrifyingly bad ones still remain, I don't know how they stay open. This is a vibrant town filled with shops, galleries and folks sophisticated about food. Just makes no sense. I had better choices in the little semi rural hamlet I lived in before.

                                                        1. re: mcf
                                                          linguafood RE: mcf Jul 27, 2012 08:01 AM

                                                          Well, we have a cornucopia of "Asian" restaurants in town, due to the large Asian population. Mostly bad Chinese (save for aforementioned Sichuan heaven), some dumbed-down pan-Asian crap, and a pretty decent sushi place as well as a Thai place.

                                                          Finally, the area has diversified very recently, and we now have a decent/good Greek, as well as some very good lahmaçun (made by Turks who moved there from Freiburg, Germany) & very good lebanese food (the first edible falafel I had in the area).

                                                          Apparently, up until the early 90s, it was all chain restaurants and a few mom n pop places. Glad things started (and are continuing) to change before I got there :-)

                                                          1. re: linguafood
                                                            mcf RE: linguafood Jul 27, 2012 08:15 AM

                                                            Lebanese, wow, what I wouldn't do or kill for that!

                                                            1. re: linguafood
                                                              Bacardi1 RE: linguafood Jul 27, 2012 08:36 AM

                                                              Another "Asian" cornucopia here as well. What's truly amazing is that Culpeper, VA, is a very small town, yet boasts NINE (yup - NINE) Asian restaurants. One Thai, one or two solely Chinese, a handful of Japanese/Chinese combos, & a couple of lackluster buffets. Out of this bevy (& we've tried them all), the Thai place is "okay", one tiny Chinese takeout place has a few worthwhile dishes, & one Japanese/Chinese place is just on the outskirts of outstanding in many ways. The rest range from "meh" to downright awful.

                                                              Now if we drive about an hour south to Charlottesville, VA, we can (& do) dine at "Peter Chang's China Grill", owned by the infamous & elusive Szechuan chef Peter Chang, & his Szechuan dishes are authentic, ethereal, & mouthwatering. Dry-Fried Eggplant, Spicy Deep-Fried Mushrooms, Bamboo Shrimp (sort of a take on Salt & Pepper Shrimp), Braised Fish in Szechuan Chili Sauce (my personal favorite), Spicy Fragrant Duck - the list is endless, & I'm salivating at the very thought of all those lovely Szechuan peppercorns & chilis. While there are some Americanized dishes on the menu, they're far above the norm in quality; plus he does sometimes come up with his own "specials" - again - far above the norm. We've yet to EVER be disappointed with anything we've eaten here, & now have so many favorites that it's become difficult to choose whenever we visit. Here's a link to his restaurant website:


                                                              1. re: Bacardi1
                                                                linguafood RE: Bacardi1 Jul 27, 2012 08:41 AM

                                                                This is the place in our podunk town:


                                                                1. re: linguafood
                                                                  Bacardi1 RE: linguafood Jul 27, 2012 08:45 AM

                                                                  That place definitely looks like my cup o' tea!!! Thanks for sharing.

                                                                  1. re: Bacardi1
                                                                    linguafood RE: Bacardi1 Jul 27, 2012 08:48 AM

                                                                    We go once a week with a crowd ranging anywhere between 8-16 people. It's addictive.

                                                                    1. re: linguafood
                                                                      huiray RE: linguafood Jul 27, 2012 08:57 AM

                                                                      Just curious - do you ever eat "delicate" Cantonese fare, without the heat+spice typical of Szechuanese food?

                                                                      1. re: huiray
                                                                        linguafood RE: huiray Jul 27, 2012 10:30 AM

                                                                        Not nearly as often. The Cantonese stuff in our town is highly Americanized.

                                                                        We always pick up roast pork & goose in Chinatown in the city on our way out, tho. I don't actually know whether this is typical Cantonese fare, but I love it.

                                                                    2. re: Bacardi1
                                                                      mcf RE: Bacardi1 Jul 27, 2012 09:13 AM

                                                                      That food looks excellent! A couple of them look suspiciously glossy with sugar, maybe, but I'd give them a spin...

                                                                      1. re: mcf
                                                                        Bacardi1 RE: mcf Jul 28, 2012 06:15 AM

                                                                        I have a feeling that "glossiness" was done solely for photographic purposes, because the food that's served doesn't come out that way.

                                                                        1. re: Bacardi1
                                                                          mcf RE: Bacardi1 Jul 28, 2012 06:21 AM

                                                                          Gotcha. Usually, food that looks that way is highly sugared, IME, not just oily.

                                                                          1. re: mcf
                                                                            JolokiaJen RE: mcf Jul 28, 2012 07:46 AM

                                                                            Went for chinese again this week. I asked for the Bean Curd with Vegetable on the menu. She asks me, "Do you want that sweet or sweet & spicy?" I'm like Neither! Just spicy, not sweet. It does seem like they are americanizing some of the dishes? Does Bean Curd with Vegetable usually come sweet? Anyway, what I ended up with was a slightly spicy brown sauce that was really salty, not like the Lo Mein sauce at all. Oh, and I asked about the Ma Po Tofu and they said they don't have that, even though it's on the menu! I guess I'll have to find another place that sells it.

                                                                            1. re: JolokiaJen
                                                                              mcf RE: JolokiaJen Jul 28, 2012 08:09 AM

                                                                              It might be much more satisfying to make your own and get exactly what you want. If you have time and desire to.

                                                                              1. re: mcf
                                                                                linguafood RE: mcf Jul 28, 2012 08:43 AM

                                                                                That's funny. I wanted to make it from scratch once -- we have a very good Asian grocer in town -- and I had brought the ingredient list with me, looking for (I think) fermented black bean sauce. As you can imagine, a lot of the labels aren't in English, so I ended up asking a Chinese mom and her son for advice. He explained to her what I was looking for, and she pointed me to a ma po tofu sauce mix in a pouch ( you basically just add it to the tofu, ground pork & scallions, maybe some garlic... and, of course, more toasted and ground up Sichuan peppercorns :-D), telling me through him that this is how everyone she knew made it, and that she used it herself. Oh well.

                                                                                The sauce is actually not bad at all -- especially if you augment it with stuff, and it lists pretty much similar ingredients to those in recipes that have you make it from scratch.

                                                                                I know I am lucky to have this wonderful restaurant nearby, so I can get my weekly ma po fix on. I've not found the need to make it again myself.

                                                                                1. re: linguafood
                                                                                  mcf RE: linguafood Jul 28, 2012 08:48 AM

                                                                                  I think I may have actually bought and used some of those years back... had completely forgotten until you mentioned it. Too sweet, though, IIRC, for me. May have had other stuff I didn't want.

                                                                                  I had a similar experience, being led to convenience foods instead of ingredients, in the Asian market.

                                                                                  1. re: mcf
                                                                                    JolokiaJen RE: mcf Jul 28, 2012 09:00 AM

                                                                                    I still have two more places I'm going to try asking for the Ma Po Tofu before I give up. I also want to try this one dish called Buddhist Delight Pan Fried Soft Noodle.

                                                                                    1. re: mcf
                                                                                      linguafood RE: mcf Jul 28, 2012 09:01 AM

                                                                                      I don't recall a sweet flavor at all, and I'm pretty sensitive to sweet things.

                                                                                      It was mostly very oily and savory. Ok, let's call it what it really is: salty.

                                                                                      1. re: linguafood
                                                                                        mcf RE: linguafood Jul 28, 2012 09:24 AM

                                                                                        It's been a long time: I may not remember correctly. Also, since I don't regularly eat sugar/carbs... I am extremely sensitive to them when present, as I think huiray pointed out.

                                                                                        Here's the nutrition info for what looks like the packets I used, actually has a lot of sugar for the serving size, 16 of its 40 calories come from sugars: http://caloriecount.about.com/calorie...

                                                                                        It may not taste sweet to everyone, but I know that things with less sugar per TBS taste sweet to me, like some ketchups.

                                                                                        1. re: mcf
                                                                                          huiray RE: mcf Jul 28, 2012 10:21 AM

                                                                                          I *have* used one of those packets (undoubtedly a different manufacturer from that for yours) out of curiosity. I don't specifically remember it as sweet or not, although it could have been, because it was not spicy enough (in the overall sense) and also unbalanced - pretty much blah, but that was to my taste. It was also barely or at best only modestly fiery, if that - even though I got the one that said "VERY HOT".

                                                                              2. re: mcf
                                                                                chefj RE: mcf Jul 28, 2012 10:44 AM

                                                                                Corn starch thickened sauces have that kind gloss with or with out sugar.

                                                                                1. re: chefj
                                                                                  mcf RE: chefj Jul 28, 2012 11:08 AM

                                                                                  I haven't noticed that extreme shininess in non sweet but thick stuff, though. But that doesn't mean it doesn't contribute. It's never not been icky sweet when that shiny, at least for the few decades since I've made that connection.

                                                        2. re: JolokiaJen
                                                          GH1618 RE: JolokiaJen Jul 25, 2012 01:10 PM

                                                          I don't think of it as sweet. The Ma Po sauce I use at home (Lee Kum Kee) contains sugar, but it's not particularly sweet.

                                                          1. re: GH1618
                                                            mcf RE: GH1618 Jul 25, 2012 01:40 PM

                                                            It gets almost half of its calories from sugar, four grams in 1.5 TBS. That's mighty sweet to some folks, like me. http://caloriecount.about.com/calorie...

                                                        3. Bacardi1 RE: JolokiaJen Jul 25, 2012 11:27 AM

                                                          Here's one of my favorite recipes for "Home-Style" Tofu that I adapted from a recipe from one of my favorite Chinese cookbooks:

                                                          Bacardi1 Home-Style Bean Curd
                                                          (adapted from "Madame Chu's Chinese Cooking School)


                                                          1 square extra-firm or firm bean curd, drained & cubed
                                                          Approx. 3 tablespoons vegetable or peanut oil
                                                          1/4 pound ground meat (beef, pork, turkey, or chicken (approx. 1/4 of your standard-size supermarket package - I divide, wrap, & freeze the rest for future recipes)
                                                          1-2 tablespoons dry sherry
                                                          1 tablespoon soy sauce
                                                          1 teaspoon sugar
                                                          2-3cloves of garlic, peeled & roughly chopped
                                                          One package fresh shitake mushrooms, stemmed & sliced (or 6-8 dry shitake mushrooms, soaked in hot water for an hour, stemmed & sliced)
                                                          2 tablespoons dried Cloud Ear mushrooms, soaked (optional)
                                                          1 small can sliced bamboo shoots, rinsed & drained
                                                          1-2 stalks Bok Choy or Chinese (Napa) Cabbage, sliced
                                                          1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
                                                          2 tablespoons Hoisin sauce
                                                          1 scallion, cut into 1" lengths (optional)

                                                          Combine sherry, soy sauce, & sugar. Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a wok or large frying pan, add the ground meat & stir for around 3 minutes. Add Bok Choy or cabbage & cook for 3 more minutes. Add sherry mix, along with mushrooms, cloud ears, bamboo shoots, garlic, & red pepper flakes. Mix well. Add bean curd & stir gently. Add 1/2 cup of water, lower heat, cover, & cook for an additional 3 minutes. Add Hoisin sauce & scallions if using, stir & serve over hot rice.

                                                          1. Bacardi1 RE: JolokiaJen Jul 25, 2012 11:29 AM

                                                            And here's another one, that isn't all that different except for less veggies & the addition of Five-Spice Powder.

                                                            Bacardi1 Szechuan Spicy Bean Curd
                                                            (adapted from "Madame Chu's Chinese Cooking School")


                                                            1/2 cup chicken broth
                                                            1 tablespoon soy sauce
                                                            1 tablespoon dry sherry
                                                            1/2 teaspoon sugar
                                                            1-1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
                                                            1 square extra-firm or firm bean curd, drained & cubed
                                                            A couple of dollops of vegetable or peanut oil for stir-frying
                                                            3-4 cloves garlic, peeled & roughly chopped
                                                            1 tablespoon (approx. an inch or two) peeled grated or minced fresh ginger
                                                            1 scallion, chopped (optional)
                                                            1-2 stalks Bok Choy or Chinese/Napa Cabbage, sliced
                                                            1/4-1/2 pound ground meat (any type – I use ground turkey)
                                                            1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
                                                            1 tablespoon hot sesame oil OR regular sesame oil
                                                            Approx. 1/4 teaspoon Chinese 5-spice powder

                                                            Combine broth with soy sauce, dry sherry, sugar, & cornstarch & set aside. Heat a vegetable oil in a wok or large skillet. Add ground meat & stir for around 3 minutes. Add Bok Choy or Napa Cabbage & stir an additional 2 minutes. Add scallions (if using), garlic, ginger, & red pepper flakes & stir a few times. Add bean curd, stir gently, then add broth mixture & bring to a boil while continuing to stir gently. When heated thru & slightly thickened, turn off heat & sprinkle sesame oil over the top. Stir one more time, sprinkle 5-spice powder over, & serve.

                                                            Unlike most stir-fry dishes, this one can be covered & kept warm until ready to serve.

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: Bacardi1
                                                              JolokiaJen RE: Bacardi1 Jul 25, 2012 12:56 PM

                                                              I have some of that stuff like Chinese 5 spice powder and Hoisin sauce

                                                            2. chefj RE: JolokiaJen Jul 25, 2012 05:04 PM

                                                              So from what i can tell the Restaurant you are patronizing sounds like it is not a Szechuan restaurant. If so your really do not stand a chance of getting anything that actually resembles a Szechuan dish.
                                                              Here is a link to a very good recipe for Ma Po Doh Fu 麻婆豆腐
                                                              And Home Style Bean Curd 家常豆腐

                                                              note that Ma Po has ground meat and home style has pork belly or bacon, neither is usually a vegetarian dish but you are more likely to find the Home Style with out meat.

                                                              4 Replies
                                                              1. re: chefj
                                                                mcf RE: chefj Jul 25, 2012 06:13 PM

                                                                Thanks for those links! The Mapo looks exactly what I've always been served as home style. The home style is something I've never seen. The Mapo recipe also sounds like it would produce something very much as I described my favorite version, but I've never seen it on a menu as anything but home style.

                                                                1. re: mcf
                                                                  chefj RE: mcf Jul 26, 2012 06:17 PM

                                                                  There seems to be a lot of confusion about these dishes. It may be because of American-Chinese restaurants mislabeling the dish in the translation or thinking that people recognize Ma Po Tofu.

                                                                  1. re: chefj
                                                                    mcf RE: chefj Jul 26, 2012 06:47 PM

                                                                    Definitely mislabeling... I got the deep fried one maybe once, never thinking home style would come out that way.... really disliked it...

                                                                    1. re: mcf
                                                                      huiray RE: mcf Jul 27, 2012 06:25 AM

                                                                      Apart from restaurant-to-restaurant variations, many (if not most) times it is not "mislabeling". It is an attempt at a translation of a Chinese phrase which may or may not have info/characteristics which are "understood" from a native standpoint, or which may be purely "flowery" or "poetic" in an idiomatic way.

                                                                      These two recent threads (on which you seem not to have participated in) bring up this issue within the conversation(s) in them:

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