Almost no other dish represents the taste of China and especially the Sichuan cuisine as well as an authentic Mapo Tofu Recipe. Mapo Tofu is a popular Sichuan dish that is well-known and loved for its spicy and numbing flavors.
I discovered Mapo Tofu while traveling in the Sichuan Province and China for several months. Every time I cook an authentic Mapo Tofu at home, the unique aroma immediately takes me back to Sichuan and its unmistakable cuisine. While being in Sichuan and southern China I had Mapo Tofu for almost every second lunch and never got bored of it.
Mapo Tofu is also a versatile dish that can be adapted to suit different dietary preferences. Vegetarians and vegans can substitute ground meat with dried shitake mushrooms or other vegetables. While those who prefer a milder flavor can adjust the amount of Sichuan peppercorns and spice level to their liking.
In this recipe, however, we’re going for the traditional and authentic Sichuan Mapo Tofu.
The History of Mapo Tofu
The name “Mapo Tofu” (麻婆豆腐) is derived from the name of the elderly woman who created the dish, “Mapo” (麻婆), and the main ingredient, tofu (豆腐).
According to legend, Mapo Tofu was invented by a woman named Chen Mapo, who was a widow living in Chengdu during the late 19th century. Chen Mapo was known for her fiery personality and her love of spicy food. She created the dish by combining tofu, ground meat, and Sichuan peppercorns with a spicy sauce made from doubanjiang (fermented broad bean paste) and other seasonings. The dish became popular among locals and eventually spread throughout China and other parts of the world.
Ingredients for an authentic Mapo Tofu
The secret of a great Mapo Tofu Recipe is balanced and harmonious flavors, creating a depth of taste that makes it satisfying to eat. And one of the main goals is to get the right and quality ingredients.
Authentic Sichuan Mapo Tofu is made with soft tofu, which is gently simmered in a spicy and numbing sauce made from Doubanjiang, Sichuan peppercorns, garlic, ginger, scallions, and other seasonings.
Ground pork or beef is also added to the dish for extra flavor and texture. The dish is traditionally served with steamed rice and garnished with chopped scallion greens.
By looking at all the ingredients, you might think cooking a Mapo Tofu recipe might be complicated. But in fact, the opposite is true! Making Mapo Tofu is super easy once you have all the ingredients. Most of the ingredients also last for a long time and you can make this recipe several times from them. Another benefit is, that you can use most of the Chinese condiments like Shaoxing wine, soy sauce, sesame oil, etc. for several other Chinese or Asian recipes!
From all the ingredients shown in the picture above, there are two key ingredients for a successful and authentic Mapo Tofu.
Doubanjiang (豆瓣酱), also known as fermented broad bean paste, is a savory and spicy condiment commonly used in Sichuan cuisine. It is made from fermented broad beans, chili peppers, and salt. Doubanjiang adds depth and complexity of flavor to dishes like this Mapo Tofu recipe, Sichuan hot pot, or stir-fries. Over the last few years of cooking Mapo Tofu at home, I tried different brands of Doubanjiang. Including the one from the “Lee Kum Kee” brand that is available almost everywhere. However, when it comes to taste and complexity, for me there is no better brand than the Pixian Doubanjiang (郫县豆瓣酱) which is made in Sichuan using traditional methods and ingredients.
The Sichuan Pepper is responsible for both, the heat and the numbing sensations. Sichuan Pepper has its own unmistakable taste which creates a unique and addictive flavor that is hard to replicate in other dishes. Sichuan Peppercorns can be found in almost every Asian supermarket these days. For my Mapo Tofu Recipe, I prefer these red Sichuan Peppercorns. The red Peppercorns tend to have a stronger flavor but therefore a less strong numbing effect than the green ones.
Tips for a successful Mapo Tofu made at home
You can find images and a full step-by-step Video of the Mapo Tofu Recipe down below. Summarized, here are a few key points for a successful Mapo Tofu:
- The type of Tofu
Most restaurants in China use soft or silken tofu, and I had both several times. They’re both great in their own way. However, silken tofu definitely takes some skills to cook, especially in a Mapo Tofu. As silken Tofu might fall apart, I suggest using soft / medium-firm tofu instead. Regardless of which tofu you use, it is recommended to pre-simmer the tofu in salted water as I’m showing in the recipe below. This helps to take away the “soy” taste of it and to slightly firm the tofu.
Broad bean paste can be spicy and salty. If you make Mapo Tofu for the first time, I suggest using just one heaping teaspoon of Doubanjiang. This way you’re on the safe side and if you like its flavors and tolerate more salt, you can use 2tsp the second time.
- Sichuan Pepper
In this Mapo Tofu recipe, I’m going for 2tsp of red Sichuan Pepper as I love the taste and tingling sensation of it. If you never tried Sichuan Pepper before, you could also go for 1tsp to see how you like the numbing effect of it.
You’re a big fan of Sichuan flavors? Here is the link to my Sichuan Chili Oil Recipe and some other Dinner Recipes
Authentic Mapo Tofu Recipe
- 1 wok or any kind of frying pan
- 300 grams Soft Tofu (medium firm Tofu) Not Silken Tofu, that might fall apart while cooking.
- 60 grams Minced pork Can be replaced with Dried Shiitake Mushrooms for a vegetarian version.
- 1-2 tsp Doubanjiang (broad bean paste) Get the Pixian Brand for best results!
- 2 tsp Sichuan Peppercorns
- 1 tbsp Light Soy Sauce
- 1 tbsp Shaoxing Wine
- 2 gloves garlic
- 1 thumb size fresh ginger
- 3 dl chicken / vegetable stock
- 1 tsp Douchi (fermented black soy beans) This is optional
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 1 piece spring onion
- 1 tsp sugar
- 2 tsp corn starch
- 2 tbsp oil Rapeseed oil or Sichuan Caiziyou Oil if you can get some.
Preparing the Ingredients
- Add Sichuan Peppercorns to the wok/pan and toast them for about 1-2 minutes at minimum heat. Keep them tossing and moving so they won't burn.2 tsp Sichuan Peppercorns
- Finely grind the Sichuan Pepper with mortar and pestle (or anything else).
- Finely mince the garlic and ginger1 thumb size fresh ginger, 2 gloves garlic
- cut in half the spring onion and cut in slices (whites and greens separate)1 piece spring onion
- cut the Tofu in small cubes and simmer them in salted water for about 2-3 minutes. Fill the tofu (together with the water) in a bowl and put aside for later.300 grams Soft Tofu (medium firm Tofu)
Cooking the Mapo Tofu
- put some oil in a preheated wok/pan2 tbsp oil
- add the minced pork and fry for about 2-3 minutes until slightly turning brown60 grams Minced pork
- add the Doubanjiang paste, stir a little and keep frying for 1-2 minutes until the red oil is coming out of the paste.1-2 tsp Doubanjiang (broad bean paste)
- add the minced garlic, ginger, whites from the spring onion and Douchi (give them a quick rinse before adding them). Fry for another 3 minutes at medium-low heat.
- deglaze with the chicken / vegetable stock3 dl chicken / vegetable stock
- season the sauce with sugar, light soy sauce and shaoxing wine1 tbsp Light Soy Sauce, 1 tbsp Shaoxing Wine, 1 tsp Douchi (fermented black soy beans), 1 tsp sugar
- add the tofu cubes to the sauce and keep simmering for 3-5 minutes.
- mix together the corn starch with a little water. Thicken the sauce with half of the corn starch mix. The sauce should be more on the runny side than too thick. If the sauce is still too liquid, add the second half of the corn starch mixture.2 tsp corn starch
- sprinkle in the Sichuan Pepper and the sesame oil and carefully mix into the sauce.1 tsp sesame oil
- Fill the Mapo Tofu into a bowl, garnish with the spring onion greens and enjoy your super fragrant Sichuan Mapo Tofu!