What is mapo tofu?
Mapo tofu (pronounced “maa-poh TO-foe”) is a spicy dish from the Chinese province of Sichuan, consisting of fresh silk tofu, ground beef, fermented beans and Sichuan peppercorns. A well-made mapo tofu makes your tongue tingle and a portion of steamed rice is essential to counteract the heat. The coarse peppercorns give an extra mini-explosion of spicy pepper with every bite. Once you get used to the heat of the dish, you can taste that your peppercorns also give off a floral aroma. But you have to break through the heat barrier first!
The Sichuan kitchen is hot, hot, hot! The typical peppercorns and homemade chilli oil are essential components and can be so overwhelmingly present in a dish that Western taste buds can recognise little else. Yet every dish in the Sichuan cuisine, including mapo tofu, has a symphony of flavours. The peppercorns are not only tingling but also floral, the minced meat brings umami and the tofu a soft creaminess.
Although it is more likely that the name of the dish refers to the narcotic feeling (ma) that you feel in your mouth after eating the dish, there is a lovely story about the origin of mapo tofu. According to tradition, there was once an old lady who made and sold tofu in her restaurant. She had a pockmarked face; they called her ma (pockmark) po (grandma). When an unpleasant customer left a bag of minced meat behind, she incorporated the meat into one of her tofu dishes, and this was such a success that it is still eaten today.
Did you know...
Mapo tofu is the best-known tofu dish in the world and the signature dish of Sichuan cuisine. Despite the tofu, mapo tofu is not a vegetarian dish.
How to make mapo tofu
First, a bright red chilli oil is made by heating and drying dried red peppers in oil.
Coarsely ground Sichuan peppercorns and ginger are fried in oil. Minced meat – optionally pork, beef, chicken or turkey – is cooked in the oil. A substantial amount of doubanjiang (a kind of paste made with broad beans) ensures the first load of spice and colour. Chicken broth and a maize juice make a nice sauce; the chilli oil gives an extra kick and then the tofu is added. The dish is finished with a handful of finely chopped spring onions.
How to eat
Eat the dish with white rice.
Can you tolerate a chilli pepper or four? Then Asian cuisine has something to offer you. Similar to mapo tofu, Indonesian rendang also has a deep layered taste that continues to intrigue, especially once you have become used to the spiciness. Indian cuisine features many spicy curries such as vindaloo and jalfrezi.