I’m addicted to the magical combination of silky soft tofu and saucy spicy pork. If you’re in the know, you know what I’m talking about: mapo tofu.

What is mapo tofu?

Mapo tofu is a famous Sichuan tofu dish that has plenty of mala, the signature numbing spiciness of good Sichuan food. If you haven’t had Sichuan food before, you might be scared of it’s fire-y red color, but once you get past that fear of heat, you’ll be coming back for more, more, more.

I never used to love spicy food, but I’ve always, always loved tofu. As a kid, it would be on the menu two, sometimes even three times a week. Partially because we all loved it, but mostly it was because my brother was a tofu addict. He would beg my mom to cook tofu for him. He didn’t even care how it was made, he just had to have tofu. It was one of those funny things that all of our family friends knew about. They even teased him, telling him that his future wife would have to be a tofu maker. Spoiler: sadly, my sister-in-law is not an artisanal tofu maker. But, she likes tofu too, and in particular, mapo tofu.

If you love tofu and you love spicy, you’re going to love mapo tofu too. And, if you’re not so big on spicy, the good thing about this dish is that you can adjust the spiciness level by altering how big of a pinch of Sichuan pepper you finish it with.

If you’re not familiar with it, here’s a quick breakdown: mapo tofu is a super popular Chinese dish from the Sichuan province. It has soft tofu in a spicy bright red sauce with a bit of ground pork. The name of the dish roughly translates to “pockmarked grandma’s tofu,” kind of like old grandma’s tofu. There are lots of mapo tofus out there but this is a traditional, authentic mapo tofu recipe.

mapo tofu | www.iamafoodblog.com

What does mapo tofu taste like?

Mapo tofu tastes spicy: both conventionally spicy with heat on your tongue, and málà, a numbing kind of spicy that is characteristic of Sichuan food. The sauce is pleasingly oily, which ampliflies the spiciness and flavor. It also has a deeply savoriness to it thanks to the umami from the doubanjiang. Also key is the texture play mapo tofu has going on: the silky creaminess from the soft tofu coats your tongue and the crispy-ish bits of pork add a pleasing contrast to the overall softness and sauciness of the dish. Mapo tofu is soul food and maybe the best comfort food out there, especially when paired with perfectly fluffy rice.

Key Ingredients

There are two key ingredients to this tofu: chili bean paste (doubanjiang) and Sichuan peppercorns. You can find both of them at your local Asian grocery store. The other ingredients are pretty standard fare.

  • Doubanjiang. Sometimes, with authentic recipes, there’s that one ingredient that you have to search far and wide for. You’ll be searching the aisles wondering, is this worth it? I’m here to tell you that it is! Doubanjiang is a spicy fermented mix of soy and broad beans. It’s been called the soul of Sichuan cooking and it’s what will give your mapo tofu that glorious red hue. When shopping, you want to look for the Pixian (an area in China) variety if you can. It’s kind of like how, if you can, you want to buy champagne from the Champagne region in France. But, like champagne, if you can only find sparkling wine, don’t sweat it, Lee Kum Kee also sells a serviceable easier to find Cantonese style doubanjiang that they call chili bean sauce/toban djan. More about doubanjiang here!
  • Sichuan peppercorns. In regards to Sichuan peppercorns, you can buy pre-ground Sichuan peppercorn powder, but if they’re available, go for whole Sichuan peppercorns and toast and grind them yourself. The spice will be much more fresh and apparent if you do.
  • Soft tofu. Soft tofu is key to authentic mapo tofu. The tofu should be smooth, creamy, and soft.
  • Ground pork. There’s just a bit of ground pork in this dish, just enough to compliment the tofu.
  • Ginger and garlic. Ginger and garlic add a punch of aromatics.
  • Chicken stock. Chicken stock is what makes up the bulk of the sauce.
  • Cornstarch. We’ll use cornstarch as a thickener to make the sauce silky and smooth.
  • Soy sauce. Just a touch of soy for some extra umami.

mapo tofu recipe | i am a food blog

On tofu

I have to say, the most frequently asked questions about mapo tofu are of the following variety: What kind of tofu for mapo tofu? Can you use firm tofu in mapo tofu? It seems like everyone needs to know: which tofu is it! Lots of recipes out there say you can use firm or medium tofu and of course, you can, but if you’re going for an authentic mapo tofu, go for soft tofu. The tofu should be smooth and jiggly and almost break apart the moment your chopsticks touch them. I think a lot of recipes recommend firm or medium firm tofu because soft tofu is notoriously difficult to work with. But I believe in you. Do the soft tofu. It’s worth it!

Pro tip: to help your tofu stay together when you toss it into the sauce, blanch it. To blanch tofu: simply place in just simmered salted water for a couple of minutes and let it sit. Blanching tofu in salted water will season it and help firm it up. The tofu will become even more creamy and supple while retaining its shape when you mix it into the mapo sauce. It also has the bonus of making the tofu warm so that you don’t have to heat it up as much in the sauce.

mapo tofu recipe | i am a food blog

How to make mapo tofu?

Once you have your ingredients in hand, it’s a pretty simple recipe. You start off by blanching your tofu in salty water. Then, it’s just a question of frying the pork and doubanjiang, adding some chicken stock and thickening it up. Frying the doubanjiang and releasing the oils is what makes everything super tasty and fragrant. The sauce gets a bit of thickening up with cornstarch and everything is glossy and golden and clings perfectly to your tofu cubes. It’s a match made in heaven for fluffy rice.

  1. Blanch the tofu. Gently simmer the tofu over low heat in salted water, then remove the pot from the heat and let it hang out in its salty bath.
  2. Fry. Brown the pork so it crisps up a bit then add the doubanjiang and fry it so that the heat releases its spicy red oils. Stir in the garlic and ginger.
  3. Sauce. Add the chicken stock and soy sauce and bring everything up to a bubble. Add the drained tofu cubes and stir in a cornstarch slurry. Simmer until the sauce is thick and gloss then you’re ready!

making mapo sauce | www.iamafoodblog.com

Can mapo tofu be vegetarian/vegan?

Vegan mapo tofu: You can skip out on the ground pork and it will be vegan. If you have some dried shiitake mushrooms on hand, soak them, drain them, chop them up and give them a fry in place of the pork. Switch the chicken stock out for vegetable stock.

What do you eat mapo tofu with?

Traditionally mapo tofu is served with fluffy rice. You can also have mapo tofu with noodles (or zoodles), bread, you name it. Essentially it goes with any carb. We’ve even made mapo tofu pizza and mapo tofu poutine. And of course, it goes great with wonton.

mapo tofu recipe | i am a food blog

Tastes good on zoodles too!

mapo tofu recipe | i am a food blog

Mapo Tofu

You might be scared of it’s fire-y red color, but once you get past that fear of heat, you’ll be coming back for more, more, more.
Serves 4
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 20 mins
Cook Time 10 mins
Total Time 30 mins

Ingredients

  • 14 oz soft tofu 1 block
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1/4 lb ground pork
  • 1.5 tbsp doubanjiang chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 2 tsp ginger grated or finely chopped
  • 1 cup chicken stock sodium free/unsalted preferred
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch whisked into 2 tbsp water
  • 1/2 tsp ground sichuan pepper or to taste
  • green onions thinly sliced, to finish

Instructions

  • Cut the tofu into small cubes and set aside. Bring a pot of water to a boil and add a pinch of salt. Turn the heat down to a simmer then add the tofu and cook for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and let soak in the salted water while you prepare the rest of the dish.
    cubing up tofu | www.iamafoodblog.com
  • In a wok, heat up the oil over medium heat. Add the pork and cook, breaking up, until the fat renders out and the pork is cooked through. Turn down the heat and add the doubanjiang and cook, stirring, until the oils release from the doubanjiang and everything looks bright red.
  • Stir in the garlic and ginger and cook for 1 minute. Add the stock and soy sauce and bring the heat up so everything comes up to a simmer.
    making mapo sauce | www.iamafoodblog.com
  • Drain the tofu and add it to the wok, pushing it around gently so you don’t break it. Stir in the cornstarch slurry and bring up to a gentle simmer, until the sauce is thick and glossy, about 1 minute.
    mapo tofu | www.iamafoodblog.com
  • Turn off the heat and scoop the tofu with sauce into a serving dish. Finish with a sprinkle of ground Sichuan peppercorn and sliced green onions.
    mapo tofu recipe | i am a food blog

Estimated Nutrition

Nutrition Facts
Mapo Tofu
Amount Per Serving
Calories 150 Calories from Fat 74
% Daily Value*
Fat 8.2g13%
Saturated Fat 1.3g8%
Cholesterol 22mg7%
Sodium 716mg31%
Potassium 257mg7%
Carbohydrates 5.6g2%
Fiber 0.3g1%
Sugar 1.9g2%
Protein 14.5g29%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

16 Comments

  1. Sabrina says:

    really unique ingredients here, at least for me, tofu AND pork, nice, thank you for another creative recipe

  2. Mandy says:

    I love tofu. I am always looking for inspirational recipes. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Michelle says:

      Just curious as to why the tofu was cooked in boiling water before adding to the meat mixture?

      1. Stephanie says:

        i helps the tofu stay together so that when you stir fry it it doesn’t crumble as much :)

  3. Alexia says:

    That looks very flavorful. I don’t often have tofu, but that looks really good.

    1. Stephanie says:

      mapo tofu is the way to go – so flavorful! :)

  4. Edith says:

    I prepare mapo tofu on a regular basis with the same ingredients. I was looking for the quantities because I need to be more consistent with the spiciness. Thank you!!

  5. George says:

    This recipe leaves out some highly desirable ingredients: fermented black beans (douchi) and ginger, most especially. Also best practice is to deglaze with shaoxing rice wine (or sherry) before adding soup base. Dark soy sauce (or a mix of light and dark) is superior here as well.

    1. Katie says:

      It says ginger in the recipe lmao

  6. Michelle Kash says:

    Would this be terrible without the pork?

    1. Stephanie says:

      no! you can use mushrooms instead :)

    2. Vi says:

      I usually make mapo tofu without meat, since I’m a vegetarian. My carnivorous husband likes it. One day, I decided to make it with meat thinking my husband would be pleasantly surprised, but after eating it he said he liked the taste of the vegetarian version better.

  7. Mimi says:

    Hi!! What brand do you use for Doubanjiang? From Pixian?

    1. Stephanie says:

      yes, the one from pixian, i use the one pictured in this post :)

  8. Megan says:

    Thanks so much for the recipe! I’ve been craving mapo tofu for a while and this recipe made it surprisingly easy to make!

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Thanks for reading as always!
-Steph & Mike