“Missing only one of these ingredients…?

I probably talk about myself too much.

Yeah, people don’t like girls who talk about themselves too much, who can’t discuss Life of Pi without bringing up their ex-boyfriends.  I… can’t be that girl, right?  But oh look I have a blog, about my dinner, moreover it has dawned on me that very little space in this personal blog is even food-talk, but more like me-talk.  Where I should’ve dedicated an elaborate, mouth-watering and core-deep description about why you should eat this immediately, whatever this may be, I’d say “Oh look there’s a huge mole on my ass!”.

Oh my God… I am her.  But not today… not today.

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Today, this is above me.  This, requires undivided attention.  This, is a staple in practically every sichuan restaurant but somehow most people get wrong, very wrong, all the time.  A vastly false-imitated icon.  Somewhere in the world, you think you’re dressing like Kate Moss?  See, we can’t be that ignorant, can we?  So let’s just talk about this today.

This is, mapo tofu.

“Ma” means pockmarked.  “Po” means grandmother.  Of course there’s an uncredited historical origin that goes with it but whatever I don’t care.  There’s no shame if you don’t know what it is.  But you should however feel really bad, if you think you know what it is and have been gushing about, taking credits for… or worst, publishing its false recipe around town.  There’s been a couple recently and I’m not going to name names, which is more than what most can say if I put baking soda in wheat-juice and published it as beer.  Trust me, there’d be hate-mails.

So after years of making this dish at home, plus some additional, extensive research on it for the past couple weeks just so I don’t look like an idiot.  I’m here today, to set things straight.


How meticulous should you be when talking about the seriousness of real mapo tofu?  “Oh dear ma-po-lice, I’m missing only one of these ingredients”?…  Well then, DON’T EVEN BOTHER!  Step aside.  You’re hurting me.  But if you want to be serious… respectful really.  Well then:

  1. Sichuan peppercorns, red and green.  If you don’t have/aren’t willing to buy either.  You can stop reading here.  If you only have red sichuan peppercorn which is likely if you reside anywhere outside China, fine… we’ll make do.
  2. Dou-ban-jiang (“dou-ban” means broad bean, and “jiang” means paste), a fermented red chili and broad bean paste.  Take a whiff and the intense, savoury, salivating chili-fragrance will hit your nostrils.  Its importance to sichuan cuisine is like ketchup to the Americans.  If you don’t have/aren’t willing to buy it.  Stop reading here.
  3. Real chili flakes.  Put that McCormick down you’re gonna give me a heart attack!  Sichuan chili flakes are sharp in aroma, almost slightly oily and fiercely red like a food-dye.  It should attack your nose first before your tongue.  Use the wrong chili flakes?  Then don’t blame the recipe!  The more commonly found Korean chili flakes can be an acceptable substitute.
  4. The right type of tofu.  Not the firm, borderline-crumbly type.  But not the disintegrating-ly soft, silken type either.  A good quality soft~medium-firmness tofu that’s slippery and custardy, but won’t “melt” into the sauce either, is my first choice.  Don’t like tofu?  What the fuck are you reading for?
  5. Last, an option finally.  The addition of cured and fermented black bean called dou-shi, remains somewhat, if only in my mind, an on-going dispute.  I’ve tried with or without just for the record and still, I’m on Team-No.  I think it muddles with the pure chili/peppery fragrance from the dou-ban paste and sichuan peppercorn.  But if you feel strongly about it, as strongly as you can humanly feel about anything else, then add 1 1/2 tsp finely chopped along with dou-ban paste and cut soy sauce to 1/2 tsp.  Sigh…

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Now, the process.  The process that comes second, if not parallel, to the ingredients.  On top of browning the beef and condiments properly, plus reducing and thickening the sauce the right way, most recipes say to introduce some kind of chili oil in the beginning when browning the meat, and that’s that.  Well I don’t know what they’re thinking.  You sprinkle all that extra gorgeous ground peppercorns on top of your finished dish and leave them to kiss… cool air?  No. NO.  NO!  We all know that spices need to be woken up by heat, a good spanking I like to say which is what we’re gonna give it.  The last 1/2 tsp of ground sichuan peppercorn that’s sprinkled on top, is going to meet its maker as a 1/4 cup of smoking hot, specially-made chili oil rains hell-storm from the sky above, releasing hidden aromas from the ground spice and minced garlic, scorching tofu-earth.  Caaahmo’n!  Does this not make your blood sizzle with excitement, too?  Well then, you can stop reading here.

Prepare for insane, tongue-swallowing rouge madness that calls for too many bowls of rice, which took some space away from this anti-Valentine’s-Day marriage pudding but we prevailed.  Just a typical week-night.  I mean pfffff~ com’n seriously now if you think about it, who needs candlelight dinner if you can have this, except like the next morning I found like, omg three acnes on my face that, really, came out of nowhere… damn it spicy food, but I think that if I just tilt my head like this way, then maybe they won’t show like, on my instagram?  But who cares about selfies which is like soooo immature and self-absorbing when there are serious things like wars and global warming and stuff which like..

totally makes me care….

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Makes:  Enough to serve 4

If you feel that the restaurant’s mapo tofu has special zing, chances are it’s MSG in chicken powder, which I have no problem with just for the record.

Sichuan peppercorns are paramount in mapo tofu, but even then most recipes are being cheap with it.  You need the real stuff and you need more.  I have for many time, mentioned the difference between red sichuan peppercorn (the typical kind that people refer to) and green sichuan peppercorn (the less common variety), so I may be repeating myself here.  In a nutshell, red sichuan peppercorn delivers strong fragrance with a milder numbing power, whereas green sichuan peppercorn… who knows what it tastes like as it will numb your face off completely.  It is very common in China that a combination of both is used in different dishes to reach the desired balance.  If you only have red sichuan peppercorn and feel absolutely unmotivated to buy the green type, you can just use red.  But the result won’t be the same.  If you need extra push to purchase it:  this dan-dan noodle, or this chili oil, or this cold sesame noodle may help.

The thing about writing recipes with Asian condiments is that different brands vary in taste and saltiness.  The link provide for douban paste (sichuan fermented chili bean paste) is exactly the same one I used which is very authentic and salty.  If you’re using a different brand, you may need to slightly adjust the amount accordingly.  I don’t have a link for the exact dark soy sauce I used, so you’ll have to rely a little bit on your taste-buds.  If the soy sauce lands on the “sweeter” side, reduce the sugar accordingly.

Preparing oil and spices:

  • Chili bean paste oil:
    • 1 cup (210 grams) of vegetable oil
    • 1 tbsp (25 grams) of douban paste (sichuan fermented chili bean paste)
    • 2 tbsp (14 grams) of chili flakes (preferably from sichuan or Korea)
  • Assorted sichuan peppercorn powder:

To make the chili bean paste oil:  Combine vegetable oil, douban/chili bean paste and chili flakes in a sauce pot.  Break apart the douban/chili bean paste as good as you can with the back of a spoon (it’ll clump up once the oil gets hot), and set over medium heat.  Let fry for about 3 ~ 4 min until the chili flakes turn dark red in color, then turn off the heat and let it sit until cooled down completely.  Strain the oil through a fine sieve into another container, and keep in the fridge until needed.

To make the assorted sichuan peppercorn powder:  Blend the red sichuan peppercorn, and green sichuan peppercorn together in a blender or spice-grinder (did you know about this trick?!!!) until finely ground.  Keep in an air-tight container until needed.

Mapo tofu ingredients:

  • 16.6 oz (470 grams) of silken~medium firm tofu, cut into small dices
  • 4 oz (115 grams) of fatty ground beef
    • 1 tsp of toasted sesame oil
    • 1 tsp of soy sauce
    • 1 tsp of cornstarch
  • 1/2 tbsp of vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 tbsp of grated ginger
  • 3 cloves of garlic, grated
  • 1 small red chili, diced
  • 2 tsp of douban paste (sichuan fermented chili bean paste)
  • 1 tsp of assorted sichuan peppercorn powder
  • 1 tbsp of Chinese shao-xing wine (or rice wine)
  • 1 tsp of dark soy sauce
  • 1/4 tsp of sugar
  • 1 1/2 cup of unsalted chicken stock
  • 1/2 tsp of chili flakes (from sichuan or Korea)
  • 1/4 tsp of rice vinegar
  • To finish:
    • 1 tbsp of cornstarch + 2 1/2 tbsp of water
    • 1 clove of garlic, finely minced
    • 1/2 tsp of assorted sichuan peppercorn powder
    • 1/2 tsp of ground white pepper
    • 1/4 cup of chili bean paste oil

Dice tofu and set aside (Some people like to blanch the tofu in salted water for a couple min to remove the “soy bean stink”.  I don’t know… what “soy bean stink” is and if it was there, it never bothered me.  But if it bothers you, place the diced tofu in cold water with a pinch of salt.  Bring to a simmer and cook for 1 min.  Drain and set aside.)  Evenly mix ground beef, toasted sesame oil, soy sauce and cornstarch together, and set aside.

Heat up 1/2 tbsp of vegetable oil in a wok, or deep frying pan over medium-high heat.  Cook and break up the ground beef-mixture until browned, then add the grated ginger, grated garlic, diced red chili, douban paste and assorted sichuan pepper corn powder.  Stir and cook for a couple min until fragrant (it’s important to stir-fry the douban paste for a while to release its aroma), then add the shao-xing wine (or rice wine), dark soy sauce and sugar.  Cook for a min to let the alcohol evaporate, then add the chicken stock, chili flakes and the diced tofu.  Turn the heat down to medium-low, and let simmer until the liquid has reduced down almost completely and thickened slightly (stir gently in between without breaking up the tofu).  Last, add 1/4 tsp of rice vinegar and stir gently to incorporate.

Whisk together cornstarch and water, then drizzle 1/2 tbsp of the mixture slowly into the sauce.  Gently stir until thickened slightly, then drizzle another 1 tbsp more and gently stir again.  You won’t need all of the cornstarch-mixture, maybe just 1/2 tbsp more (the gradual thickening-method supposedly better help the sauce stick to the tofu).  Wait until the sauce has fully thickened before deciding if you want to add more.  Once the sauce has fully thickened, transfer to a serving dish.

Scatter the minced garlic in the center, and sprinkle 1/2 tsp of assorted sichuan peppercorn powder and 1/2 tsp of ground white pepper evenly over the tofu.  Heat up 1/4 cup of chili bean paste oil in a small pot until it starts to smoke up a little.  Pour the hot oil over the dish, and it should sizzle and release the fragrance from the peppercorn powder across the board.  Diced scallion is optional.

Serve with steamed rice and… maybe a glass of iced water.


  • Belinda@themoonblushbaker

    February 15, 2014 at 7:52 PM Reply

    I swear I could of had this rant just last night when I at a friends place. We had Chicken tarragon but it was nothing without full fat cream. I can say the same for all recipe I have seen with firm tofu in mapo tofu or the egg round tofu. They are sins, but this looks sinfully good with that oil chilli layer and pockets of beef.


      February 15, 2014 at 8:12 PM Reply

      Belinda, yeah I don’t know why but an outbreak of false mapo tofu recipes has been assaulting my face everywhere recently…. yay~ again, me, me, me~

  • Jenny

    February 15, 2014 at 8:28 PM Reply

    Sighhh there is nothing more gorgeous than a bowl of mapo tofu. I know that’s a pretty serious claim to make but can you blame me? Great recipe and beautiful photos!

  • cynthia

    February 16, 2014 at 12:31 AM Reply

    YES girl. Mandy. You are the queen of my heart. You tell it like it is — this looks like absolute perfection. I only have one question: what’s your stance on shrimp broth in mapo tofu? My mother only makes mapo tofu when she’s made sauteed shrimp the day before, then she reserves the oil and broth from the dish and uses it in her tofu. And it is the absolute best mapo tofu I’ve ever had (though I’m willing to bet that yours gives hers a run for its money!)


      February 16, 2014 at 12:41 AM Reply

      Cynthia, funny you should ask because Jason’s favorite is “seafood mapo tofu” made with small shrimps! Of course it’s a twist from the classic and there’s nothing wrong with that (I bet your mom’s mapo is divine!). I just believe there’s a few basic ingredients mapo can’t do without… and there’s too many recipes out there that doesn’t do it right, you know.

  • Brianne

    February 16, 2014 at 9:26 PM Reply

    This looks fantastic. You really freaked me out for a bit on where the shit I could find the ingredients for this, but the shop you linked to is outside Boston…like four hours from my house! Sure, they could ship it to me, but that store alone is worth a road trip. Maybe I won’t be making this any time soon, but knowing it’s possible is supremely satisfying. And I will be dreaming about that chili oil, though not the zits that may come after…

  • Amy

    February 17, 2014 at 10:36 PM Reply

    I am a newbie with the lesser known Chinese ingredients and have been using Lee Kum Kee douban jiang that I find in local LA Chinese markets. Is this a mortal sin or is it similar to the real deal?


      February 17, 2014 at 10:43 PM Reply

      Amy, I have never used Lee Kum Kee’s brand for douban jiang (probably because it’s not the go-to brand for douban jiang), so I can’t completely veto it yet…. But Lee Kum Kee is a Cantonese brand and it tends to “cantonize” its product to suit their taste. Let’s just say again, that it’s not anyone’s go-to brand for douban jiang, but if it’s absolutely the ONLY choice you got, then so be it.

  • Sophie

    February 18, 2014 at 2:23 AM Reply

    Oh gosh, I have had mapo tofu on the brain SO much recently — I got into bed, checked my email and shrieked a little when I saw your post! Perfect timing! Because I trust so much more your recipes than basically anyone elses :) I recently aquired the peppercorns and douban, just specifically for occasions such as these where a dish is not worth doing unless it’s right. So glad you’re here to set the record straight :) Dinner tonight!

  • Wendy D.

    February 18, 2014 at 10:51 AM Reply


  • Abbe@This is How I Cook

    February 18, 2014 at 11:48 AM Reply

    So how do you feel about pork vs. beef? A girl’s got to know… So happy you posted this. I really don’t like imposters unless they are tall dark and sexy.


      February 18, 2014 at 2:06 PM Reply

      SOPHIE: oh I hope it turns out good!!! Pressure’s on…

      ABBE: Pork will certainly work, too. It’s traditionally made with beef but i’ve made it many times with pork as well. PS: George was lovely :)

      • Sophie

        February 24, 2014 at 11:37 AM Reply

        This was so wonderful, Mandy! We each ate second helpings until we were about to burst. The next day my husband soaked a few green and red peppercorns in some gin and made the best martinis. They have such a floral, juniper-y aroma that was a perfect complement. But this dinner will happen again and again! Loved your version, thank you!

  • Ting

    February 19, 2014 at 2:53 AM Reply

    This is absolutely dangerous! Thinking how many more bowls of rice I can dig in I am definitely not going to make this. However, it is so hard to resist such an appealing bowl of tofu with the color, fragrance and taste. I am happy to see you posted a recipe with the right ingredient and methods of cooking.

  • Lan | morestomach

    February 20, 2014 at 2:01 AM Reply

    i think i came across a ma po tofu recipe on the Kitchn once and you left a comment about how it wasn’t the RIGHT recipe and i half expected you to jump into your computer and slap the person who posted the recipe. so then i searched your space to see if you posted the right recipe and you hadn’t and i wanted to email-badger you about it but didn’t want to get into fight about it when all i wanted was a real deal recipe. and there you have it, you’ve posted about it and i can go & attempt to make it. thank you.


      February 20, 2014 at 2:18 PM Reply

      LAN: hahahahaa i did! And it was Food52. Sorry… couldn’t help myself…

    • Scarlett

      September 10, 2020 at 12:37 AM Reply

      Unfortunately this comment has turned out to be prophetic and someone at The Kitchn has now in fact posted a “mapo tofu” recipe using firm tofu and “optional” chili flakes OR peppercorns. And no doubanjiang. No chili oil. No white pepper.

      • hollis517

        October 5, 2020 at 1:14 AM Reply

        O.M.G. No way is that mapo tofu. I sometimes read The Kitchn recipes, but this is just too much!

  • Leslie

    February 21, 2014 at 2:22 AM Reply

    Mmmmm looks so good! I’ve got a long and very specific grocery list now….

  • Vanessa Sherwood

    February 25, 2014 at 12:32 AM Reply

    Ok, so I know you’ll say it’s not authentic, but have you ever had it without any meat? I’m a life long vegetarian but would love to make this…


      February 25, 2014 at 1:16 AM Reply

      Vanessa, you can try it with some wild mushrooms :). I haven’t tried it before but i will be curious to know how it turns out!

  • robi

    February 27, 2014 at 9:18 AM Reply

    just finished making the ragu………a little salty, but adding it to a béchamel so think it well be amazing..thanks for making me look so good!

  • weiden

    March 3, 2014 at 10:58 AM Reply

    I feel silly to learn Chinese cooking with an American, cause I’m a Chinese and a pretty good cook myself. But your recipes are incredibly authentic and produce really good outcome. Love them. Thank you for sharing.

  • drew

    March 9, 2014 at 6:47 PM Reply

    i’m a Buddhist vegetarian, what can i replace the beef with?


      March 9, 2014 at 7:15 PM Reply

      DREW: You can do it with assorted wild mushrooms! Just brown them really well until crispy and use that mushroom-water as the stock :)

  • Sofia // Papaya Pieces

    May 26, 2014 at 9:35 PM Reply

    I seriously need to make this recipe (even though I can’t find a couple of the ingredients, yes I know you don’t recommend even trying then). It’s funny how I’ve never detected that weird tofu smell when I’ve cooked tofu…

  • Alex

    July 24, 2014 at 5:37 AM Reply

    1 – burn your face off, how spicy is this dish?

    • mandy@ladyandpups

      July 24, 2014 at 1:34 PM Reply

      ALEX: It depends on the brand of dou-ban paste you use and the types of chili flakes. The dou-ban paste is mainly for fragrance and flavour, and isn’t the most spicy thing in the world. I would say most heat comes from how much chili flakes you use. If you are not too heat-tolerant, you can omit the chili flake all together.

  • Claudia ~ Food with a View

    July 25, 2014 at 1:43 AM Reply

    I found your recipe on foodgawker when I was seaching for authentic Mapo Tofu recipes, because I wanted to try a Nepalese version of Szechuan pepper (that I had been invited to savor) with this signature dish. How gorgeous is that! Since I’m vegetarian, I replaced the meat with shitake mushrooms, and the whole thing turned out one of the best Chinese dishes I have ever eaten. Thank you for this major inspiration.

  • Daphne

    November 17, 2014 at 7:47 PM Reply

    Hiya! Awesome recipe that really corrects some of the abysmal mapo tofu mistakes I’ve seen in my time. One note: my family adds the cooking wine directly to the protein along with the rest of the mixture (always when there is meat browned, not just for mapo tofu), especially with seafood based dishes, then lets it sit there for a bit of time as it supposedly removes whatever meat or fishy stink there is.

  • Lindsay

    November 26, 2014 at 9:51 AM Reply

    Hey Mandy!!!

    I still can’t get over how perfect your blog is… I love the food photography!!! If you don’t mind me asking, what camera lens do you use? Thank you very much,


    • mandy@ladyandpups

      November 26, 2014 at 1:25 PM Reply

      Lindsay, at the time I was using Canon 650D with 50mm 1:1.8 lens. Now I’ve upgraded to 6D with 35mm 1:1.4 lens. The first one was a budget-friendly starter and it worked well enough. But if you have more money to spend, the second combination is awesome.

  • angie

    February 6, 2015 at 10:28 PM Reply

    Can you use green peppercorns in vinegar? or dried only

    • mandy@ladyandpups

      February 7, 2015 at 2:06 AM Reply

      Angie, green peppercorns, brined or dried, taste quite different from Sichuan peppercorns (which are not technically “peppercorns”). So I wouldn’t say its an ideal substitute :)

  • Katy Love

    April 13, 2015 at 2:57 AM Reply

    The sauce was amazing but not sure if its the douban sauce that I used, but it was a bit undersalted. Again, is it one tsp of dark soy sauce and two tsp douban sauce correct? Otherwise I love the hot chili oil sizzling on the chili flakes tip. Such a great presentation.

  • Rie

    April 25, 2015 at 10:26 AM Reply

    I tried this recipe tonight. I made vegetarian version. ( I didn’t have any meat at home…)
    No meat. I added green beans instead.
    I also used mushroom broth instead of chicken broth. It turned out the most flavorful Mapo Tofu I’ve ever made.Thanks for sharing!

  • Judith LaFaver

    November 9, 2017 at 9:00 PM Reply

    Oh man oh man. I know this post is a few years old but I just wanted to share my experience making it. I’ve only ever had mapo tofu ( I actually thought it’s name was mabodofu but maybe that’s just Japanese) and I never really got it. After making this I GET IT. I only used red peppercorns because that’s what I had and I used powdered Korean chili’s because that’s all my worthless grocery store had. I also used a jalapeño and the dou-shi cuz I love em. Maybe it was the lack of green sichuan pepper but this was not as debilitating as some I’ve had and the flavor was way bbeeeeetttteeerrrrr. Your recipes never fail me.

  • jon

    November 14, 2017 at 2:29 AM Reply

    I’m a little late to the party but this is truly the definitive mapo tofu recipe. The “don’t even bother” advice re: proper ingredients separates the casual cook from those who strive to make restaurant quality dishes. I make this dish once a week and it always delivers! Thank you so much for taking the time to share this recipe.

    • mandy@ladyandpups

      November 14, 2017 at 12:16 PM Reply

      Jon, so glad you enjoyed it!! Makes me wanna have a bowl now myself :)

  • angela

    September 19, 2019 at 3:47 AM Reply

    Hi Mandy,

    I was wondering, for the 2 tbsp (14 grams) of chili flakes .. can I use dried thai chili instead?

    thank you!

    • mandy@ladyandpups

      September 19, 2019 at 1:01 PM Reply

      Angela, you can ground the dried chili and they’ll become chili flakes:)

  • Enlightenment

    June 16, 2020 at 8:54 PM Reply

    The oil at the end amps up the taste until it’s out of this world and makes the “blast ya face off” effect purely blissful. Whole tongue feels like it has licked sauna rocks. New name: S&M Tofu

  • hollis517

    October 5, 2020 at 5:03 AM Reply

    I don’t have sichuan chili flakes, but I do have whole dried Xiao Mi La and Chao Tian Jiao chili peppers. Can I just use a spice grinder on either or both of them? If not, I do have gochugaru. I’ll be getting whole white peppercorns to grind and green sichuan peppercorns to go along with my red ones.

    I haven’t had Mapo Tofu for a really really long time, but when I did I used to ask the chef to add lots of whole red chilies because I love the fire and the taste behind it. Your recipe calls for only one small red chili, diced. Will the dish be really fiery as is, or can I add extra whole chilies and, if so, which kind of the two I listed, or do I need a different kind? Also, will Mirin be acceptable as the rice wine? Should the rice vinegar be seasoned or unseasoned, or does it matter?

    In addition, your photographs make me salivate!

    • mandy@ladyandpups

      October 5, 2020 at 1:39 PM Reply

      Hollis, you can grind xiaomila on your own yes, or use Gochugaru (but it’s less spicy). The s-iciness mainly comes from the dried chili flake but you van of course add more fresh chili. Mirin is not rice wine because it’s sweet and used as a replacement for sugar. Rice vinegar should be unseasoned. ;)

  • ButterMellow

    October 23, 2020 at 10:11 AM Reply

    I just finished cooking and eating this dish. It’s fantastic. The peppercorns are pure magic in the sense that as I lay here, digesting on my bed, minutes after eating a plate, my mouth has not a hint of capsaicin tingles.
    I hope the peppercorns have the magic of protecting the bum-oley on the way oot.
    Thank you for the recipe!!

  • Kathy Ho

    March 17, 2021 at 7:15 AM Reply

    Hi, I recently found you and now totally in love with all your recipes. I have your book and have made your Mala Paste. How can I use the Mala Paste in this recipe?

    • mandy@ladyandpups

      March 17, 2021 at 1:32 PM Reply

      Kathy, I haven’t tested it in this recipe so I’m not sure how much, but it’s def usable in this recipe. I’d suggest adding as you go.

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