Stir fry tofu with chilli bean paste and oyster sauce; my father’s love for spoonfuls of cooking oil (麻婆豆腐)


  • 6 pieces of traditional tofu, cut into small cubes
  • 100g of mince (chicken, pork or beef)
  • 1/4 onion, diced (optional)
  • Chilli soy bean paste (1-2 tsp or to taste)
  • Oyster sauce (1 tbsp or to taste)
  • Cooking oil (approximately 1 tbsp)
  • 1 tsp corn flour, mix with 1 tbsp. water (as a thickener)
  • Sliced green shallot (scallion) & chilli (seeds removed) to garnish
Fermented Chili soy bean paste
My favourite brand of chilli soybean paste from Sichuan, China
Traditional tofu
Traditional tofu


  • Bring a frying pan to medium-high heat, add the cooking oil, onion and chilli soy bean paste; sauté until aromatic; and mince, stir fry briefly until the mince is nearly cooked
  • Add tofu cubes, toss gently; add oyster sauce, toss gently; turn the heat to medium and put a lid on; cook until the tofu is hot (about 2-3 minutes)
  • Add the corn flour mixture (this will make the sauce thicker), toss gently
  • Transfer the tofu to a serving plate, garnish with shallot and chilli
Stir fry tofu with fermented chili bean paste and oyster sauce
Stir fry tofu with fermented chili bean paste and oyster sauce
Stir fry tofu with fermented chili bean paste and oyster sauce
Stir fry tofu with fermented chili bean paste and oyster sauce

My father’s story of a bowl of Sichuan tofu with 2 spoonfuls of cooking oil

The province of Sichuan in China is famous for its spicy food.  One of their famous dishes is the ‘mapo tofu’, translated as the ‘pockmarked grandma’s bean curd’.

When my father was a young lad, he attended a university far away from home. Ever since then, he developed a strong craving for travel. After graduation, he worked for a state-owned factory with a starting salary of 51 yuan a month. He did not have the budget to travel. 

One year, he was fortunate enough to be sent to Sichuan for a research project. He asked my grandmother for a cooking oil coupon.  During those days most essentials were rationed and required coupons. When he arrived, he took the coupon to a well-known local restaurant and ordered a big bowl of mapo tofu. ‘The tofu was absolutely delicious,’ he said with great enthusiasm, ‘ it had two spoonfuls of oil in it.”

A young traveler, somewhere in the Nortern China
My father as a young traveler, somewhere in Northern China
An 250 gram cooking oil coupon
Drawing: a 250-gram cooking oil coupon

I have had many mapo tofu dishes over the years – they all seemed to be overly oily. But I liked them just like that  – I soaked up the oil with boiled rice. I could feel my father’s joy and excitement as a far-away-from-home young traveller.





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