Mapo tofu (麻婆豆腐), and my father’s story of two spoonful of oil

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Mapo tofu (麻婆豆腐) for a traveler’s soul

The province of Sichuan in China is famous for its taste bud killing pepper corn & spicy food.  One of their most famous dishes is the ‘mapo tofu’, sometimes 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 desire for traveling. After graduation, he worked for a state-owned factory with a starting salary of 51 yuan a month. He did not have the money to travel other than travelling for work.

One year, he was fortunate enough to be sent to Sichuan for a research project. He asked my grandmother for an oil coupon.  Those days most essentials were scarce 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 so good,’ he said to me, still with great enthusiasm, ‘ it had two spoonfuls of oil in it.”

A young traveler, somewhere in the Nortern China
A young traveler, somewhere in the Northern China

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 traveler.

Recipe is as follows:  


  • 6 pieces of firm tofu, cut to small cubes
  • 100g of pork mince
  • 1/4 onion, diced
  • 1 stalk of shallot, white part only, roughly chopped (optional)
  • a few stalk of coriander, stalk part only, roughly chopped (optional)
  • 1tbsp of chili soy bean paste
  • 1tbsp cooking oil
  • 1 tbsp cooking wine (white table wine is fine)
  • a little corn flour, mix well with a little water
  • chopped shallot & chili (garnish, optional)


  • Bring a frying pan to medium-high heat, add the cooking oil, onion, shallot (white part), coriander (stalk), soy bean paste and pork mince; stir fry for 60 seconds or until the pork mince is just cooked & the sauce aromatic
  • Add the wine to the frying pan, stir (this will give it a bit more sauce to coat the tofu)
  • Add tofu cubes, toss briefly until the tofu cubes are well coated and warm through
  • Add the corn flour mix (this will make the sauce thicker)
  • Transfer the tofu to a serving plate, garnish with shallot and chili





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