Mapo Doufu, or “Mother Chen’s pock marked tofu,” is one of Chengdu’s best known dishes. As the story goes, a lovely lady with a beauty mark made this dish in her small restaurant. The dish was so popular that everyday local workers would line up at the restaurant- both to see tmapo doufuhe woman’s beauty and to eat the delicious dish.

Before coming to China, I was very interested in trying Mapo Doufu as I love tofu in general. During our first week in Chengdu, my husband and I had the dish delivered to our home. At first sight, I was sorely disappointed. Instead of the firm tofu I was expecting, the dish was made with soft, silken tofu. I tried a few bites but couldn’t get over my initial disappointment. Thankfully, I tried the dish again and have eaten it countless times since. I have not only begun to enjoy but actually to crave the silky texture of the tofu with the salty spice of the chili paste and crunch of the ground beef. A wonderful combination of textures and flavors, I now understand why workers flocked to Mother Chen’s door.

  • soft tofu (200 g)
  • minced beef (75 g)
  • chili powder (3 g)*
  • Chinese leek(15 g- about 1)*
  • Soy chili paste, minced (20 g)*
  • ground Sichuan peppercorns (pricklyash)
  • fermented soy beans (10 g)*
  • soy sauce (10 g)*
  • wet starch (15 g)*
  • stock (200 g)*
  • oil (80 g)*

* Amounts are estimates



  1. Cut tofu into 2 cm cubes.
  2. Boil water in a wok. Add salt. (The salt helps the tofu keep its shape and gets rid of the “gypsum” flavor.)
  3. When water is boiling, add tofu and slowly stir to separate cubes.
  4. Boil tofu for about 45 seconds.
  5. Pour tofu and water into a bowl. Leave in the bowl for about 10 minutes. (This also helps to remove the gypsum flavor.)


  1. Re-mince beef to ensure fineness.


  1. Mince chili paste until smooth in consistency. (This step will strength and improve the flavor of the paste.)
  2. Cut white part of Chinese leek into rabbit ears. Dice green part of leek into 1 cm pieces.


  1. Season wok. Use about ¼ cu of new oil.
  2. Add beef to hot oil. Mash beef onto the surface. Stir. Repeat mash-stir process until the oil runs clear. (Clear oil means the beef is crispy.)
  3. Remove beef from wok. Don’t clean or season the wok.
  4. Add oil. Reduce heat to about 100°.
  5. Add chili paste and stir. (The chili paste is very salty. If you want a spicier dish, don’t add more chili paste, add more chili powder!)
  6. When oil is red and clear, and you can smell the chili paste, remove from heat and add chili powder. (For a more traditional dish, add a lot of chili powder.)
  7. Return wok to heat and stir.
  8. Remove and add ground Sichuan peppercorn. Stir.
  9. Add fermented soy beans. (These are also very salty. Don’t add too many.) Stir.
  10. Add broth. Stir.
  11. Add soy sauce for color.
  12. Remove from heat. Taste and adjust as needed.
  13. Return to heat and simmer.
  14. Drain tofu from soaking water. Gently add to sauce and stir very slowly.
  15. Braise tofu for about 2 minutes.
  16. Remove from heat. Add wet starch.
  17. Return to heat and continue to simmer until sauce thickens.
  18. Add fried beef, Chinese leek and gourmet powder.
  19. Remove from heat and add wet starch. (This step is repeated because there is a lot of liquid in the tofu.)
  20. Return to heat until sauce thickened.


  1. Spoon tofu into a bowl.
  2. Sprinkle with ground Sichuan peppercorn.

  • Is the tofu tender?
  • Is the oil very red?
  • Are the sauce and oil mixed together?


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