Mapo tofu, one of the most notable regional Chinese dishes has become a popular Sichuan dish around the world. It can be said that, "Tourists who don't taste mapo tofu have not really visited Sichuan." Because of its tasty flavor, it has become a famous dish not only in China, but also in Japan, Singapore, and many other countries.
Mapo tofu is a combination of tender tofu and spicy chili-and-bean-based sauce, sprinkled with minced meat, usually pork or beef, and topped with some chopped scallion pieces. The snow-white bean curd, red beef, and green scallion contribute to a colorful, spicy, tender, and aromatic dish.
The most authentic brand is Sichuan Chenshi Mapo Tofu (四川陈氏 麻婆豆腐). It is a dish handed down from imperial times, and the signature dish of Chen Mapo Tofu Restaurant (陈麻婆豆店).
As to the beginning of Mapo Tofu, there are a lot of stories. The most popular one is that the dish was created in the early years of Tongzhi reign in Qing Dynasty (1856–75) by Chenshi, the wife of the owner of a small restaurant, located under Wanfu Bridge, in the northern suburbs of Chengdu.
Mapo (/maa-por/) is the way Chinese describe a woman who has pitted face. Chenshi was the mapo ('pit-faced woman') who created the tofu dish, hence (Chenshi) mapo tofu.
The restaurant where mapotofu appeared was originally called Chen Xingsheng Restaurant, located under a short but broad wooden bridge — Wanfu Bridge. Many passing street vendors and common workers liked to have a rest in the restaurant.
Oil couriers were major customers. They would buy some tofu and beef there, scoop out some vegetable oil from their consignment, and ask Mapo (Chenshi) to cook it into one dish. As time passed by, Mapo learned some unique skills and created a special dish.
The tofu she cooked was so tasty that everyone liked it, and her tofu gradually became famous during her lifetime. Therefore people called the tofu she cooked Chen Mapo Tofu, and her small restaurant was eventually renamed Chen Mapo Tofu Restaurant.
Thanks to the efforts of descendants of Chen Mapo over many generations, the restaurant has achieved lasting fame for more than 140 years, gaining high praise among connoisseurs.
500g fresh tofu, 120g vegetable oil, 150g minced (scalped) beef, 5.5g salt, 20 ml Mapo tofu sauce (soy sauce), chili powder (to taste), 20g Pixian bean paste, 250g double-boiled soup (made from bone with ginger and pepper), 50g green garlic sprouts, soy sauce (to taste), 40g soy flour and water (the starchy sauce), (2g chicken powder), chili powder and chopped scallions (to taste).
Choose a 500g piece of fresh and tender soft white tofu, not a pickled tofu. Check whether it is fresh by smelling it or kneading it. Dice the tofu into 2 cm (½–1") cubes, and put them into a bowl of hot water to remove astringency.
Heat up a wok with the prepared vegetable oil to around 80 °C. Fry the chopped beef in the wok till it becomes light brown, and then add the salt, Mapo tofu sauce, chili powder and Pixian bean paste. Keep frying.
Add the double-boiled soup and diced tofu, and use a moderate heat to cook till tasty. Add the garlic sprouts and soy sauce, cook for a few seconds and thicken with the starchy sauce. (Add chicken powder if you like.)
Serve in a shallow bowl, topped with chili powder and chopped scallions.
There is a four-word Chinese saying for cooking Mapo tofu: 'numbing, spicy, hot, and integrated'.