“Mapo tofu” (or “ma-po tofu”) is a spicy dish of minced meat (pork or beef) and tofu that originated in China’s Sichuan province. The name “ma po” means “pock-marked.” According to legend, an old woman with a pock-marked face first served the dish. Perhaps the name is because the spicy dish causes one’s sweat to break out.
“It was nice to end the meal with properly cooked rice — dry and tasty with a traditional topping of extra-hot ma-po tofu (bean curd paste)” was printed in the book Streets of Asia (1969) by James Kirkup. “Ma po doh fu (soft bean curd and hand-minced pork, combined in a hot sauce with a sprinkle of scallions)” was printed in Cue (a New York City nightlife magazine) in 1972. A recipe for “Ma Po Don Foo” was printed in the Toronto (ON) Star on March 24, 1973. “Ma Po’s beancurd” was printed in the Washington (DC) Post on August 3, 1975.
A recipe and an explanation of the “ma po” name was printed in Mrs. Chiang’s Szechwan Cookbook (1976) by Ellen Schrecker with John Schrecker.
Wikipedia: Mapo doufu
Mapo doufu or mapo tofu (麻婆豆腐) is a popular Chinese dish from Sichuan province. It consists of tofu set in a spicy sauce, typically a thin, oily, and bright red suspension, based on douban 豆瓣 (fermented broadbean and chili paste) and douchi 豆豉 (fermented black beans), along with minced meat, usually pork or beef. Variations exist with other ingredients such as water chestnuts, onions, other vegetables, or wood ear fungus.
Etymology and history
“Ma” stands for “ma-zi” (Chinese: mázi, 麻子) which means pockmarks. “Po” is the first syllable of “popo” (Chinese: 婆婆, pópo) which means an old woman or grandma. Hence, mapo is an old woman whose face is pockmarked. It is thus sometimes translated as “pockmarked grandma’s beancurd”.
According to Mrs. Chiang’s Szechwan Cookbook: “Eugene Wu, the Librarian of the Harvard Yenching Library, grew up in Chengdu and claims that as a schoolboy he used to eat Pock-Marked Ma’s Bean Curd or mapo doufu, at a restaurant run by the original Pock-Marked Ma herself. One ordered by weight, specifying how many grams of bean curd and meat, and the serving would be weighed out and cooked as the diner watched. It arrived at the table fresh, fragrant, and so spicy hot, or la, that it actually caused sweat to break out.”
Streets of Asia
By James Kirkup
London, UK: Dent
It was nice to end the meal with properly cooked rice — dry and tasty with a traditional topping of extra-hot ma-po tofu (bean curd paste).
Volume 41, Issues 40-52
There is a variety of dishes from Szechuan, Canton, Peking, and Shanghai: from Szechuan, ma po doh fu (soft bean curd and hand-minced pork, combined in a hot sauce with a sprinkle of scallions); mou shu pork from Peking; from Canton, ho yu shrimp in oyster sauce with bamboo shoots and snow pea pods; and from Shanghai, bow yu ghee pan (abalone sauteed with chicken breast, mushrooms, snow pea pods, and bamboo shoots).
24 March 1973, Toronto (ON) Star, The Canadian Magazine, “Kiss of Fire: Chinese cooking for iron stomachs” by Douglas Sagi, pg. 28, cols. 3-4:
MA PO DON FOO
Ma Po is the man who invented this Don Foo (bean curd) dish.
2 oz. leftover cooked meat (a dried-out hamburger or a couple of sausages will do, but you can use more meat, if you like)
4 bean cakes
1/2 cup canned Szechuan vegetable, cut in slices
1 tsp. each onion powder, garlic powder and Chinese chili sauce
1 tsp. hot bean sauce (you can use your basic sauce or buy a jar of concentrated sauce, which is even better)
1 tsp. chili powder (that’s right, chili sauce, hot bean sauce, and chili powder)
2 tsp. soy sauce
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1/2 cup black beans
1/2 cup beef or chicken stock
Put the four bean cakes in a saucepan and cover them with boiling water for 1 minute. Drain the cakes, let them cool, then slice them into 1-inch cubes with a sharp knife.
Heat 3 tbsp. of oil in a wok or frying pan and add meat and remaining ingredients except bean cake and stock. Cook quickly over high heat, stirring constantly for two minutes, adding a little dry sherry at the end if you like. Lower heat and add bean cake and stock.
Thicken the mixture with a teaspoonful of cornstarch dissolved in more sherry. Stir it thoroughly and serve.
3 August 1975, Washington (DC) Post, “China Gate restaurant: In Alexandria, haute cuisine chinoise” by Donald Dresden. Potomac sec., pg. 23, col. 1:
(China Gate, 310 North Fairfax Street, Alexandria, VA.—ed.)
Ma Po’s beancurd, $2.50, makes a pleasing luncheon dish. It is billed as hot on the menu, but is not incendiary. The beancurd is cut into small cubes and mixed with ground pork and the basic hot sauce of the house. All of this goes into the wok. The restaurant also served beancurd Cantonese style, a much less spicy version of the dish.
Mrs. Chiang’s Szechwan Cookbook
By Ellen Schrecker with John Schrecker
New York, NY: Harper & Row
At the same time, a real mapo doufu offers an equally brilliant combination of textures. In each mouthful you can feel the smoothness of bean curd, the crunchiness of water chestnuts, the slipperiness of tree ears, and the graininess of chopped meat.
Chinese Cooking on Next to Nothing
By Kenneth H. C. Lo
New York, NY: Pantheon Books
Ma-po. tofu. (hot. mashed. bean. curd. with. ground. meat. of. Szechwan).
This is a very well-known bean-curd dish from West China that appeals greatly to all those who enjoy hot-tasting foods
19 August 1976, Los Angeles (CA) Times, “China’s Chile Cuisine: Szechwan a Hot Item in L.A.” by Barbara Hansen, pt. 6, pg. 1, col. 2:
Another is Ma Po Bean Curd, which is named for its creator, an old woman with a pock-marked face. The dish combines cubed bean curd and ground pork.
23 September 1978, The Evening Sentinel (Carlisle, PA), pg. 3, col. 6 ad:
My own favorite called “Minced Pork Sauteed with Hot Bean Cake,” and no. 705 on the China palace’s menu, costs $4.50. This past summer I sampled this delicacy, elsewhere called Ma Po To Fu (Pock-marked Woman’s Bean Curd) at about 20 restaurants in Tokyo, Taipeh, Tainan, Taichung, Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Paris and Brussels. In only one restaurant, a world-class Szechuan restaurant in Taipeh, was the Ma Po To Fu better than that served in our own China Palace restaurant.
14 January 1979, Washington (DC) Post, “Richman on Restaurants” by Phyllis C. Richman, Magazine sec., pg. 32, col. 4:
(Hwei Ping, 7305 Arlington Boulevard (Loehmann’s Plaza), Falls Church.—ed.)
If spicier food suits you on a Sunday morning, you can concentrate on ma po tofu, the cubes of bean curd and ground pork simmering in a deep red fiery sauce.
18 February 1980, Columbia (SC) Record, pg. 11-B, cols. 4-5:
“Unpretentious restaurant home of best Sichuan cooking school” by Fox Butterfield,
WHEN ASKED his favorite dishes, Zhang readily confessed they were the lethal ma po bean curd, available in Sichuan restaurants in the United States, ...
4 June 1980, Daily News (New York, NY), “One Great Dish” Tofu, alias bean curd: a dish whose time has come” by Roy Andries de Groot, Good Living sec., pg. 9, cols. 1-2:
After dinner, my interpreter and I talked to the “No. 1 cook,” who gave me his recipe for the ma po tofu and told me (with a slight smirk) that the name means “mother’s slightly spicy beancurd.” that was the understatement of the decade!
Sichuan Ma Po Tofu
4 cups clear chicken bouillon
1 1/2 pounds tofu (beancurd), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup minced lean beef (about 1/4 pound)
2 tablespoons dry white wine
2 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon Sichuan hot bean sauce
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 teaspoon hot pepper oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
2 teaspoons peeled, minced, fresh ginger root (1/2-inch piece)
1/4 cup green peas, fresh or frozen
8 medium mushrooms, wiped clean and diced
Crystal sea salt or kosher salt, to taste
Boiled white rice
Whole Sichuan peppercorns
1/4 cup minced green scallion tops
1 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil
North-East Asia on a Shoestring
By Alan Samagalski
South Yarra, Vic., Australia; Berkeley, Calif., USA: Lonely Planet Publications
You could try Pockmarked Grandma’s Bean Curd at 113 Xi Yulong Jie, a small white shop with a green front which serves a mean mapo dofu.
The 15-Minute Chinese Gourmet
By Elizabeth Chiu King
New York, NY: Macmillan; London: Collier Macmillan
Ma Po Tofu
According to legend, this dish was invented by Chen Ma Po (Pockmarked Grandma Chen) in the city of Chengtu of Sichuan province. Ma Po owned a small eatery and was very fond of serving spicy dishes. Since then, this has become one of the more popular dishes in the highly spiced cuisine of Sichuan.
How to Make Chinese Ma-Po Tofu, Part 1
Published on Aug 27, 2008
Around the World in 80 Dishes fires up your taste buds in Sichuan, China, with a demonstration of Ma-Po Tofu (Spicy Bean Curd with Beef), prepared by Chef Shirley Cheng.
How to make Mapo Tofu (麻婆豆腐)
Angel Wong’s Kitchen
Published on May 18, 2014
My famous spicy mapo tofu (mabo dofu) recipe. I’ll show you how to cook this Chinese dish and make the sauce from scratch.
Ingredients & full Printable recipe on my website at http://bit.ly/16zIolZ
BEST OF NEW YORK APR. 18, 2017
The Absolute Best Mapo Tofu in New York
By Hannah Goldfield
The classic Sichuan dish mapo tofu is unlike anything else: A sort of stew or ragù in which the base is chile oil; thick with cubes of preferably silky tofu, ground pork, or beef (most often the former, in New York); and fermented black-bean paste or doubanjiang (broad-bean-chile paste) or both; and heady with mala, the numbing spiciness imparted by a combination of ground Sichuan pepper and chile peppers. Most versions also include trapezoids of bright-green sautéed leeks, and sometimes snips of scallion. And there’s even an intriguing origin story. “Mapo” can be translated to mean “crater-faced old lady,” and the dish is supposedly named after the woman who invented it over a century ago at a roadside stall in Chengdu; her face is said to have been pockmarked with scars from a childhood episode of smallpox. It’s bewitchingly addictive, holds up well as leftovers, and is so popular that you can get it at countless restaurants throughout the city. Here, the very best iterations of mapo tofu in New York.