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Mapo tofu (麻婆豆腐, mápó dòufu) is a popular dish from Sichuan, China, a province in southwest China known for its hot and spicy dishes. It’s a meal that is rich, creamy, spicy, numbing, and umami all at once. A bowl of mapo tofu over steaming hot rice is the ultimate comfort food. Its name is derived from the Chinese characters 麻子 (mázǐ) for "pockmarks" and 婆婆 (pópo) for "grandmother," so the dish is sometimes called "pockmarked grandma's tofu." Mapo tofu is an uncomplicated classic Chinese dish that is simple to make yet brimming with flavor.

What Is Mapo Tofu?

Mapo tofu is tender and soft cubed tofu, minced meat, and fermented black soybeans in a clingy, spicy red chili sauce. Mapo tofu is often made vegetarian-style by omitting the ground meat and replacing it with mushrooms. This popular dish is, at once, aromatic, fresh, hot, and mala (麻辣, málà), a spicy and numbing sensation that is a signature of Sichuan cuisine. 

Recipes for mapo tofu may vary depending on where it is served. The pungency is often toned down at American Chinese restaurants. Mapo tofu is a simple stir fry dish of fermented black soybeans, chili oil, Sichuan peppercorns (花椒, huājiāo), facing heaven peppers (朝天椒, cháotiān jiāo), garlic, ginger, green onions, rice wine, and doubanjiang (豆瓣醬, dòubànjiàng), a paste of chili peppers, fermented broad beans, and soybeans.

The Secret to Amazing Mapo Tofu Every Time

The secret to a truly great mapo tofu is its sauce, more specifically, the doubanjiang or preserved fava bean paste, not to be confused with preserved black bean paste or soybean paste, sometimes called by the same name! Doubanjiang is colloquially known as the “soul of Sichuan cuisine”, and for good reason, its deep, savory, complex flavors develop over time in earthen crocks left out to ferment under the sun for anywhere from a month to several years. 

How to Make Mapo Tofu

There are several ways to make mapo tofu, including vegan mapo tofu and vegetarian mapo tofu, but a basic mapo tofu recipe includes the following ingredients:

  • Cubed soft or silken tofu

  • Minced meat (beef or pork); substitute mushrooms or meatless alternative for vegetarian

  • Fermented black soybeans

  • Doubanjiang

  • Chili oil

  • Sichuan peppercorns

  • Facing heaven pepper

  • Garlic

  • Ginger

  • Green Onion

  • Rice Wine

  • Cornstarch (to thicken the sauce)

First, the tofu is cubed and boiled in salted water. Then, the sauce is made by stir frying the fermented black soybeans, doubanjiang, chili oil, Sichuan peppercorns, facing heaven pepper, garlic, ginger, green onion, and rice wine. Finally, the tofu and cornstarch are added to the stock. Mapo tofu is often served with steamed white rice.

Recipe: Vegetarian/Vegan Mapo Tofu 

This vegetarian mapo tofu recipe is also vegan. It’s made with shiitake mushrooms instead of the typical ground pork or beef, making it a flavorful meal packed with umami and mala.

Cook time: 30 minutes
  • 300g tofu cut into cubes

  • 2 garlic cloves, minced

  • 1 ounce dried shiitake mushrooms
    (dried is important as it has much more concentrated umami flavor than fresh)

  • 1 tsp minced ginger

  • 2 tbsp Doubanjiang

  • 2 tbsp Sichuan Chili Crisp

  • 3 tbsp chili oil

  • 1 tbsp fermented black soybeans

  • 1/2 cup stock or bone broth
    (you can also substitute the water used for soaking the shiitake mushrooms)

  • 1 tsp cornstarch dissolved in 1 tbsp water

  • 1/2 tsp whole Sichuan pepper and
    1 pinch ground roasted Sichuan pepper
    (roasting right before grinding releases maximum flavor)

  • 3 scallions, whites cut in 1 inch pieces, greens thinly sliced


Soak dried shiitake mushrooms in hot water until rehydrated and soft enough to pulse in a food processor or chop into very small pieces. set aside. You can add a splash of soy sauce in the water at this point to give the mushrooms extra flavor.

Boil tofu briefly in salted water, use a colander if you’d like to keep it from breaking, set aside. This is so that the cubes have a better texture and retain their shape more during cooking.

Heat up chili oil in a hot wok, add minced garlic and ginger and fry until fragrant. You can also use regular oil if you want it less spicy. Add mushroom, doubanjiang, Sichuan Chili Crisp, fermented black soybeans and whole Sichuan pepper, and fry quickly to avoid burning

Add stock and bring to boil, add scallion whites, slide tofu into wok and stir gently with a rubber spatula to prevent it from breaking. Let the stock reduce for about five minutes. Then, add cornstarch mixture and stir in gently until sauce thickens.

Transfer to serving bowl, sprinkle liberally with scallion greens and a generous pinch of ground roasted Sichuan pepper. Serve while hot with rice.