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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Mapo Tofu: The Japanese Version

Mapo Tofu is actually a Chinese dish brought to Japan. This easy-to-make dish consists of ground meat and chunks of tofu enrobed in a spicy oily sauce flavored with fermented chili and soybeans.

Sometimes you will see mapo tofu by different names: mabo tofu or mabo doufu, but it's all the same thing.

Despite its Chinese origins, it is super popular in Japan. The original Chinese-style mapo tofu is blazing hot and complemented by the mouth-numbing effect of the sichuan peppercorns.

The Japanese-style is a bit more laid-back, a bit more umami than face-melting. I love how the nuttiness of the sesame oil takes on a funky fermented kick from the use of miso and fermented chili bean paste.

Picture courtesy of Amazon
This dish has become such a part of Japanese cusine you can even buy the sauce in pouches almost like Hamburger Helper with a helpful slogan "Just add tofu and ground meet!" emblazoned upon it. Even if you buy the "hot" version it is still laughably mild.

If you're craving the spicy Sichuan Mapo Tofu, I recommend checking out these recipes (here and here) by mapo tofu aficionados.

The main ingredient in the sauce that gives it the umami and spice is Doubanjiang, spicy fermented bean paste. It's called "tobanjan" in Japanese, so if you decide to make this dish you might need to write both down because it could be called either one.

I have been known to throw in some fermented black bean paste (1 tbs) but if you can't find it, don't worry.

Mapo Tofu
makes about 4 large servings

0.5 lbs of ground beef or pork
1 block of firm tofu, chopped into chunks (I do roughly 0.5 inch cubes)
6 green onions, chopped with white and green parts separated
1 tbs each minced garlic and ginger
1 tbs sesame oil

1/3rd cup sake or chicken stock
2 tbs oyster sauce
1 tsp shoyu
1 tsp sesame oil
2-3 tsp tobanjan (adjust to your level of spicylikey)
2 tbs white miso (not too salty)
1 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp sugar

Stir all sauce ingredients together in a bowl and set aside.

Over medium heat, warm oil, white parts of the onion, and the minced garlic and ginger until aromatic and the white parts of the onion have slightly softened and begun to turn translucent.

Add in the ground meat, breaking it up finely. After the meat is ground thoroughly, add the sauce and let it bubble for 2-5 minutes until the sauce is thickened and the alcohol is cooked off if using sake. Add the tofu and green parts of the onion and gently fold into the sauce to coat.

Once the tofu is warmed, spoon mix over rice or serve beside it.

This actually refrigerates and microwaves great so it's a great choice to make on the weekend and take to work as a bento. Mabo-don is what its called when its served over rice in Japan, as it becomes a donburi.

See Also:
Tonkatsu Kare Donburi


  1. I made Mapo Dofu for the first time last week,and it was fantastic! I think it's gonna be a weekly dish at my house.

    1. I'm glad you liked it! It is a dish that once you try it, you're hooked. Plus it is so easy to working into your repertoire of easy but impressive weeknight meals when no one feels creative.