Mapo Tofu (Mabo Doufu)

Mabo Tofu

Depending on who you ask, you’ll probably get a different story about the origins of Mapo Tofu, but the commonly accepted myth is that this dish was created by a pock-faced old woman. She was cast out of the Sichuan capital of Chengdu due to her disfigurement. One day, a weary trader happened upon her shack and she was so delighted by the company that she scraped together her meager provisions to create this dish.

Whatever its origins, Mapo Tofu came to Japan in the middle of the last century during a boom of Chinese restaurants. After being adapted to local tastes, its name transliterated to Mabo Doufu (マーボー豆腐), it quickly became one of the best known Chinese dishes in all of Japan.

Ground Pork for Mapo Tofu

Today it’s about as common as mac & cheese at the Japanese dinner table and a trip to the grocery store will reveal a whole shelf of instant sauce packets. While they may be convenient, they’re loaded with preservatives and MSG. Besides, it doesn’t take that much more effort to make the sauce from scratch. I like to make a quadruple batch of sauce and store it in an empty water bottle for later use. It will keep for months in the fridge, just make sure you shake before using.

If you happen to be looking for the tongue tingling Sichuan version of Mapo Tofu and aren’t afraid of a little spice, check out this post.

Mapo Tofu

Mapo Tofu (Japanese Style)

Makes 4 servings

for sauce
1/3 cup sake
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 tbs red miso
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon tobanjan
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoons potato starch (halve if using cornstarch)

for Mapo Tofu
1 tbs sesame oil
3 scallions, white part minced, green part sliced
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/2 pound ground pork
14 ounce pack of silken tofu, drained and sliced into 1″ cubes

Whisk all the ingredients listed under “for sauce” together in a bowl.

Heat a frying pan or wok over medium high heat and then add the sesame oil. Add the white parts of the scallions, the ginger, and minced garlic. Stir-fry until very fragrant (about 1-2 minutes).

Add the ground pork and stir-fry breaking up the chunks of meat until the pork is cooked. Add the sauce and stir until the sauce has thickened and the alcohol has burned off. Add the tofu and gently stir to coat with the sauce.

Turn down the heat and continue to cook until the tofu has warmed through and the sauce is nice and thick. Serve the Mapo Tofu with steamed rice.

  • The Culinary Chase

    This brings back many Hong Kong food memories for me.  I love tofu dressed up with the exception of ‘stinky’ tofu…could never eat it because it smelled awful!  By the way, what I can I use if I can’t find tobanjan?  Chers.

    • Marc Matsumoto

      I’m with you on stinky tofu, have tried it a few times, but can’t do more than one bite. 

      Since there isn’t a huge quantity of tobanjan in this version, any hot sauce should work fine. 

  • cocopuff1212

    On your blog, each post has an astonishingly beautiful photo at the top that takes my breath away, and I *always* have to take a few seconds and recover from it before I can move onto actually reading!

    Thank you for the tip about storing the sauce in a bottle. Didn’t know it could keep that long. Now that I know, I will make my own — I never quite liked the way those store-bought sauces made me eternally thirsty and a bit tired later on.

  • Teena

    Thank you so much for this version of Mapo Tofu! I was making the PBS version and ladling out a portion for my preschooler before adding the spice. He still loves it but this one looks like it has more flavor even w/o the tobanjan. Thanks!

  • Colin Canfield

    I tried this recipe tonight, superb! It is much better than the instant box ones….

  • Astri

    Would it be possible to exchange tofu with eggplant? If so, what’s the best way to cook the eggplant? Thanks!

    • Marc Matsumoto

      Yep, then it would become Mabo Nasu (eggplant). Because the sauce is pretty thick deep frying the eggplant first usually works best.

  • Genie

    This is one of my favourite Chinese comfort meals. I think my parents must have made this extra mild for us when we were kids. I enjoy a the kick nowdays though. It’s a nice contrast between silky tofu and fiery pork. 

    I prefer homemade Mapo Tofu because I find that many places make this with too much oil. My mother told me that this is named after “Grandma Tofu” because it is so soft that even those without teeth can eat it. I guess it’s just as far fetched as the pock-faced version?

  • easy recipes teacher

    I wonder if using ground beef is common as well.  It is more expensive, but the taste may be richer than pork.

  • jane ng

    The best part is, then I can tone down the spiciness :) but still enjoy the dish

  • jennifer laceda

    Quick question: what’s tobanjan? I’m Asian (Chinese)…shame on me for not knowing :(

    • Marc Matsumoto

      It’s the Japanese transliteration for Doubanjiang (辣豆瓣酱). It’s a spicy bean paste from Sichuan Province.

      • jennifer laceda

        Oh, cool! Thanks! I like spicy!!!

  • Wok with Ray

    I love Mapo Tofu and I’d like mine very spicy.  Thank you for sharing this beautiful and delicious dish.  This is my first time visiting your site and I like  it.

    ~ ray ~

  • suki

    OH good, a non-MSG version! :) 

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  • Trish Tran316

    Made this today for the first time…it was so simple but yet so tasty! Thanks

  • Pette

    Great recipe! Most other I have seen use something called Tianmianjing instead of the miso and the oyster sauce and they also add chicken stock, what’s your take on that? If anything my dish didn’t seem to have enough liquid so I added about 100 ml of water to sauce it up a bit, did I miss something?


    • Marc Matsumoto

      Hi Petter, thanks for the note! This is for the Japanese version of mapo tofu, if you’re looking for a more authentic sichuan version, check out my post over here:

      As for liquid, Did it look drier than in the photo? If so, did you use silken tofu? Firm or extra firm tofu has a lower moisture content so they will not leech out as much water while cooking and you’d need to adjust the liquid accordingly.

  • JuNe

    if i do not have sake on hand what can i replace it with ?

    • Marc Matsumoto

      Chicken stock would also work.

      • JuNe

        thanks :)

        • JuNe

          I made this yesterday and it’s yum !!

  • recipetried

    This is the 3rd recipe I’ve tried of yours. Another winner. Though I did make substitutions this time. I used Chili Black Bean sauce instead of tobanjan and red miso. It was very good. I’d like to try the recipe the way it was written next time.

  • JuNe

    I made it yesterday and it was delicious

  • recipetried

    i found all the ingredients and tried this for the 2nd time exactly like the recipe. It was even better than the first time.

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  • Erica

    Hi Marc. Thanks for this delicious recipe. I didn’t have red miso, but used white and it was great.

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  • Loke

    Thanks for your recipes Marc, I am happy to cook the food at home I love in Japan. note: I always add  ウェイパアー stock to my Japanese adapted chinese dishes :)

  • Susannah

    I love both versions (Chinese and Japanese) of mapo tofu. I like to marinate the ground pork in a little bit of sake, sesame oil, soy sauce, and pepper 20 min beforehand.

  • Riechan

    Can I change the tobanjan and oyster sauce with anything else? I don’t have those 2 sauces.

    • Marc Matsumoto

      Hi Riechan, you could substitute other things but they aren’t going to be a 1 for 1 substitute. For instance you could substitute soy sauce for the oyster sauce, but soy sauce is more salty and less sweet than oyster sauce, so you’ll need to reduce the amount of soy sauce and increase the amount of sugar. Likewise, other hot sauces combined with miso could be a substitute for tobanjan, but it will depend on the type of hot sauce and miso you’re using

      • Riechan

        Thankyou for your quick reply! I will try it today for lunch ^^

  • Ereina A.

    Cooked this tonight and it was delicious! I followed recipe exactly. Yum!!

  • Annika Lauk

    I tried following your recipe and it turned out great! Sadly I had no tobanjan, but the taste was still great even without it :)

  • Jill

    I’m living in Japan and can’t really read Japanese well so I enjoy having your recipes so I can use all the nice ingredients available in Japan. Thank you so much!


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