Spicy tofu with ground pork

Americans may question this combination. Why put a meat-substitute with meat? Sadly, tofu gets a bad rap in the states as a health food. Yet high-quality tofu (or practically any tofu in Japan) can be absolutely delicious even raw with a dab of ginger and a little soy sauce dribbled over the top. This dish, mabodofu, brings together the soft freshness of tofu with the contrasting texture of ground meat and unites it all with a bit of spice, an absolutely wonderful combination. Make a whole meal out of it, by piling it on an oppulent bed of red-leaf lettuce and eating it with a bowl of steaming hot rice.

Mabodofu is originally Chinese. I have no idea if the Japanese completely changed the flavors when they adopted it into their repetoir. I've only had it in Japan. Whenever I've gone to the lunch place where I ate this dish the first time ever, filled with businessmen, cigarette smoke, and super delicious lunch sets, I hope this dish will be the daily special as it was then. I'm never in luck, though. Now the cigarette smoke and slightly out-of-the-way location keep me away, but I still remember that mabodofu.

Sometime last week, I picked up a top quality cake of momendofu, or firm tofu, at Nishiki market on my way home. The day before, I'd finally gotten a small jar of tobanjan, a Chinese spicy paste made from soy beans and a little reminiscent of miso paste. In my kitchen, it easily came together for a quick dinner which few people could regret for its nutritional value and delicious flavors.


(serves one)

1/2 cake tofu, cut into small cubes

60g ground pork


1/2 tsp tobanjan

1 tbs sake

1/2 cup water

1 1/3 tbs soy sauce

1/2 tbs corn starch mixed thoroughly with 1/2 tbs water

1 tsp sesame oil

1 green onion, sliced

4 to 5 red leaf lettuce leaves

a bowl steaming hot white rice

Put a dab of oil into a frying pan and toss in the meat. Breaking it down into small pieces as it cooks. Add the tobanjan, then sake, then water. When the water starts boiling, add the soy sauce.

Gently put tofu cubes into the pan, carefully stir to coat the tofu in red, a let it cook for about 5 minutes.

Pour the corn starch/water mixture over everything and gently stir it in. Dribble a touch of sesame oil over the top and place in a bowl lined with lettuce leaves, and sprinkle with green onions.


9 thoughts on “Mabodofu

  1. Thanks for having posted this! Last night I went to the Yakitori-ya, as always, and obachan servend me this, and I knew in advance what it was. It really was delicious!

  2. The Chinese version is rather different. Actually you can go to a Chinese restaurant in Japan and you’ll get something about half way between.

    You’ll find it in the states as “ma po” tofu.

  3. Oh, I love mapo dofu! I spent my first year in Asian in Chengdu, Sichuan province – home of mapo dofu. Mapo dofu requires meat … what you have here is ma-la dofu. And you’re missing an essential ingredient for the ‘real’ thing — Sichuan peppercorns (‘huajiao’ in Chinese). The numbing sensation from the peppercorns is known as ‘ma’ in Chinese, thus ma-la (‘numbing and spicy’ … ‘la’=chile hot). In Sichuan the dish is served showered with ground peppercorns – overwhelming, but addictive. Also, throw a couple whole dried chilies in the oil when you start and let them darken. If heat is desired, that is.

    Lovely pic – you are so right about tofu … it is underappreciated in the US, but then again the grocery store stuff in the States simply can’t compare to the fresh stuff sold on every street corner in Asia!

  4. This is a wonderful recipe Hanna! Robert and I tried it the other day and it was delicious…I’m sure we’re making it again. Thank you.

  5. … do we have to add the fact that this dish is full of protein and therfore most excellent for one’s health ??!!
    a fun alternative is to replace the ground beef with chunks of tuna (the size of your dofu)…

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