A mission statement

Hello, and welcome to My Kitchen and I. Every year I choose a cuisine to explore. This year, it's the year of the Snake! And I'll be continuing to cook mostly Asian foods, particularly Chinese dishes. Have I finally found the best cuisine in the world? Come explore and cook with me and let's find out. Please feel free to share your stories and comment on anything you see here, and thanks so much for visiting. Hope you enjoy the Year of the Snake in food!


Friday, September 7, 2012

A Chinese Grandmother's Tofu — Mapo Doufu (麻婆 豆腐)

I first had Mapo Doufu on what was probably the coldest day of the year. We were in the midst of an ice rainstorm, and it was so cold, icicles were forming almost instantly on anything outside, living or otherwise. The streets had become slippery slides for automobiles and most of the sane and sensible were safely ensconced in warm homes underneath fuzzy blankets sipping hot cocoa, or perhaps something stronger.

My niece is fond of saying no one ever cheers after eating
tofu but I beg to differ. I really like this dish. To me tofu has the
consistency of fresh mozzarella and a similar blandness that
allows it to blend well with almost any sauce. Unlike
mozzarella, though tofu retains its shape and doesn't melt.
I, on the other hand, was walking the neighborhood taking pictures of nature's debacle. Just as I was about to call it an afternoon, I happened upon a poor postal worker with icicles hanging off the brim of her hat, delivering the last of the day's mail. She was a good sport and let me take a few pictures of her in such misery. It was then I noticed in the gathering grey twilight a little red and blue sign that said open in brash neon light.

It was the only cheery thing in sight. Downtown was otherwise locked up tight and the stores were all dark and vacant as mummy eyes. I wandered toward the sign with camera and curiosity in tow. Who was brave enough to remain open on a day like this, and what on earth were they doing?

It was a restaurant. Chinese takeout mainly, with a few tables for dining in. Nothing fancy.

Not only were they open, but they were still delivering! Heavenly days. This was the perfect addition to my weather story, so I settled in for a hot dinner, cold to the bone and hungry.

I asked the owner to just bring me something hot and spicy, anything he liked, and this is what I ended up with. Mapo doufu. Of course, the dish was a bit westernized. And it wasn't called mapo doufu on the menu. It was also not all that spicy. But it was good, and I was hungry. I didn't know enough about mapo doufu at the time to complain.

I took my curiosity online and read a little about the dish with the help of Aunt Google. The wicked pedia says it was invented by an old woman who had a pock-marked face and evidently had lived along a trade route of some kind. Her version was so good, the dish was named after her.

I would take this story with a grain of salt, considering the source, but the tale does seem pretty widespread and can be found in many cookbooks of no little repute. Maybe it's not true, relying as it does on one man's personal anecdote, but it does make a nice grandmother legend for this month's #letslunch post, which is honoring the launch of our own Patricia Tanumihardja.

No matter what country, grandma always knows how to make the best dishes eh? So when I started the year of Asian cuisine, I put ma po on my list of things to make. Now there is a recipe for mapo doufu in Yin Fei Lo's Mastering the Art of Chinese Cooking that I want to make someday. I actually went to get the ingredients during my last trip to the Asian market, but, when I asked the store people to help me find the ingredients for it, I was taken to an aisle with row upon row of spice packets and handed one for this dish.

"This easiest way," the store lady said, nodding and smiling. Then she took me down another aisle. "I show you Japanese style."

Sure enough, there iss a Japanese Mapo Doufu, but it's called Mabo Doufu. It came in two strengths. Hot and Hotter.

The lady seemed very pleased she had figured out what I needed, and I didn't have the heart to say otherwise. Something to work on later, I decided. For now I would go ahead and try all the packets out. It would give me some comparison when I finally do make the dish from scratch, the way an Asian grandma might make it.

Now I don't know about you, but I think I'd like to spend the afternoon with an Asian grandmother, and learn all the tips and tricks from her kitchen. So I'm kind of excited about Patricia's book, the Asian Grandmother's Cookbook. I will no doubt be cooking from this book soon, which looks to be the ultimate collection of grandmotherly kitchen wisdom served alongside good food.

The #letslunch bunch has put together more superb grandmother recipes and stories as a send-off for Patricia's book, which I think was a wonderful idea. See the links below this recipe for their contributions. The #letslunch bunch sure knows how to give a cookbook a great send off eh?

Ma Po Doufu
The Cheater's Easy Method

1 firm bean curd cake
1 patty of equal parts beef and sausage
3 or 4 green onions sliced
Spice packet for mapo doufu
(aka just ask the nice store people to help you)

Drain the bean curd and cut into bite size cubes. Take a pan of water and add some salt. Boil the bean curd to remove the beany flavor and season up the cubes with some of the salty water. After a few minutes, remove from heat and drain.

Saute the meat until it is done, chop up the green onions. Now you're ready to put this dish together.

The recipe calls for 50 grams of pork (2 ounces), but I had homemade patties of half beef and half Italian sausage on hand. The flavors are actually perfect for this dish, so don't be afraid to experiment a little with the meat. You can add more or less, too, depending on your taste.

In fact, if you're vegetarian, you don't need the meat at all.

Once the meat is cooked, I like to drain off all the excess fat before I add the spice packet. Simmer a little while to blend the flavors.

Now add your tofu cubes and stir it around gently, simmering a little while longer. The tofu will soak up the sauce and you'll get a very nice blend of flavor. The consistency and flavor of the tofu prepared this way actually reminds me a little of fresh mozzarella. It's bland, but takes the flavor of the sauce and makes something better than either part alone.

When the tofu has had a good simmer on, sprinkle with some chopped green onions and serve with rice if desired.

The Chinese dish, at right looks a little redder. The Japanese dish is kind of orange. I think the Japanese version actually tastes a little sweeter and milder, kind of like a sweet and sour sauce with some sichuan spices thrown in.

Overall, I think I prefer the Chinese version a little better, but then again, I like it hot! Enjoy! And don't forget to check out the other great grandmother recipes from the #letslunch group below.

Charissa‘s Apple, Pecan & Raisin Gluten-Free Depression Cake at Zest Bakery
Emma‘s Irish, Polish & Korean Grandmothers’ Recipes at Dreaming of Pots & Pans
Jill‘s Stuffed Cabbage at Eating My Words
Karen‘s Semifreddo at GeoFooding
Linda‘s Taiwanese Oyster Omelet at Spicebox Travels
Lisa‘s Polish Potato Cake at Monday Morning Cooking Club
Patricia‘s “Many Grandmas” Asian Pickles at The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook
Renee‘s Chinese Grandmother’s Tofu at My Kitchen And I
Cheryl’s Gambling Rice at A Tiger in the Kitchen

Lucy's Beaten Biscuits at A cook and her books


  1. This looks DELICIOUS! And it's one of my absolute favorite dishes. (Even so, I've never made it from scratch. I'm going to have to try this in my kitchen ASAP!)

  2. ditto to what Cheryl said - I love tofu and might serve this with a side of garlicky long beans!

  3. Hey, thanks, Renee, for following Carole's Chatter. Have a good one.

  4. I've seen the same explanation of the name in several cookbooks. You should come check out my reference library one of these days, and we can compare note of ingredients as well.

  5. Hey Joy! I'd love to come check out your reference library some Saturday. We were gonna bake bread together sometime too, weren't we? You name the Saturday. :)

  6. Intriguing recipe. When you find the Asian grandmother, may I borrow her for the weekend?

  7. I think mapo doufu is one of my father's family's favorite comfort foods; sometimes I'm a little afraid to try it, though! It does come hot...


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