Ma Po Tofu

Ma Po Tofu is a well known strongly flavored, spicy tofu dish from the province of Sichuan (Szechuan), China.  Literal translation means “pocked marked face old lady’s tofu”. “Ma” means pocked marked face, “po” means old lady.

Legend has it that this pocked marked face old lady owned a restaurant on the outskirt of Chendu (the capital of Sichuan) where traders pass. She served this dish that became very popular with the travelers.

Ma also means numb so this dish is also called numbing tofu because of the numbing effect too much chili can cause.

The main ingredients for this dish is tofu with a bit of ground pork (traditional) or ground meat of your choice for flavoring. There are many versions of Ma Po Tofu. Below is my version. Adjust the amount of spice to your liking.

Ma Po Tofu

From “My Students’ Favorite Chinese Recipes updated edition” by Norma Chang

¼ pound ground pork or ground meat of choice
2 teaspoons regular or gluten free soy sauce
1 tablespoon ginger wine
½ teaspoon sugar
Combine all the above well. Can be done the day before and kept refrigerated.

½ – 2 teaspoons Asian chili sauce or to taste
1 – 2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound firm or extra firm tofu, cut into about ½-inch cubes (see NOTE 1)
1 tablespoons bean sauce or aka (red) miso (see NOTE 2)
2 scallions, mince white part, thinly slice green part for garnish
½ teaspoon kosher salt or to taste
¼ cup chicken broth or as needed
2 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon sesame oil (optional)
2 teaspoons cornstarch combined with 1 tablespoon water. Stir well before adding to wok.

1. Add oil to preheated wok or frying pan. Add chili sauce and garlic. Stir fry over high heat for 10 seconds. Add pork, stir-fry until color changes.
2. Stir in tofu, bean sauce, white part of scallions, salt and broth. Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 2 minutes or until tofu is heated through and pork is cooked.
3. Thicken with cornstarch mixture. Stir in sesame oil. Remove to serving platter and garnish with green part of scallion. Serve hot over cooked rice.

NOTE 1: I personally prefer firm tofu for this dish. However if you are cutting the tofu into larger cubes you may want to use extra firm tofu.
NOTE 2: Bean sauce is made from soy beans. I prefer red miso as a substitute as its flavor is similar to bean sauce.

You may also like the following tofu dishes:
Click here for Corn & Tofu Chowder
Click here for Frozen Tofu Fried Rice
Click here for Hoisin Tofu with Nuts & 3 Peppers
Click here for Marinated Tofu, Asparagus & Portabella Mushrooms Stir-fry

Copyright © by Norma Chang

Robin, The Gardener of Eden, is the host for Thursdays Kitchen Cupboard. Head on over to Thursday’s Kitchen Cupboard to see what others are cooking.

About Norma Chang

I am the author/publisher of 2 user-friendly Chinese cookbooks: "My Students' Favorite Chinese Recipes (updated edition)" and "Wokking Your Way to Low Fat Cooking" A gardener who enjoys cooking and eating and loves to think outside the box A garden volunteer at Locust Grove Heritage Vegetable Garden Conduct hands-on cooking workshops for teenagers Conduct cultural programs for children and family Conduct healthy cooking classes for adults
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54 Responses to Ma Po Tofu

  1. Daphne says:

    It sounds delicious. I wish my husband would eat tofu. I love tofu, but he doesn’t. He doesn’t like it.

  2. Jack Ford says:

    Hi, Norma-
    I found this recipe in your book several years ago, and prepare often. It is fantastic!!!

  3. ChgoJohn says:

    What a great post! Not only did I learn a great dish, Norma, but you taught me a little of the mythology behind the name. I find this kind of stuff interesting and like to pass it along when I serve the dish to friends. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Lou Murray's Green World says:

    Not being a fan of hot spicy food, I think I would opt for the hoisin tofu instead. I’m glad the you show people different ways to serve tofu. It’s a great food. And thanks for the reminder that I missed Kitchen Cupboard Thursday. I forgot to post.

  5. I have been on a tofu kick lately. This dish looks very tasty!

  6. Robin says:

    Norma, your tofu recipes are wonderful! I never liked tofu until I made some using your recipes and some really good tofu!

  7. I just love all these recipes with tofu and I’m collecting them. I need to get on the ball and try some of these!

  8. Purely.. Kay says:

    I’ve always run away from tofu, but this dish actually looks interesting. Thanks for sharing this Ms. Norma 🙂

  9. Kristy says:

    I wonder if that old lady had any idea that she was starting a recipe that would last generations? Very interesting! My daughter LOVES tofu and I enjoy it when it’s prepared well – which I’m slowly figuring out how to do. This looks like it would be a very manageable dish for me and full of flavor!

  10. zestybeandog says:

    This looks great, I haven’t cooked with ginger wine before, sounds great!

  11. This sounds yummy! My family loves tofu and this looks like something that would be a big hit at our house. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Marina says:

    That meal sounds very interesting. Thanks for sharing it. I love your recipes. I need to learn from you how to use sprouted beans in my meals. I’ve been eating it mostly in salads and sandwiches.

  13. Norma I am making this for sure! Ma Po Tofu is one of my favorite dishes. I am putting it on the menu for this coming week – thanks!

  14. Yup 🙂 great recipe Norma ~ easy and great with rice hehe!

  15. Charles says:

    Oh, wonderful – my favourite Chinese restaurant serves this – I always look forward to it when we go there. As is common here they don’t call dishes by their names, but more by their description instead, so it’s nice to finally find out the name, and a recipe for this wonder! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  16. Norma, this is a wonderful dish, one of my favourites to warm the heart and stomach 🙂

  17. Norma, your version sounds delicious. I love MP tofu, but often find the restaurant versions too sweet. Thanks for the recipe!

  18. mac says:

    Yum~ this is my go to dish on lazy days with or without meat.

  19. leduesorelle says:

    This is of my favorite ways to prepare tofu, can’t wait to try your version!

  20. samology says:

    This is a spectacular comfort food! I love ma po dou fu especially with noodles!! So delicious and hearty 🙂

  21. Jasline says:

    Being a Chinese myself, I really love Chinese food. I can’t really take spicy food, but ma po tofu is a dish I can’t stop eating, no matter how spicy it is! Thanks for sharing! I will definitely try it out soon. (:

  22. This looks like something I’ve never tried before. So, I’m gonna give it a try for dinner later this week for me and my hubby. I just need to run to whole foods to get the ingredients first.

    Thanks for posting it.

    Grandma Kat

  23. Sophie33 says:

    MMMMM…Now, I know what the title means! Hahahahahha! I love this kind of foods a lot! A beautiful & appetizing dish, thank you! 🙂

  24. I love tofus cooked this way, just like my grandma used to make them 🙂

  25. pastepants says:

    Hi Norma

    Thanks so much for your comment on my blog 😀

    Your Ma Po Tofu looks SO delicious! It is one of my all time favourite dishes by my mom. But since I’m studying abroad right now, I’ve been without her ma po tofu for much too long, so I will definitely try to attempt this!

    Thanks for the recipe!

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