Mabo Tofu (麻婆豆腐) is a delicious Chinese dish with a Japanese twist. Made with ground pork, tofu and onions served in a fragrant and spicy sauce, the Japanese version contains miso and is not as spicy as its Chinese counterpart. Mabo tofu is a Japanese family favourite and a typical home cooked dish!
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Difficulty level: ★★☆☆☆
What is "mabo tofu"?
Mapo Tofu (mabo dofu in Japanese) is originally Chinese but it's also a common dish that nearly every family in Japan have regularly. I'd compare it to spaghetti bolognese for English family, something I noticed when I lived in England haha.
Mapo Tofu is a spicy dish made up of minced pork, tofu and onion in a thick, spicy sauce, and it's usually served with rice. It even appears in Japanese school lunch (Of course that means it's a lucky school lunch day!)
Rather than only posting traditional Japanese or fusion recipes, I also want to share recipes for food that you commonly see on tables of Japanese family homes, in restaurants and izakayas too.
Also the fact that Japanese-style "mabo dofu" is a bit different from authentic Chinese Mapo Tofu makes it even more interesting. We use regular miso rather than Chinese miso, and it's also not too spicy so it can be enjoyed by everyone!
Making Mapo Tofu
This Mapo Tofu is
- Very Easy to Make
- Nicely Spicy
One issue you might find is, you might need to go to an Asian supermarket to get some of the ingredients to make this, but I will suggest alternative for ingredients where I can. If you have any trouble, you can always leave a comment below, send us an email or comment on instagram!
When I was back in England, there were times where I didn't have enough money to go to Asian supermarkets and buy proper ingredients to make the home food that I missed, so I had to improvise.
I know the pain of not being able to get what you need on a recipe and feeling incomplete.
So don't worry, I've got you covered.
Ingredients and Substitutes
These are some substitutes specifically for this recipe and might not work as substitutes in other recipes.
- Sake - white wine or dry sherry
- Miso paste - (if you can't get it, omit it for this recipe)
- Chili Oil - Mix 2 tsp of sesame oil with ¼ tsp chili flakes
- Sichuan Chilli Paste (doubanjian) - see below
One of the most important ingredients in this dish is called “la doubanjian” (also can be spelled toban djan or tobanjan). It’s a spicy fermented bean paste from Sichuan and it’s delicious! It's easy to find in supermarkets in Japan because Szechuan style food is very popular here.
It’s a pretty popular ingredient so if you live near an Asian supermarket, look for a label with “辣豆瓣酱” or ask for Chinese chili bean paste. I’m sure you’ll find it! You can also buy it on Amazon.
SUBSTITUTES FOR TOBANJAN
If you can’t get it, I’ve read about a few substitutions you can try. (I warn you though, the taste will be quite different!)
- Sambal Oelek (Thai chili paste)
- Gochujang (Korean chili paste)
- Mix black bean paste with chili flakes
- Mix oyster sauce with chili flakes
- Mix miso paste with chili flakes
So you have a few options to try but if you like spice and you’re interested in Chinese cooking, I really recommend buying a small jar of la doubanjian. Once opened you can keep it for a year in the fridge so you don’t need to rush to use it up, it really is unique and delicious!