Mabo Tofu Japanese Style
Chinese food is popular in Japan. The seasonings are adjusted to Japanese tastes: sweeter and less spicy. The Chinese use oyster sauce and lots of garlic to make sauces for fish and meats. The Japanese use only rice and soy products: sake, mirin, soy sauce, and just a hint of garlic.

One of the most popular Chinese dishes in Japan is ebi chili (shrimp with chili sauce). In summer Hiyashi-chūka soba is a favorite. Come to think of it, ramen is Chinese noodles translated to Japanese tastes. The recipe (Stir-Fried Liver and Chinese Chives) I made in my last post is popular in Chinese-style restaurants, as are subuta (sweet and sour pork), yaki-soba (fried noodles), gyoza and shumai (meat dumplings), and Chahan (Japanese fried rice).

Today’s recipe, Mabo Tofu is another Chinese transformed to Japanese dish. Tofu and ground pork are cooked in a spicy sauce to become more than the sum total of the parts! This recipe is composed from several recipes for Japanese-style mabo tofu. I haven’t tried Chinese mabo tofu, the this version was spicy enough for me! I’d say that mabo tofu is like American chili in that everyone has a favorite interpretation—there are no mabo tofu authorities standing by to determine if your recipe is authentic or not!

Mabo Tofu

  • Servings: 4 servings
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Mapo Tofu
a Chinese dish adapted to Japanese tastes
from several sites online


  • 1 block cotton tofu, about 1 lb
  • ½ lb ground pork


  • 1 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 Tbsp finely chopped fresh ginger
  • ½ negi or 4 or 5 green onions
  • white part only, finely chopped
  • 1 Tbsp tobanjan


  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tbsp sake
  • 3 tbsp miso
  • ½ tsp sugar
  • 1 Tbsp katakuriko/corn starch
    mixed with 1 Tablespoon water


  • 1 teaspoon sansho powder
  • ½ Tablespoon Japanese sesame oil
  • green onions, green part only, cut into rings
  • 4 cups steamed rice


Wrap tofu in a towel, add some weight (plate with a can of tomatoes or whatever), and let the tofu drain for about 30 minutes. Cut tofu into ½-inch cubes. Set aside. Some recipes call for boiling the tofu, or for stir-frying the cubes with sesame oil, but I opted for the easy way.

In a two cup measuring cup, combine water, sake, miso, and sugar. Stir until the sugar and miso dissolves. Set aside.

Heat oil in a wok on low heat, add garlic, ginger, and onion. Stir fry for a few minutes. Add the tobanjan, give it a stir, the add the ground pork. Break up the chunks of meat until the color changes. Pour the sauce mixture into the wok and bring it up to a simmer. Add tofu cubes, and simmer for about 10 minutes. Mix the corstarch with the water and stir it into the wok. Stir gently, so as not to break the tofu cubes, until the sauce is thickened and glossy.

Serve in bowls on top of Japanese rice. Sprinkle a little sansho powder and sesame oil on each bowl. Garnish with the onions.



21 thoughts on “Mabo Tofu Japanese Style

  1. This sounds good and is something I would like to make,but what is cotton tofu? I know only regular tofu, smoked tofu, silken tofu and flavoured tofu,but I have never heard of cotton tofu..

    • Cotton tofu is the regular tofu I buy. It’s firmer than silken tofu partly because the tofu is drained in cotton cloth. If you look closely you can sometimes see the weave imprinted on the tofu.

      If you are not eating meat, then use some sort of fried tofu like atsuage or namaage. You want a contrast in texture: smooth and soft / chunky and chewy.

  2. Thanks Tess:-) We don’t have here those fried tofus;there are many tofu makers here but mostly it is just regular tofu. So I will use the regular tofu then.

  3. Looks super tasty!
    Do you think that the pork can be changed out for chicken or beef, as I am not a huge pork fan.

    What do you use the spoon for in the last picture? :-)

    • I think (ground or minced) chicken or turkey would be great. Or beef—is not so much my favorite. I’m not a vegetarian, but tempah or seiten or atsuage would most likely work. Can’t advise which.

      As I said, what is interesting about this recipe is the contrast in textures.

      Beg pardon, Greg! ? Am I missing something about the spoon? The middle one has sort-of eyes at the end of the handle, but otherwise, I don’t understand.

        • Oh right!

          I usually put out chopsticks, but when I made this before it was so much better to eat some parts of it with a spoon, some with chopsticks.

          Perhaps if you were at a restaurant you would get a ceramic Chinese spoon (the sort you get for eating soup) and chopsticks. Remember, I’m in the U.S. and don’t know what is authentic. This is home cooking so even though I try to be “authentic” I must be practical.

  4. Mabo Tofu is good with rice. I used to use instant sauce mix, but your recipe is very simple and I have everything at home. I should cook Mabo Tofu soon. Thank you for the tip :)

  5. Thank you for the recipe, it looks great! I am going to make it tonight for my family, so I’ll tell you how it goes. We always used to use the boxed sauce mixes, but I really want to make things from scratch to save money and so as to not eat unnecessary chemicals and preservatives and all that. It looks like a very simple and tasty recipe, and I am so excited to try it!

  6. hello Kei,

    Yes, please let me how you like!

    I have seen those packages for this, but I have never understood why anyone would use them! You still have to do the tofu and pork, plus make the rice, and garnish with your own green onions.

    Do let me know!! This recipe is as easy as the boxed version. Besides chemicals, it dosen’t even save much time. IMHO

    • Mabodofu boxes I’ve found in asian markets tend to be more Sichuan style, utilizing ground peppers and sesame oil. Supposedly tobanjan is authentic, but i’ve seen a Sichuan chef make mabodofu without it…

  7. Oh my goodness, I can’t believe how long it’s been since I last posted! I kept forgetting to tell you how it went, but I’ve made it twice already because it was so good! Everyone liked it, especially my little sister, And me. :) By the way, I’m 14. Surprise, surprise!So anyway thank you so much for this recipe! I love it, and yes, it isn’t that much harder to make than the packaged kind, but tastes a hundred times better. I am a little slow at cooking though, so I probably take a lot longer than necessary.. Oh yeah, and I used ground beef because that’s the only kind of ground meat we get.

    • Hi Kei,
      I’m glad you liked the recipe! And yes, surprise that you are 14 and enjoy cooking. Thank you for letting me know how the recipe turned out.

      If you like spicy food and noodles give my kimchi udon or ja-ja men udon a try. Both of those recipes need a little more cutting of vegetables but they are both nice.

  8. :D What a coincidence, I was already wanting to try the kimchi udon! It looks really good. I haven’t seen the ja-ja men udon, but I’ll check it out, and make sure to comment if I make them!

    • Marvelous! We (hub and me) liked kimchi udon, and I hope you and your family do as well. :-)

      Do comment if you like it. But if you did not like, also let me know.

      Or if you will have an idea to make it better…

  9. I love kimchi, and although I’m not so sure my whole family will enjoy it as they are not all fans of udon, I was planning to make it for my mom and myself someday. It might not be too soon, however! Tonight we are actually having kimchi nabe for dinner. Are you familiar with it? Maybe you have a recipe on here somewhere! :) Anyway, I will be sure to comment when I get around to making it. I’m in awe of your ability to create such a delicious and professional looking recipe. I’m sure it will taste as good as it looks! Thanks!

  10. It’s really yummy, like sukiyaki but with a kimchi-ish soup. :) Similar to your kimchi udon, actually, because it has tofu, enoki, sliced pork and shungiku and negi plus whatever you want to put in it! And the soup also seems similar to yours. You should try it out! We’ve been using bottled soup (sigh) but next time I’m going to try it from scratch.

  11. とても おいしい だよう!Thanks for the great recipe – just made this and it’s DELICIOUS!! :-D いただきま~~す!!!😃😃😃

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