Mabo / Mapo Tofu
mabo tofu mapo tofu Japanese style
Winter is chili season: hot, spicy, and comforting food makes spirits warm in spite of the bleak weather! Mapo tofu is a Chinese dish well loved in Japan, both in Chinese restaurants and at home. It’s easy to prepare with common ingredients: tofu, pork, toban jiang, and green onions.

Mapo tofu is a dish from China adapted by the Japanese to their own tastes. This recipe is less oily, and does not include the tongue-numbing-burning Szechuan peppercorns than what you’ll find in Chinese restaurants in the U.S. Instead this dish is often sprinkled with sansho pepper which has a pleasant sharp bitterness and citrus like flavor.

It is the texture of this dish which is interesting in the mouth: the tofu is soft and the pork is chewy. It’s an odd combination that: pork and tofu, neither vegetarian nor meat centered.

In this variation of the recipe I experimented with making the meat soft and the tofu chewy. I dusted the firm drained tofu with potato starch then fried it so it was “to the tooth”—al dente and chewy. I very gently simmered the pork in the liquid so it was finely broken up and soft.

Youki brand toban jan from Japan has nuances of flavor without the excess oil found in bean pastes from China. Szechwan Chili Sauce was hot, not oily, inexpensive, but lacked complexity of flavor. The small jar of Youki goes a long way, and there are many Chinese-influenced Japanese recipes which justify the cost!

Mabo Tofu / Mapo Tofu

  • Servings: serves 4
  • Difficulty: easy
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マーボー豆腐 Japanese Mapo Tofu

Main Ingredients:

  • 1 block cotton tofu, 14 ounces
  • 10 ounces ground pork


  • 1 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger
  • ½ negi or 4 or 5 green onions, white part only, finely chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon toban jan


  • 1 cup water
  • 2 Tablespoons sake
  • 3 Tablespoons miso
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • 1 Tbsp katakuriko (potato starch, or corn starch)
  • mixed with 1 Tablespoon water

For Serving:

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


Wrap tofu in cheesecloth or a cotton tea towel, add some weight (plate to distribute the weight of a can of tomatoes), and let the tofu drain for about 30 minutes. Cut tofu into 1-inch cubes. Some recipes call for briefly boiling the tofu. In this recipe, I coated the tofu cubes with potato starch then seared them in hot oil in a wok. This technique makes the tofu cubes a bit crisp and chewy, somewhat like agedashi tofu. Remove the tofu from the wok to a large plate.

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 then put these seasonings on top of the tofu.

For the sauce, combine water, sake, miso, and sugar in a 2-cup measuring cup. Stir until the sugar and miso dissolve.

Put the ground pork into the hot wok. Pour the sauce mixture into the wok and bring it up to a simmer. Break up the meat so there are no large chunks. The liquid ensures that the meat-sauce will be smoothly cooked.

Add the reserved tofu-seasoning to the wok. Mix the cornstarch 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.

If you like spicy Japanese foods adapted from China or other recipes using toban jan:


click a pic for other recipes…

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