Ma Po Dou Fu

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Preparation info

  • Serves

    8 to 10

    • Difficulty


Appears in

A Canon of Vegetables

A Canon of Vegetables

By Raymond Sokolov

Published 2007

  • About

This is the signature dish of Sichuan cuisine. It is hot, simple, and rustic yet a showcase of sophisticated texture contrasts and forceful, hot, typical Sichuan spices. It is named after an apparently real restaurant cook in the Sichuan capital of Chengdu who invented it some time before the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1911. There are now many restaurants in Sichuan and elsewhere offering ma po dou fu in widely varying versions. This minimalist recipe is based closely on the one Fuchsia Dunlop learned during her studies at the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine in Chengdu. If you recoil from fiery spicing, look elsewhere for dinner.


  • 2 pounds bean curd, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • Salt
  • 4 Chinese leeks (the long, thin variety called suan miao) or 6 scallions, trimmed
  • 1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns
  • 1 cup any flavorless cooking oil
  • ¾ pound ground beef
  • 5 tablespoons Sichuanese hot bean paste
  • 2 tablespoons fermented black beans
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon ground dried red chiles
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • ½ cup cornstarch, dissolved in ¾ cup cold water, approximately


  1. Bring 6 cups of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the tofu cubes and adjust the heat to maintain a slow simmer.
  2. Cut the leeks at a sharp angle to produce 1½-inch slices or cut the scallions in 1½-inch segments.
  3. Heat a dry wok and toss in the Sichuan peppercorns. Roast them over low heat for about 5 minutes, stirring to prevent burning. Their color will deepen a bit and they will give off a fine smoke. Dump into a spice grinder or mortar and grind to a fine powder. Sieve to remove any stems and set aside.
  4. Put the wok over high heat. Add all the cooking oil and heat until it smokes. Slip the ground beef into the oil and Stir-fry until it begins to brown. Reduce the heat to medium.
  5. In quick succession, add the bean paste, Stir-fry for a half minute, then the black beans and ground chiles, Stir-frying for another half minute. Straightaway, pour in the stock, mix well, and then add the bean curd cubes. Do not stir. To avoid breaking up the bean curd, fold it gently into the other ingredients or simply push it from the edge to the center of the wok. While you do this, work in the sugar and the soy sauce. Taste and add salt if necessary. Simmer for 5 minutes.
  6. Add the leeks or scallions. When they have softened, gently work in the cornstarch slurry, a bit at a time, until the sauce has thickened to the point where it coats the bean curd. Stop adding cornstarch at this point.
  7. Pour into a serving bowl, sprinkle with the ground Sichuan peppercorns, and serve.

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