Ma Po Tofu is a beloved dish of Chinese cuisine, hailing from the Sichuan province – perhaps the original home of worldwide hot and spicy cuisine! 🙂 It was also one of the favorite dishes of Mao Zedong, who was addicted to spicy foods from both Sichuan and Hunan provinces.
Ma Po Tofu (Pronounced Dofu in Mandarin) actually means “Pockmarked Old Woman Tofu” and people are unsure how it actually got this unusual name.
The name is not only unusual, but more than a bit politically incorrect as well. “Po” means “old lady”, in the often disparaging context of how many western men sometimes refer to their wives. “Ma Po” is said to refer to a restaurant run by a woman of the Ma (or Mah) family, who had a pockmarked face after surviving Smallpox.
She supposedly invented this dish and it became an instant classic – true or not, the dish is a hallmark of true Sichuanese cooking, combining not just spicy heat, but a strong numbing flavor from the liberal use of Sichuan Peppercorns.
I’ve added additional depth of flavor by using mashed Chinese fermented black beans, which are delicious and add a strong umami component to the dish. This recipe has multiple layers of flavor (a signature of many Hirshon-labeled recipes, BTW) and will blow away the pale imitations of this dish served in most Chinese restaurants outside of Sichuan.
The use of pickled vegetables, sesame oil, sweetened black vinegar and other flavors balances the whole dish out. Ground beef ( a rare ingredient in Chinese cuisine, beef recipes are very rarely seen outside of Sichuan) adds the final protein-laden touch (you can skip it if you’re vegetarian, but the dish traditionally does include it).
I hope you enjoy my version of the recipe, Citizens! 😀
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