Mapo Tofu

Mapo Tofu is a classic Chinese Sichuan dish which consists of tofu cooked in a delicious meat sauce. It’s hot, spicy and addictive! Recipe for Mapo Tofu with step-by-step photos.

mapo tofu in staub cast iron pan

Mapo Tofu

If you are a tofu fan, chances are that you have tried Mapo Tofu. It is one of my favourite dishes to order when we go to a Chinese restaurant, except I rarely order it because none of my family members like (or can tolerate) really spicy food. And as Chinese restaurants are mostly about shared plates, we tend to order more kid-friendly dishes, such as Chinese Lemon Chicken, Potstickers, Chinese Barbecue Pork.

Which is why I love to make Mapo Tofu at home because, well, it is my solitary treat 🙂 Plus, making it myself means I can tailor the spices to suit my tastes, as well as use my preferred tofu for this dish (more on that later).

What is Mapo Tofu?

Mapo Tofu is a Chinese dish of tofu cooked in a spicy meat sauce. The dish originates from the Sichuan province of China, and which uses Sichuan peppercorns for a distinctive spicy taste and numbing sensation. If you love spicy food, chances are that you will love Chinese Sichuan cuisine and its use of Sichuan peppercorns.

Although Mapo Tofu is traditionally served with high spice levels, it can also be tailored to suit more mild palates, and you can also leave out the Sichuan peppercorns if you prefer.

mapo tofu in purple cast iron pan

Homemade Mapo Tofu

For many years, it had never crossed my mind to make Mapo Tofu at home; the flavours tasted so complex that I assumed that the recipe had to also be similarly complex. How wrong I was!

The best part about making Mapo Tofu at home is that you can customise the level of spice to suit your tastes, as well as adjust the saltiness and tanginess of the sauce. I also like to have a higher ratio of tofu to sauce; the tofu, after all, is the hero of this dish.

Mapo Tofu Recipe

This recipe for Mapo Tofu is quick and easy, making it perfect for busy weeknights. You essentially cook a quick meat sauce, and then add the tofu right at the end to warm it through. The whole dish can be made in less than 20 minutes!

Most of the ingredients are those which you can easily find at most western supermarkets these days; if not, an Asian grocer should stock all of the sauce ingredients.

Perhaps the lesser-known ingredient here is doubanjiang, also called toban-djan, which is a spicy chilli sauce made with fermented soy beans. Doubanjiang adds not only heat, but a lot of umami to boost the savouriness of this dish.

Doubanjiang is typically sold alongside other popular Chinese condiments, such as hoisin sauce and black bean sauce.

mapo tofu with silken tofu in cast iron pan

Which Tofu to Use for Mapo Tofu

Tofu is available in many different forms – soft, silken, firm, fried, marinated – and each type of tofu is suited to a particular style of cooking.

For stir-fries, firm tofu is typically used as it can generally hold up to a bit of wok-tossing and mingling with other ingredients.

Mapo Tofu is, in effect, a stir-fry, but I love to use silken tofu in this recipe. I love the creamy and almost custard-like texture of the silken tofu mixed with the fiery meat sauce. When eaten with a bowl of steamed Jasmine Rice, it is my idea of spicy heaven.

However, silken tofu is tricker to cook with because it is so soft and fragile. So I add it right at the end by carefully sliding it into the sauce, and letting it steam until it warms through completely.

But if you prefer a firmer tofu, please go ahead and use your favourite firm tofu. You might need to simmer the sauce for a little longer to allow the tofu to absorb more flavour.

How to Make Mapo Tofu

Step 1

For this recipe, I like to use a small cast-iron pan, but any stainless steel saucepan will work too.

Start by heating the pan over medium-high heat, without oil. Add the Sichuan peppercorns to the pan and toast them until they start to smoke a little. Give the pan a shake, or stir the peppercorns with a wooden spoon, as you toast them.

Step 2

Once the Sichuan peppercorns are aromatic, transfer them to a mortar. Use a pestle to finely grind the peppercorns.

Sift the ground peppercorns into a small bowl, and set this aside to use later. You should have about 1 tablespoon of ground peppercorns. Discard the tough husks and shells in the sieve. If you don’t sift the ground Sichuan peppercorns, the tough parts of the peppercorns will be unpleasant to eat in the dish.

Step 3

Return the pan to the stove over medium-high heat. Add some oil and brown the pork until it has caramelised and cooked through.

Add the garlic and ginger, and cook them with the pork until they are aromatic.

Step 4

Add the remaining sauce ingredients, including the ground Sichuan peppercorns which you set aside earlier. Give everything a good mix.

Step 5

Add the chicken stock and let everything come to a gentle simmer. Stir through some of the cornflour (cornstarch) slurry until the sauce has thickened to your liking. Simmer gently for about 10 minutes.

Taste the sauce for seasoning. If the flavours are too strong or intense, you can add more water to dilute the flavours.

Step 6

Carefully remove the silken tofu from the packaging and drain lightly with some kitchen paper. Slice the silken tofu into large chunks and carefully slide them into the sauce. You can gently submerge the silken tofu in the sauce, but keep in mind that the tofu will break as you stir it.

If you are using firm tofu, chop the tofu into bite-sized pieces, and stir it through the sauce.

Place the lid on the saucepan and simmer on low-medium heat for a few minutes, or until the tofu has warmed through.

Garnish with spring onions (scallions) before serving.


Mapo Tofu

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  • Author: Thanh | Eat, Little Bird
  • Prep Time: 5 mins
  • Cook Time: 20 mins
  • Total Time: 25 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 2 to 3 as a shared dish
  • Category: Dinner
  • Method: Stove
  • Cuisine: Chinese

Mapo Tofu is a classic Chinese Sichuan dish which consists of tofu cooked in a delicious meat sauce. Mapo Tofu is hot, spicy and addictive! Recipe with step-by-step photos.


For the Mapo Tofu

  • 2 tablespoons Sichuan peppercorns
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 100 g (3.5 oz) minced pork (ground pork)
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 3 cm (1 inch) ginger, grated
  • 1 tablespoon doubanjiang
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons chilli flakes
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons Chinese black vinegar
  • 1 chicken stock cube or 1 teaspoon chicken stock powder
  • 375 ml (1 1/2 cups) boiling water
  • 1 tablespoon cornflour (US: cornstarch), mixed with some cold water
  • 500 g (1 lb) silken tofu (or firm tofu)
  • spring onions (scallions), finely chopped

To Serve


To Toast the Sichuan Peppercorns

  1. Place the Sichuan peppercorns into a medium saucepan over medium-high heat.
  2. Toast the Sichuan peppercorns until you see some smoke from the pan and the peppercorns smell fragrant.
  3. Remove the toasted Sichuan peppercorns to a mortar and use a pestle to finely grind them.
  4. Stir the ground pepper through a fine sieve and into a small bowl. You should have about 1 tablespoon of ground pepper. Set this aside to use later in the recipe.
  5. Discard what remains in the sieve. If you skip this sifting step, the tough husks and seeds will be unpleasant to eat.

To Make the Mapo Tofu

  1. Return the saucepan to the stove over medium-high heat.
  2. Add some oil to the pan.
  3. Cook the pork until it is brown and caramelised, breaking it up with a wooden spoon as you cook it.
  4. Add the garlic and ginger, and cook for a few minutes until fragrant.
  5. Add the ground Sichuan peppercorns which you set aside earlier.
  6. Add the doubanjiang, chilli flakes, soy sauce, dark soy sauce, Chinese black vinegar, stock cube (or powder), and water.
  7. Mix everything together and simmer gently for about 10 minutes.
  8. Stir through enough cornflour slurry (cornstarch slurry) until the sauce has thickened nicely.
  9. Taste the sauce for seasoning. If the sauce is too strong, dilute it with some water. 
  10. Remove the tofu from the packaging.
  11. Place the tofu onto a chopping board or large plate.
  12. Slice the tofu into large chunks (the tofu will break up later in the sauce, so starting with large pieces is better).
  13. Carefully slide the tofu into the sauce. I like to leave the tofu sitting on top of the sauce, but you can stir the tofu into the sauce, bearing in mind that silken tofu will break up easily. If you are using a firmer tofu, stir it through the sauce so that it is well-coated.
  14. Place the lid on the saucepan.
  15. Turn the stove down to low-medium heat.
  16. Simmer gently for about 5 minutes, or until the tofu is warmed through.
  17. Garnish with spring onions (scallions) before serving.

Kitchen Notes

To convert from cups to grams, and vice-versa, please see this handy Conversion Chart for Basic Ingredients.

All recipes on this website have been tested on an induction stove and/or with a conventional oven (i.e. an oven without fan). All recipes on this website use temperatures for a conventional oven, unless otherwise mentioned. Convection ovens (i.e. fan-forced ovens) are typically 20°C/70°F hotter than conventional ovens, but please check your manufacturer’s handbook.

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