Recipe and video for making Japanese-style mapo tofu from scratch in your home kitchen, along with detailed history on this unique dish and how it traveled from China to Japan to become an integral part of Japanese food culture.

Contributed by Naoko’s Kitchen

Although originating in China, mapo tofu has worked its way into the heart of Japanese food culture. Also called mabo tofu, this spicy, garlicky and savory traditional tofu features in a wide range of dishes; it also works well eaten alone or paired with steamed rice or zakkokumai. Mapo tofu makes a great addition to vegetable or meat stir fries and is packed with flavor. Use our easy-to-follow recipe and video to create your own Japanese-style mapo tofu, and bring a bit of authentic Japanese culinary flair into your home kitchen.

What Is Mapo Tofu?

There are several key differences between Japanese-style mapo tofu and the mapo tofu you find in Chinese restaurants around the world. First of all, our recipe is milder and less spicy than the original Sichuan-style mapo tofu. Also, Japanese-style mapo tofu uses sake as a secret ingredient to add flavor to the mapo tofu. As far as healthy Japanese recipes go, mapo tofu is a great dish for vegetarians (just leave out the pork mince) and meat eaters alike. Japanese people love to make their own mapo tofu at home, which has helped it become a staple of Japanese food culture.

The History of Mapo Tofu

Cuisine from the Sichuan province of China is known throughout the world for its use of bold flavors, especially hot peppers. In fact, in China, mapo tofu is famous for making people break out in a sweat whenever they eat it. The recipe for mapo tofu became widely popular throughout China and made its way to both Korea and Japan.

In Japan, mapo tofu became a household name when chef Chen Kenichi made it his trademark dish on the show “Iron Chef.” The only Iron Chef to have kept his position throughout the lifetime of the show, Kenichi also runs a restaurant that specializes in mapo tofu. Located in Yokohama, chef Kenichi’s restaurant serves a classic mapo tofu set lunch that packs the house daily.

All About Japanese Tofu

Made simply from soybeans and nigari (magnesium chloride to coagulate), tofu is a healthy meat alternative and source of protein used across Asia. While you can buy tofu in both Japanese and other Asian markets, you can also make your own at home just like many Japanese people do. Tofu by itself is often considered bland, but there are literally endless ways to prepare it and make it tasty and full of flavor.

Learn how to cook tofu here!

Tips for Plating

Presentation is always a key element of Japanese traditional food culture, and mapo tofu is no exception. Whether you serve mapo tofu as a main dish or a side, you should always take care to present it in the proper way. Here are some tips on doing so:

  • Use a glass bowl; it’s an easy way to showcase your dish. Just placing your mapo tofu in a unique dish makes your food stand out!
  • Give food presentation three-dimensional effect. By placing the curly chives on top, food looks prettier. And remember that the rule of three is important in Japanese cuisine.
  • Serve rice on a spoon; it’ll be great appetizer plate. People can also use rice to make mapo tofu milder if they think it’s too spicy.

Meet Naoko’s Kitchen

Naokos kitchen logoNaoko’s Kitchen is brought to you by Japanese cook and Culinary Artist Naoko Kashiwagi who is living in the UK. Naoko has been sharing her authentic taste, knowledge and skills of Japanese food by hosting pop-ups and Japanese cooking classes in Cornwall, UK. More than thousand foodies from all over the world have participated in her informative and hands-on classes. They all enjoyed the entertainment of her exquisite dishes!

Naoko’s Kitchen is the first authentic Japanese pop-ups in Cornwall, this style allows her to collaborate with a lot of local businesses aiming at supporting each other as well. Her mission is simple: To entertain the customers with authentic Japanese flavors by adding subtle European twists to create innovative dishes.

Naoko’s Kitchen’s concept promises to create family favorites using the freshest local Cornish seafood and seasonal ingredients with Naoko’s imagination and creativity. She creates a dish mixing authenticity with innovation for your taste buds and eyes.

Japanese-style Mapo Tofu

Recipe by Naoko's Kitchen

Course Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine Japanese

Ingredients

  • 1 lb Pork Mince
  • 4 clove Garlic, grated
  • 1 tsp Ginger, grated
  • 1/2 Leek, chopped
  • 24 oz Tofu (Silken type)
  • 3 Tbsp Ground Sichuan Peppercorns
  • 2 Tbsp Sesame oil
  • Sea salt

Sauce

  • 1.5 Tbsp Chili Garlic Sauce
  • 2 Tbsp Black bean Garlic Sauce
  • 2 Tbsp Soy Sauce
  • 2 Tbsp Sake
  • 1 tsp Sugar
  • 1 tsp Sea salt
  • 1 ¼ cup Water

For thickening

  • 1.5 Tbsp Katakuri Powder
  • ¼ cup Water

Garnishing

  • 1 stalk Chive
  • Sea Salt Flakes
  • Cooked Rice

Instructions

Preparation

  1. Combine all ingredients for a sauce in a bowl.
  2. Slice the chive half lengthways and tear off using your fingers. Soak the fine chives into cold water for 5 minutes and let them turn into curly shape. Set them aside.
  3. Drain the tofu carefully and cut into ¾ inch cubes.

Stir-fry the ingredients

  1. Put the sesame oil, garlic, ginger, leek, Sichuan Peppercorns and one pinch of sea salt in a frying pan. Stir-fry while keep stirring until the flavor is infused into the oil.
  2. Add the pork mince and one pinch of sea salt to the pan. Break up the meat using spatula while cooking. Cook until the meat is almost done.

Season

  1. Pour the sauce into the frying pan and bring it to a boil.
  2. Add the tofu and gently coat the tofu with the sauce.
  3. Simmer for 5 minutes without mashing up the tofu on medium low heat, until it is heated through.

Thicken the sauce

  1. In a small cup, dissolve katakuri powder in water.
  2. Pour the liquid into the frying pan.
  3. Heat the frying pan immediately on the highest heat and stir frequently until the sauce is thickened.

Make a plate presentation

  1. Put the Mapo Tofu into a bowl (glass is better) and put the curly chives on top.
  2. Spoon the steamed rice and sprinkle some sesame seeds.
  3. Place the Mapo Tofu and the rice on a spoon on a flat plate and sprinkle some sea salt as decoration.