Sichuan Ma Po Dou Fu

I love the literal translation of this name – Pock-marked Mother Chen’s beancurd.  It was named after the smallpox-scarred wife of a Qing Dynasty restauranteur who prepared it for labourers on the way to the city markets carrying their loads of oil. Just don’t ask me when exactly she lived between 1644 and 1911.
I got used to calling Tofu “Dou Fu” while I was in China where it was a regular feature on menus and I was fascinated by its ability to take on different textures and flavours.This particular dish is traditionally served in a bowl with a good layer of chilli oil on top rather than on a plate and is eaten with a spoon. You can cut back on the oil if the idea of all those extra calories is putting you off.
I had a vegetarian variation of Ma Po Tofu inside the kitchen of the China Sichuan recently where it included yellow bean paste and Gok Wan includes a version wrapped in omelette in Gok Cooks Chinese.  But the recipe below is the traditional one taught in the Sichuan provincial cooking school and included by  Fuchsia Dunlop in her Sichuan Cookery book and I decided to stick closely to that for my own first attempt at making it at home.

Ma Po Dou Fu

This dish is yet another example of where a little meat goes a long way in Chinese dishes. Ken Hom explained that very well in the third episode of BBC Two’s Exploring China – A Culinary Adventure where a small chicken is “stretched” as we would say in Ireland to feed a small vilage. If you have a population of over 1.3 billion to feed a small amount of animal protein per person has to be supplemented with other ingredients to make tasty and nutritious meals. This leads to a very different balance between meat and other ingredients than we tend to be used to here in Ireland and one that I came to find healthier and easier to digest.
While we might balk at some of the more exotic ingredients used as sources of protein in Chinese cooking, I found when I visited Shan’s family in Xinjiang Province that their biggest concern about coming to visit us in Ireland is being faced with indigestible (to them) plates of steak!
By the way if you are keen to learn more about cooking Sichuan food, Fuchsia Dunlop’s Sichuan Cookery book is a must for your cook book library.
Sichuan Cookery

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