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Ma po doufu

Australian Gourmet Traveller recipe for ma po doufu.

By Alice Storey
  • Serves 4
  • 25 mins preparation
  • 15 mins cooking
Ma po doufu
Ma po doufu

It's warm, silken and aromatic, so it's surprising to hear that this Sichuan classic means pock-marked grandmother's beancurd when translated to English. Legend has it that the dish was first made during the Qing Dynasty by a smallpox-scarred nanna (known as Mother Chen) who made the dish for labourers. While the name may be surprising, the popularity of the dish is not: it would have been just the ticket for hungry workers on the move. And today this comforting dish of smooth beancurd, fiery chilli, numbing Sichuan peppercorns and minced beef is one of the most-widely recognised Sichuan dishes in China and around the world.

Being a poor man's dish, original versions of ma po doufu were made with off-cuts of beef, hence the mincing of the meat, but today you'll also find some recipes with pork.

The ratio of meat to beancurd varies from recipe to recipe; however, Tony Tan, GT's contributor and authority on Asian food, recommends around five parts beancurd to one part meat. But while beancurd is a key ingredient, it plays a neutral role - acting as a carrier for the other components and flavours of the dish.

"It shouldn't have a strong tofu taste," says Ye Shao, owner of standard-setting Melbourne restaurant Dainty Sichuan, "but a taste more of chilli and Sichuan pepper, blended or mixed with the broad bean paste and minced meat. To achieve this, it's important to stir-fry the broad bean paste with the minced meat to bring out the flavour and fragrance before adding stock."

Use the freshest spices you can find for best results, and enough chilli so that the heat lingers on the palate, but not so much that you can no longer taste the other flavours.

A good ma po doufu should have a harmonious balance of saltiness, sweetness and heat: get this balance right and we guarantee this staple of Sichuan cuisine will soon be one of yours too.

Fiery, numbing, salty and sweet, this Sichuan dish of humble origin is today a worldwide hit, writes Maya Kerthyasa.


  • 600 gm tofu, cut into 3cm cubes
  • 150 ml chicken stock
  • 1 tbsp Shaoxing wine (see note)
  • 2 tsp soy sauce
  • 3½ tbsp hot chilli broad bean paste (see note)
  • 2 tsp fermented soy beans (see note), finely chopped
  • 1 tsp cornflour
  • 60 ml vegetable oil (¼ cup)
  • 150 gm minced beef
  • 2 tsp Sichuan peppercorns, plus extra (optional), dry-roasted until fragrant (20-30 seconds), crushed in a mortar and pestle, to serve
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 10 gm ginger, finely chopped (2cm piece)
  • 1 tsp caster sugar
  • ½ bunch garlic chives, cut into 3cm batons


  • 1
    Cook tofu in a saucepan of simmering water over medium heat until warmed through (5 minutes), drain well and set aside.
  • 2
    Meanwhile, combine stock, Shaoxing wine and soy sauce in a jug and set aside.
  • 3
    Combine hot chilli broad bean paste, fermented soy beans and chilli powder in a bowl and set aside.
  • 4
    Mix cornflour with 1 tsp water in a small bowl to form a paste and set aside.
  • 5
    Heat oil in a large frying pan over high heat. Add beef and stir-fry until browned (2-3 minutes). Add bean paste mixture and crushed Sichuan pepper and stir-fry until starting to caramelise (1-2 minutes). Reduce heat to medium, add garlic and ginger and stir to combine (1-2 minutes). Add tofu, then stock mixture and bring to the simmer. Carefully stir in cornflour paste and sugar, bring to the simmer and simmer until sauce thickens (3-4 minutes). Stir in chives, divide among serving bowls, scatter with extra Sichuan pepper and serve hot with steamed rice.


Note Shaoxing wine, hot chilli broad bean paste (also known as doubanjiang) and fermented soy beans (aka black beans) are available from Asian grocers. If hot chilli broad bean paste is unavailable, substitute chilli soy bean paste.