VIDEO: Japan Kitchen: How to make terrific Mapo tofu

Photos by Shoji Kudaka
Photos by Shoji Kudaka

VIDEO: Japan Kitchen: How to make terrific Mapo tofu

Stripes Japan

As someone who loves spicy food, summer is the time I am most excited about. When the hot season comes around, spicy food is on the menu everywhere in Japan. From curry rice to chicken wings and ramen, many foods don red labels like a change of clothing for the season.

On Okinawa, where the heat lasts beyond summer, my love for spicy food remains even through the autumn season. Despite the variety of spicy foods I can have, there is one that I miss from when I lived on the mainland— Mapo Tofu, a spicy dish.

Mapo Tofu is a Japanese adaptation of a Chinese dish, but it is usually less spicy than the original. But when I lived in Tokyo about 15 years ago, I’d head to a restaurant near Gotanda Station that served up a Mapo Tofu so spicy it would burn my taste buds every time. The addictive burn was how I would refresh after a long day of work and felt like I was cleansing my soul with fire.

I miss that spicy dish I’d have in Tokyo, and after a hot day on Okinawa, I wanted to recreate those flavors and burning feeling without requiring a flight to the mainland. I searched far and wide for the spiciest Mapo Tofu recipe I could find online and soon found Chen Kenichi’s version.

Chef Chen is also known as the Szechuan Sage, and is the son of Chen Kenmin, the chef who first introduced the tofu dish in Japan.

The recipe I found came with a YouTube video of the Szechuan Sage cooking up the dish, so I was confident I could follow him step-by-step.

Soon, I realized that it wouldn’t be as easy as I’d assumed. First, the recipe calls for silken tofu, a soft ingredient that requires some skill and patience to prevent from crumbling during the frying process. Next, finding touchi fermented black beans, a key ingredient was impossible in my local grocery store. I attempted to substitute this ingredient with extra chili oil and ended up adding way too much spice.

Despite the trial-and-error, my Mapo Tofu was edible, but was too spicy even for me. The other ingredients including the chili bean sauce and sweetened soybean paste did a lot of work to hold my first attempt at Mapo Tofu together. All in all, it was a good first try and though it wasn’t exactly like the spicy tofu in Tokyo, but I still enjoyed the process and the result.

Try it for yourself and add a little (or a lot) of spice to your next meal!

Mapo Tofu by Chen Kenichi


  • Kinugoshi tofu/silk tofu (300 g)
  • Ground pork (100 g)
  • Shredded green onion (thick, 10 cm)

(Condiment A)

  • Chili bean sauce (15 cc)
  • Grated garlic (5 cc)
  • Sweetened soybean paste (15 cc)
  • Chili oil (5 cc)

(Condiment B)

  • Chuka-aji/Chinese taste seasoning (a little)
  • Soy sauce (15 cc)
  • Oyster sauce (1.7 cc)
  • Cooking sake (appropriate amount)
  • Pepper (a little)
  • Touchi/fermented black beans (20 pieces)
  • Chili oil (15 cc)
  • Salad oil (a little)

Other ingredients

  • Vegetable oil (30 cc)
  • Water (200 cc)
  • A mixture of starch and water (30 cc each)

Recipe (Preparation)

1. Slice tofu into cubes of 5 to 2 cm sides and soak them in a bowl of water. Shred a thick green onion (10 cm)

2. Put grated garlic (5 cc), chili bean sauce (15 cc), sweetened soybean paste (15 cc), chili oil (5 cc) in a cup. In a separate cup, set chili oil (15 cc) aside.

3. Pour vegetable oil (30 cc) into a frying pan and add ground pork (100 g) to fry. Loosen the ground pork by pushing it with the back of ladle as it browns. When the fried pork starts to crackle, turn off the heat.

4. Add vegetable oil (15 cc) to the frying pan and add in the grated garlic, chili bean sauce, sweetened soybean paste and chili oil mixture in. Turn the heat back on and mix the ingredients to ensure the pork is covered in the sauce.

5. Add water (200 cc) to the pan. Turn off the heat, then add touchi/fermented black beans (20 pieces) to the pan and stir a little before leaving them.

6. In a separate pot, bring water to a boil and add the sliced tofu. (Sprinkle a pinch of salt over the water before adding tofu.) When each piece of tofu starts moving around like dancing on its own, remove from heat and drain water.

7. Return the frying pan with the pork over heat and add in the boiled tofu with a little bit of water. Add a sprinkle of Chuka-aji/Chinese taste seasoning , a dash of black pepper, a splash of cooking sake, oyster sauce (1.7 cc), and soy sauce (15 cc). Sprinkle some umami seasoning and shredded green onion (thick, 10 cm) and stir carefully.

8. Next, turn off the heat and add the mixture of starch and water (30 cc each). Add it in two separate pours with the second pour being smaller than the first. Stir well as you add in each pour of starch water.

9. Keep stirring and turn on the heat. Make sure the starch is heated well. Add chili oil (15 cc) and vegetable oil (a little).

10. As the sauce starts to get shiny, thickenS and bubble over the tofu and pork, it’s ready. Remove from heat and serve alone or over rice.  いただきます(Bon appetite)!

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