The Japanese-style Mapo Tofu (Mabo Dofu) is incredibly flavorful but less spicy than the Sichuan-style. A delicious meal ready in 30 minutes that even children can enjoy!
Mapo Tofu (麻婆豆腐) is Mr. JOC’s all-time favorite dish, and it frequently makes it into my dinner menu rotation.
Since it takes less than 30 minutes to prepare, I usually cook this dish when I’m too busy to cook a more elaborate meal. We often eat Mapo Tofu as a donburi-style, one-bowl meal for easy cleanup! This is a great hearty dish to please everyone in the family.
What is Mapo Tofu?
Mapo Tofu is a popular Chinese dish from Sichuan province. The classic recipe consists of silken tofu, ground pork or beef, fermented broad beans & soybeans (doubanjiang), fermented black beans (douchi), and Sichuan peppercorn to name a few main ingredients.
Tofu is cooked in a spicy and oily, chili- and bean-based sauce, which lends beautiful bright red color to the dish.
While the original Shichuan Mapo Tofu is pretty spicy, the Japanese version is usually mild so even children can enjoy it.
Introduction of Mapo Tofu to Japan
In Japan, Mapo Tofu is called Mabo Dofu and it’s written either as 麻婆豆腐 or マーボー豆腐 in Japanese.
How did the dish arrive in Japan you might wonder? It was introduced to Japan in the 1970s by Chen Kenmin, a famous Chinese chef in Japan. I mentioned about Chef Chen in my previous post here. He was the culinary hero that brought many popular Chinese recipes to Chinese restaurants in Japan.
Thanks to Chef Chen, Mapo Tofu, Ebi Chili (Chili Prawns エビチリ), and Stir-Fried Pork and Bell Peppers (Chin-jao ro-su 青椒肉絲) are just a few widely well-known Chinese dishes in Japan.
These dishes have been enjoyed in Japanese household for almost half a century! In Japanese grocery stores, you can find convenient ready-to-eat sauces for these popular dishes. I remember the packages were in my mom’s kitchen pantry too!
Chinese Mapo Tofu vs. Japanese Mabo Dofu
There are many versions of Mabo Dofu within Japan and each household cooks it differently.
The common ingredients that you may not find in classic Chinese Mapo Tofu include miso (Japanese fermented soybeans, sometimes rice and barley included), mirin or sugar, and sesame oil. Soy sauce, oyster sauce, and sake are sometimes added too.
As I mentioned above, Japanese Mabo Dofu doesn’t include any chili or peppercorn. The only “spicy” element comes from doubanjiang, the fermented bean paste. Please note the difference between doubanjiang and la doubanjiang as the latter includes chili.
The Key Ingredients for Making Mapo Tofu
If you never made this dish before, it might sound and look challenging to you. However, this dish can be prepared easily with typical Asian/Japanese ingredients.
The key ingredient for Mapo Tofu (or Mabo Dofu) is Fermented Broad Beans & Soybeans called Doubanjiang (豆瓣酱), which lends a whole new dimension to the dish.
If you have tried my Vegetarian Ramen and Miso Ramen recipes, you probably have the bean paste in your refrigerator already. The fermented beans give amazing umami; therefore, please do not substitute.
Amazon does not sell the non-spicy broad bean paste, but you can buy a Taiwanese Lian How (岡山) brand at Asian markets or on Walmart (please let me know if you find this brand online).
With that, the recipe is just about frying up the aromatics like ginger and garlic, ground meat with the right amount of seasonings. Heat it up until the sauce starts bubbling, then add the tofu and coat the mixture together until the flavors infuse. Now you have a one reliably satisfying rice bowl dish for the family. I hope you enjoy my Japanese Mapo Tofu!
Watch How To Make Mapo Tofu
Japanese Ingredient Substitution: If you want to look for substitutes for Japanese condiments and ingredients, click here.
Mapo Tofu (Mabo Dofu)
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 knob ginger (1", 2.5 cm)
- 2 green onions/scallions
- 14 oz soft/silken tofu (kinugoshi tofu)
- 1 Tbsp neutral-flavored oil (vegetable, rice bran, canola, etc)
- ½ lb ground pork (you can also use other meat/veggies of your choice)
- 2 ½ Tbsp doubanjiang (spicy chili bean sauce/broad bean paste) (I use 1 ½ Tbsp Doubanjiang (non-spicy) and 1 Tbsp Ladoubanjigang (spicy). You can buy the non-spicy one from this shop online.)
- 2 Tbsp mirin
- 1 Tbsp miso
- 1 Tbsp oyster sauce
- ½ Tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tsp sesame oil (roasted)
- 1 tsp potato starch/cornstarch
- 4 Tbsp water
- Gather all the ingredients.
- Combine all the ingredients for Seasonings (2 ½ Tbsp doubanjiang, 2 Tbsp mirin, 1 Tbsp miso, 1 Tbsp. oyster sauce, ½ Tbsp soy sauce, 1 tsp sesame oil, 1 tsp corn starch, 4 Tbsp water) in a bowl and mix well together.
- Mince the garlic cloves and ginger finely.
- Cut the green onions into small pieces. Drain the tofu and cut into about 1 inch (2.5 cm) cubes.
- In a large frying pan, heat vegetable oil on medium heat and saute garlic and ginger. Make sure you don't burn them. Once they are fragrant, add the ground pork and break it up with a spatula or wooden spoon.
- When the meat is no longer pink, add the Seasoning mixture and stir thoroughly.
- Once the sauce is back to boiling, add the tofu and gently coat the tofu with the sauce. Stir frequently, without mashing up the tofu, until it is heated through. Add the green onions and mix just before taking the pan off the heat. Serve immediately.
- You can keep the leftovers in an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or in the freezer for a month.
Editor’s Note: The post was originally published in January 29, 2011. The video and new pictures were added to the post in May 2016. No change for the recipe.