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Gateway to gastronomy: Mapo Tofu

I moved to Canada from China when I was four and ate “Chinese food” maybe a handful of times. The first time I got it, confusion would best describe my experience.

“What is that orange chicken?” and “That’s not the Kung Pao chicken I remember.”

Over the years, I have developed a love-hate relationship with Americanized Chinese cuisine. Yes, it tastes good, but I can’t help but wonder if that’s what people think of when they hear “Chinese food”. I wish they could try real Chinese food.

At home, a popular dish during gatherings and holidays is Mapo Tofu, a popular dish from Sichuan province (although it is also enjoyed elsewhere). It can be quite complicated, with many amounts of spices, but can be made very simple. Plus, it’s perfect for a cold winter day in Edmonton, especially after shoveling the driveway. Enjoy this dish over rice or on its own.

A plate of delicious Mapo Tofu!
Remi Hou

Ingredients:

  • 1 container (~650 g) semi-firm tofu
  • 2 – 3 cloves of garlic
  • 3 – 4 slices of ginger
  • 1-2 tablespoons Sichuan hotpot base or Chinese chili oil with peppercorns (depending on how spicy and nutty you want!)
  • 2 teaspoons dark soy sauce

Optional:

  • A small handful of dried wooden cobs (soak them a few hours before)
  • ~100g minced meat

Fun Fact: While most people are familiar with soy sauce, the one you see in most Asian restaurants is a light soy sauce, meant for flavoring. Dark soy sauce can also be used to flavor dishes, but is more important for giving dishes their rich dark color.

Directions:

  1. In a large skillet, add the minced meat of your choice with neutral oil or non-stick spray. Usually my family uses pork, but chicken and beef work too.
  2. Reduce the heat to medium-high and cook the meat until most of the juices have evaporated and the meat is browned.
  3. While the meat cooks, finely chop the garlic and ginger. Drain and cut the tofu into cubes of about 1 cm.
  4. Add the garlic and ginger to the meat after cooking, as well as the Sichuan Hot Pot Base or Chinese Chili Oil with Peppercorns. Although you can also make it from scratch, it’s easier to buy the pre-made base and it tastes pretty much the same.
  5. Over medium-high heat, cook until fragrant.
  6. Add the cubed tofu to the skillet and stir gently with a spatula.
  7. Stir the tofu until well blended at the base, then add two tablespoons of dark soy sauce. Add the porcini mushrooms and stir gently.
  8. Let simmer for five minutes.
  9. Taste and salt to your liking.

That’s all! Enjoy a bowl of delicious Mapo Tofu the next time you crave Chinese. And feel free to customize. You can add potatoes, carrots, squash and more.

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