The ExPat Returneth

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Quick & Easy Japanese Food: Mabodofu (Tofu & Ground Meat)


Today I present a tofu dish, another Japanese dish brought over from China and Japanified. Mabodofu (dofu = tofu) is a common meal at home and in Chinese restaurants. According to legend (and Wikipedia), a Japanese chef made mabodofu popular at the first Sichuanese restaurant in Tokyo in the 1950s. In China, it's made with spicy chili bean paste. In Japan, the recipe was modified for the milder Japanese palette. It's so common now in Japan, you can buy the Hamburger Helper equivalent in a grocery store (which is pretty good). It is one of the few dishes that our youngest will pick over noodles, which is a startling revelation if you knew her.

See all the meat? If you're vegetarian,
use a ground Bocca Burger type product
Yet, it's tofu and I know what you're thinking. It's tofu. 

Listen, my family likes tofu, but I was raised in a Midwestern farm town where we ate meat every day. If you offered me a choice between grilled steak and grilled tofu, I would choose the steak. I am not here to convince you to hang out in the tofu aisles of Whole Foods. Mabodofu is not even a vegetarian dish, generally it includes ground pork (although you can use ground beef or other ground meats). It has a rich gravy, which gives the tofu a savory flavor. And you use firm tofu which has enough bite and texture that it feels creamy without being squishy. 

Believe me, I do not like squishy.

A Mabodofu mix
bought in an Asain grocery
in the U.S.
First, the Hamburger Helper way. Here's a picture of a package of Mabodofu mix. You can get them in Asian grocery stores at different heat levels. (Mild has absolutely no heat). This is super simple. All you need is about a quarter pound of ground pork, a package of tofu, and green onions (you can actually leave the green onions out). Make some rice, saute the pork, add the sauce and cubed tofu, and you are done. Aside from the rice, it takes about 10 minutes. 

I know. 10 minutes. I'd double the recipe for an American family, though. It will cost you about $6 for two packages.

I cut & drain my tofu, but notice
my lack of style. No squeezing necessary.
For those of you who would like more control over the contents of your meal (the mix probably has MSG), has a great recipe. I've looked at other recipes and theirs is the simplest I've found so far. My family loved it. The ingredients are also pretty easy to find: tofu, ground meat, onions, miso paste (the soybean paste in miso soup), garlic, ginger, crushed red pepper, soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, and water.

Go here for the recipe for Mabodofu.

Miso paste from U.S. Asian
I had never had onions in Mabodofu before, but they added extra flavor and texture. Sarah, the blogger who created this recipe, also used ground beef. Traditionally, the meat is ground pork, and I used ground pork when I made it. I also like the addition of miso. What's missing is the Chinese chili paste you normally see in Mabo recipes. The miso is used as sweet bean paste. 

I would NOT use a tablespoon of cayenne pepper unless you are a heat freak. I used a dash, which is plenty for my family's timid tastebuds. Sichuan Mabo Tofu is spicy, so let your tastebuds make your decision.


  1. I'm making this for dinner. I have a bunch of ground pork in the freezer from the hog we butchered last year, and this sounds like a nice change of pace. Thanks for introducing me to this Japanese dish.

  2. I hope you like it! Let me know what you think. Do you eat tofu often?

  3. Hi Larissa!

    I grew up eating spicy because my mom's from Malaysia. Mah Po Tofu is one of my favorite dishes. If I order it, I'm usually the only person who will eat it. I love it with the tiny Szechuan chilies.

    I've never seen a sauce packet for it until now. I didn't know they existed! We ate a lot of tofu growing up. The firm tofu for certain dishes and the soft tofu, usually uncooked. My mom used to drizzle a tiny bit of hot oil with slices of garlic over the soft tofu and then add sweet soy with sliced scallions and cilantro. Yum.

  4. Hey Jen!
    My fam is crazy nuts for tofu. They like to eat it with just a little ponzu, a citrus infused soy sauce, poured on it. I'll mention how you eat it. They'd probably love it with the hot oil & garlic.

    Japan has so many tofu dishes. I've been to 2 high end restaurants that served 10 courses of only tofu. The Japanese like the subtle flavor. I saw the episode of Bizarre Foods where he had stinky tofu in Taiwan. That's some tofu loving people to eat it that way!

    The packet is Japanese style, so you'll find it a little different than Chinese. It comes in 3 heats (mild, medium & hot) but even hot will probably not be hot enough for you. It's still good though and a quick meal. Look for it in the Japanese section. There's usually packets for Mabonasu, which is the eggplant version (not sure what that is in Chinese).

    Let me know if you make it!