Mapo tofu 麻婆豆腐

Mapo Tofu. photo by
Namiko Chen

The Japanese-style mapo tofu (mabo dofu) is incredibly flavorful, but less spicy than the Sichuan-style. This is a delicious meal that will be 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 clean-up! This is a great hearty dish to please everyone in the family.

What is Mapo Tofu?
Mapo tofu is a popular Chinese dish from the Sichuan province. The classic recipe consists of silken tofu, ground pork or beef, fermented broad beans and soybeans (doubanjiang), fermented black beans (douchi), and Sichuan peppercorn, to name a few main ingredients.

The tofu is cooked in a spicy and oily chili-and-bean-based sauce, which lends a beautiful bright red color to the dish.

While the original Sichuan 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 Chef Chen in a previous post. 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 of the well-known Chinese dishes in Japan.

Japanese households have enjoyed these dishes 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 in Japan, and each household cooks it differently.

The common ingredients that you may not find in the classic Chinese mapo tofu are 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’ve never made this dish before, it might sound and look challenging. 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 and soybeans, called doubanjiang (豆板醤), 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 said, the recipe is just about frying up aromatics like ginger and garlic and 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 reliable, satisfying one rice bowl dish for the family. I hope you enjoy my Japanese mapo tofu!

Japanese Ingredient Substitution: If you want to look for substitutes for Japanese condiments and ingredients, visit

Mapo Tofu (Mabo Dofu)
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 15 mins
Total Time 25 mins

The Japanese-style mapo tofu (mabo dofu) is incredibly flavorful, but less spicy than the Sichuan-style. This is a delicious meal that will be ready in 30 minutes that even children can enjoy!

Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Japanese
Keyword: pork, tofu
Servings: 4
Author: Namiko Chen

2 cloves garlic
1 inch ginger (2.5 cm)
2 green onions/scallions
14 oz silken/soft tofu (396 g)
1 Tbsp neutral-flavored oil (vegetable, canola, etc)
1/2 lb ground pork (227 g; or any other meat/veggies of your choice)

2 1/2 Tbsp doubanjiang (spicy chili bean sauce/broad bean paste) I use 1 1/2 Tbsp doubanjiang (non-spicy) and 1 Tbsp ladoubanjigang (spicy). 2 Tbsp mirin
1 Tbsp miso
1 Tbsp oyster sauce
1/2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil (roasted)
1 tsp potato starch/cornstarch
4 Tbsp water

To read the recipe, visit the Just One Cookbook post here.

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