Legend has it this dish was invented in the 1800’s by an old widow who lived just outside Chengdu. Her face was probably disfigured by leprosy and so she was not allowed into the city. She ran a small inexpensive restaurant that travelers and salesmen frequented. The dish was (and still is) cheap, nutritious and extremely flavorful! And occasionally, it is so numbing you don’t feel your mouth or lips for hours.
Dofou originated in China, though in the west we are more familiar with its Japanese name: tofu. It is made from soybean milk that is coagulated and then pressed. It is a great source of protein and low in fat. Its popularity spread through Asia as Buddhism did. It became an important part of the vegetarian diet that Buddhists followed. As most probably know, doufu doesn’t have a lot of flavor of its own. But as a result is a fabulous conduit for all sorts of sauces.
Ma pao is not a vegetarian dish. The doufu is cut into cubes and served in a sauce made with ground pork, chili bean paste, chili oil and the extremely numbing Sichuan peppercorns. It is reported to be a very health lo-cal dish but I have my doubts as it is swimming in oil.
Although all my Chinese cookbooks have a recipe and there are lots more to be found on the Internet, I have never actually cooked it my self. Our local restaurant delivers a large bowl for only $3, so I’m embarrassed to say, I’ve just never bothered!