I would love to say that this recipe for mapo tofu is a secret family recipe, passed on from generation to generation… but it’s not. My mom has a version of this dish that she makes for her grandkids that is more mild, less spicy and child friendly that she has adopted as her own signature recipe. “Mapo” translates to a name you call your grandmother. I grew up eating this dish and up until I was older and saw this dish listed on a restaurant menu, I thought this dish was something specific to our family; without an official name having calling it “grandma’s tofu” all this time. Adapting my mom’s recipe, I’ve developed this version that’s a spicier, a bit more authentic and true to a traditional typical szechuan dish.
Growing up in a Chinese home and being sent to school with some sort of funk in my lunch thermos that would permeate the lunch room did not help my popularity in elementary school. Last night’s dinner of braised pork belly with pickled mustard greens over rice would be the only thing on my mind leading up to lunch time. Nowhere to be found in my He-Man lunchbox were there any fucks packed by my mom to give about the kids who thought it was gross; frozen chicken nuggets or peanut butter and jelly on whole wheat and other latch-key loveless lunches. Trying to explain what my lunch was, I fought fodder for ridicule and ultimately groomed my passion for Chinese cuisine and subsequent appreciation.