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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

"They Actually Eat That:" Mapo Tofu.

No offense to Mexico and Louisiana, but Asian cuisine has any North American chow beat when it comes to being spicy. In the East, they have turned spicy into an art. Nowhere is that truer than in the case of mapo tofu.



Mapo tofu supposedly originated from the recipe of one pock-marked old lady in China. One night, ai wealthy businessman was caught in a storm and went into the old lady's house for shelter.  She then made him some delicious tofu. He liked it so much that he told all his friends about her place. She then had millions of people coming to eat her tofu. Bear in mind that this was in the days before Facebook and Seamless, so it's a miracle that her tofu became that popular. She would have had a lot of Likes if she did not call the people using Facebook whippersnappers.

Now, if you've had American mapo tofu, you're probably going, "hey, it's not that bad." Oh, you poor souls. Mapo tofu is usually diluted for local tastes. The real, Sichuan mapo tofu is so spicy that it numbs your mouth. If you've had it anywhere else, it is  just as butchered as any other Chinese dish you've ever had (outside of Chinatown).



How do they get it so spicy? Like I said, they have it down to an art. The main two active ingredients are Sichuan peppercorns and chili bean paste, both of which involve the nastily-spicy seeds of hot peppers. The chili bean paste can be found at any supermarket with an Asian food section; Sichuan peppercorn merits a trip to Chinatown. That's probably the only place where you'll find authentic mapo tofu, by the way.

Don't try this at home, by the way. Mapo tofu is a lot more complex than it sounds. A lot of people who insist on burning their mouths in the safety of their own homes use a mix as opposed to making the spicy base from scratch. If you (or the mix people) did it right, the result should be scorching.

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