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Mapo doufu, is a popular Chinese dish from the Sichuan province. It is a combination of tofu (bean curd) set in a spicy chili- and bean-based sauce, typically a thin, oily, and bright red suspension, and often topped with minced meat, usually pork or beef.Variations exist with other ingredients such as water chestnuts, onions, other vegetables, or wood ear fungus, but these are rarely considered authentic Sichuanese.

Etymology
Ma stands for "mazi" which means a person disfigured by pockmarks. Po translates as "old woman". Hence, Ma Po is an old woman whose face was pockmarked. It is thus sometimes translated as "Pockmarked-Face Lady's Tofu". Legend says that the pock-marked old woman was a widow who lived in the Chinese city of Chengdu. Due to her condition, her home was placed on the outskirts of the city. By coincidence, it was near a road where traders often passed. Although the rich merchants could afford to stay within the numerous inns of the prosperous city while waiting for their goods to sell, poor farmers would stay in cheaper inns scattered along the sides of roads on the outskirts of the ancient city. Another less widely accepted explanation stems from an alternate definition of ma, meaning "numb": the Szechuan peppercorns used in the dish numb the diner's mouth.


Characteristics
True Mapo doufu is powerfully spicy with both conventional "heat" spiciness and the characteristic "mala" (numbing spiciness) flavor of Sichuan cuisine. The feel of the particular dish is often described by cooks using seven specific Chinese adjectives: (numbing), (spicy hot), (hot temperature), (fresh), (tender and soft), (aromatic), and (flaky). These seven characteristics are considered to be the most defining of authentic Mapo doufu. The authentic form of the dish is increasingly easy to find outside China today, but usually only in Sichuanese restaurants that do not adapt the dish for non-Sichuanese tastes.

The most important and necessary ingredients in the dish that give it the distinctive flavour are chili broad bean paste from Sichuan's Pixian county, fermented black beans, chili oil, chili flakes of the heaven-facing pepper, Sichuan peppercorns, garlic, scallions, rice wine. Supplementary ingredients include water or stock, sugar (depending on the saltiness of the bean paste brand used), and starch (if it is desired to thicken the sauce).


Variations
Mapo Doufu can also be found in the restaurants in other Chinese provinces and in Korea and Japan, where the flavor is adapted to local tastes. In the west, the dish is often adulterated, with its spiciness severely toned down to widen its appeal. This happens even in Chinese restaurants, commonly those not specialising in Sichuan cuisine. In American Chinese cuisine the dish is often made without meat to appeal to vegetarians, with very little spice, a thick sweet-and-sour sauce, and added vegetables, a stark contrast from the authentic. Vegetarians can often still enjoy the powerful taste of the authentic dish, however, as it can easily be made without meat at all (and simply just tofu) while not toning down the spices; this version is technically referred to as Mala doufu although this name is not always well-known.

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