Hutong Ayi’s Mapo Tofu

Probably one of the most famous Sichuan dishes, Mapo Tofu is known by people all around the globe. You can find it in the majority of Chinese restaurants – but it is easy to make in your own kitchen, too.

It may seem like a simple dish to prepare, but if you ask the ayis in The Hutong, rocking the perfect Mapo Tofu is no easy feat (Ayi: Chinese 阿姨, literally means “aunt”, the word also refers to the domestic helpers, nannies, cleaners and workers for business/company alike). This dish is not just about being spicy, as most people presume; it contains many elements including spice, numbness, smoothness, and a certain tender feeling it leaves in one’s mouth. It is delicious and full of flavor.

The Hutong’s Ayis are important members of the team. They come to The Hutong’s traditional Beijing courtyard early every morning, making sure the building is clean and in order. They help enormously throughout all of The Hutong’s classes and events, always hands-on and ready to help with guests’ requests. Not only that, they are all excellent, experienced cooks and often make mouth-watering Sichuan dishes for The Hutong staff and guests.

Hutong Cooking School The Kitchen

The spotless kitchen maintained by the Ayis

When asked if they could choose one dish to represent the best of Sichuan, they needed to think for a while. The final verdict? It had to be Mapo Tofu.

Wei Ayi took up the task of making her Mapo Tofu – and even showed me a couple of her secret tricks along the way.

Wei Ayi’s Mapo Tofu Recipe

Note: Often Chinese cooking is done through estimation, and not by exact measurements. We’ve tried to use measurements here but it’s really up to your own taste!

Ingredients: 

  • 1 Tofu block (firm or semi-firm)
  • 2 tbsp chopped Spring onion
  • 1 tbsp Garlic
  • 1 tbsp Ginger
  • 150 g Pork mince
  • Cooking Oil

Seasonings:

  • 3 tbsp Fermented Bean Paste (doubanjiang豆瓣酱)
  • Salt (to taste)
  • 1 tsp Sugar
  • 1 tsp Corn Starch
  • 1 tsp Soy Sauce
  • 1 tbsp Sichuan pepper corns

Process:

1. Cut tofu into cubes.

2. Prepare spring onion, ginger and garlic. Ensure the stalk and leaves of the spring onion are cut and placed separately for finishing touches on the dish.

3. Prepare all the ingredients including the pork mince.

4. Poach the tofu chunks in boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes. Add a pinch of salt.

5. While the tofu is boiling, use another wok to heat up the oil. When the oil is very hot, add some pepper corns. After the oil is infused and you can really get the scent of the pepper corns, turn off the heat and take the pepper corns out. Keep the oil.

6. Heat the oil once again. When it is hot, add ginger, garlic, spring onion stalk and pork mince. Fry them together until they are semi-cooked. Use a spatula to stir the contents regularly so nothing burns.

7. Drain the tofu, put it in the wok with other contents, and add just enough fresh water to cover it halfway. Tip: if you have some fresh chicken soup, you can add the chicken soup instead.

8. Add soy sauce, a little bit of sugar, salt and fermented bean paste. Cook for another 3-4 minutes.

9. When almost all the water is evaporated, add corn starch mixed with warm water to thicken the sauce.

10. Add peppercorn powder into the dish and your Mapo Tofu is ready! Tip: Wei Ayi prepared her fresh pepper corn powder by grinding pepper corns in a coffee grinder.

11. Sprinkle spring onion on top for flavor and decoration.

Mapo Tofu

Wei Ayi with her Mapo Tofu

The Hutong Ayis and their stories

Tang Ayi

Where is your hometown?”

Tang Ayi: Sichuan Mianyang

“How long have you been living in Beijing?”

Tang Ayi: Six years, ever since I came to work for The Hutong.

“How do you find the life in Beijing compare to your hometown?”

It is good, I feel lucky I can work for a nice company instead of the individual families. Beijing is big and crowded, traffic is often too bad. It is also far away from my family, I have two daughters, they are all living in my hometown. I can only see them once per year. I miss them but I’m happy I have a job so I can support them and their studies.

Xing Ayi

Where is your hometown?”

Xing Ayi: Sichuan Guangyuan

“How long have you been living in Beijing?”

Xing Ayi: 4 Years

“How do you find the life in Beijing compare to your hometown?”

Xing Ayi: I like Beijing, and I work in a nice place. The cost of living in Beijing is getting too expensive. My rent is raising all the time, but I still have to try my best to save enough money for my daughter in my hometown, so that she can go to school.

Wei Ayi

Where is your hometown?”

Wei Ayi: Also Sichuan Guangyuan.

“How long have you been living in Beijing?”

Wei Ayi: Three years now.

“How do you find the life in Beijing compare to your hometown?”

Wei Ayi: I like it. Beijing is a big city so me and my family have more opportunities here. My son is going to graduate from a professional cooking school, I’m very proud he is going to be a professional cook. I hold great hopes for him.

The Hutong Cooking School Ayis