This is a special post for me. Back when I started this blog in October 2007 mapo doufu was the first dish I blogged. I'd just bought Fuchsia Dunlop's Sichuan Cuisine and fallen in love with the dish and the cuisine. Sichuan became a food mecca for me and here I am finally there. What more fitting a dish for my first Sichuan meal in Sichuan than mapo doufu?
For those that don't know ma po dofu is an oily beef and tofu concoction, heavily spiced with Sichuan pepper and chili. Chewy beef and soft tofu combine with the fiery seasoning in culinary heaven. In Chengdu there's a chain of restaurants specialising in the dish and taking its name so we headed across to Chen Mapo Doufu to try it out.
When I've read about Sichuan pepper people always speak of the numbing effect of it - how it leaves your lips tingling - and whilst I've noticed it a bit in dishes I've cooked at home nothing could prepare me for this. Sichuan pepper must not travel too well because here the numbing effect was most pronounced - citrusy, zingy, lip tingling like food has never left me before. I've heard that rural dentists in the region use Sichuan pepper prior to dental work and whilst I wouldn't fancy root canal treatment after it I can well believe the story.
I'd also heard that the Sichuan food in London is toned down for the British palate. Anyone that's eaten in Bar Shu or Snazz Sichuan may find this hard to believe (a friend said his body won't let him believe Bar Shu food is toned down) but I can confirm this to be true. This mapo doufu was possibly the hottest thing I've ever eaten. By the end I really thought I could take no more and the girlfriend threw in the towel after one mouthful.
Whilst we're confirming things anyone with Fuchsia Dunlop's books may have thought the 100ml of oil in the Mapo recipe was a misprint. It wasn't. Sichuan Mapo Doufu is basically tofu and beef swimming in lip numbing, tastebud destroyingly hot oil. Tasty tofu and beef swimming in lip numbing, tastebud destroyingly hot oil but tofu and beef swimming in lip numbing, tastebud destroyingly hot oil nevertheless.