Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Ma Po Tofu

My husband and I are quite excited to check out a new Chinese restaurant in Eugene.  We have lived and eaten here for the last 18 years and let me tell you, it has been a struggle to find authentic Chinese food that hasn’t been Americanized.  Truth be told, I have tried at least 90% of the Chinese restaurants in Eugene always leaving disappointed.  But tonight will be different.

Someone in passing recommended a Chinese restaurant (that I haven’t tried) and the online reviews were 4 to 5 stars strong.  I looked over at my husband with excitement and said; “How did we miss this gem”?

The restaurant was located in an old strip mall in a quiet neighborhood across town.  Apparently they have been there for 25 years and their little store was dated but very clean.  When we entered we were welcomed and seated in a warm and inviting way.  We quickly flipped past the combination plates in the front of the menu and headed straight to the back in hopes of getting the authentic selection.  We order the chive and pork pot stickers, ma po tofu (which is listed under the pork heading) and the special noodles.  My mouth is watering and I can’t wait for this meal. 

Then reality hits as the food arrives with the noodles first, then the tofu and toward the end of our meal, the pot stickers.  The appetizer showing up at the end of the meal wasn’t as concerning as being bamboozled.

Yes, Bamboozled, deceived.  I apologize ahead of time for the rant that follows.  But I just had to get it out!

If I were to check my reflection it would reveal an exterior package that reflects Chinese, and to the best of my knowledge, there is 100% of Chinese blood running through my veins.   But there is no argument that I am American with a Chinese package.  I grew up in Hawaii which has a strong Chinese influence.  It has been a mission for me to visit as many Chinatowns that I can in hopes of discovering the best of the best, which has taken me through large Chinatowns in Honolulu, San Francisco, New York and Vancouver, B.C.as well as, many smaller ones that are more like clusters in designated neighborhoods (I guess those would be called China-communities).  But, I am sad to say that I have never been to Hong Kong.  With that being said, I think that I am quite familiar with what is available in the United States as far as Ma Po Tofu is concerned, which brings me back to what happened last night.

I’m not disputing that the waiter was more Chinese than me having the ability to speak the language (which I do not), as well as a clear command of the English language without any trace of an accent.   So when I asked him, “is this the ma po tofu”?  He confidently replied; “Yes”.  When what I had in front of me was clearly, vegetarian black bean tofu.  Chunks of deep fried tofu stir fried with onions and peppers with a black bean sauce.  But he insisted that it was ma po tofu.  Even if I gave him the benefit of the doubt and assumed that this was their style of ma po tofu, where was the pork?  That’s where it was listed on the menu.  I was being Bamboozled.  It was time to repeat a quote that someone once told me, I may have been born at night, but it wasn’t last night.

This is my version of ma po tofu.  A comforting combination of soft tofu (not fried) and ground pork with a spicy sauce.  I make mine more on the mild side but you can kick up the spiciness by increasing the chili garlic paste one teaspoon at a time.  I have listed regular or soft tofu.  Choose the regular if you prefer your tofu to keep its shape.  Choose the soft tofu if you want a silkier mash, which will look more like chunky gravy in the end.  Either way is perfect served over rice.

You will need to get hold of a jar of bean sauce and chili garlic sauce for this dish.  
Place all the sauce ingredients in a bowl and mix to stir; set aside.
Drain and cut the tofu into small squares; set aside.
Heat a wok on med-high and add about 2 Tbsp. oil.  
Add ginger, garlic and green onions.  Cook until fragrant.
Add pork, breaking it up as it browns. 
When the pork is browned, add tofu and stir to mix.
Mix the sauce ingredients and add to the wok.  Bring to a boil, stirring until gravy thickens.
 Serve over steamed white rice.

MA PO TOFU
1          pound              tofu, regular or soft
½         pound              ground pork
1          Tbsp.               green onion, minced
1          tsp.                  garlic, minced
1          tsp.                  ginger, minced
SAUCE
1          Tbsp.               bean sauce
1          Tbsp.               sherry
1          Tbsp.               soy sauce
1          cup                  water
1          tsp.                  chili garlic paste
1          Tbsp.               corn starch
½         tsp.                  kosher salt
¼         tsp.                  sugar


Place all the sauce ingredients in a bowl and mix to stir; set aside.
Drain and cut the tofu into small squares; set aside.
Heat a wok on med-high and add about 2 Tbsp. oil.  Add ginger, garlic and green onions.  Cook until fragrant.
Add the pork, breaking it up as it browns.  When the pork is browned, add the tofu and stir to mix. 
Mix the sauce ingredients and add to the wok.  Bring to a boil, stirring until gravy thickens.
Serve over steamed white rice.
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