Sichuan food has become the city’s most popular regional Chinese cuisine, and mapo tofu the flagship of the bill-of-fare fleet. It can be found at most New York Chinese restaurants — whether the menu lists dishes from Sichuan-, Fujian-, Shanxi-, or Guangdong province, or a little bit of everything.
The story behind the dish is often told: An elderly woman vendor on the northern outskirts of Chengdu disfigured by smallpox (“mapo” means pock-marked old woman) invented it in the late 19th century, mixing silky bean curd, Sichuan peppercorns, fermented bean paste, ground pork, chile oil, and other strongly flavored ingredients. Some accounts say she also had a husband and a restaurant.
Whatever the permutations of the story, the recipe has morphed in the hands of excited and purposeful purveyors, so that now versions can be found all over town, some with extraneous vegetables, others with beef substituted for pork, or no meat at all, and still others that have removed much of the heat that characterizes this fiery dish. Here are some of our favorite places to get it.
Health experts consider dining out to be a high-risk activity for the unvaccinated; it may pose a risk for the vaccinated, especially in areas with substantial COVID transmission.Read More