Chinese translation / ordering spicy tofu

My ultimate goal is to get my local Chinese place to add spicy tofu to their menu or make it for me special. In the process of thinking of ways to do this I became obsessed with translating the item from another place’s menu, that would be my secondary goal.


Two other restaurants that are a bit of a drive serve the dish I want, one calls it “To-Fu Szechuan Style” and the other calls it “Braised Spicy Szechuan Bean Curd”. Both seem to be identical, and consist simply of tofu cubes in a spicy brown sauce with some scallions thrown in. I tried describing it to them once and they ended up giving me what looked like shriveled up turds in a brown sauce with some vegetables. I guess it was some kind of highly processed tofu or perhaps even TVP or seitan or somesuch, it certainly wasn’t regular cubes of tofu. I guess my main related questions would be

  1. What’s the best way of describing this dish to them?

  2. Are the ingredients common enough in other dishes that it would be easy for them to make with little hassle?

  3. In case I want to try making this myself, I assume I just cube some tofu (which firmness level?), dice some scallions, and add some spicy brown sauce. What’s in the brown sauce? Is there some universal Szechuan flavored brown sauce?

  4. Szechuan seems to be a theme in both menus, what does this refer to? “Braised” only appears in one though, what does that signify? I had the impression everything pretty much goes in a wok. What’s special about braising?


One of the menus has dual English/Chinese (“To-Fu Szechuan Style”). For some reason I thought having a direct translation might help me, but now I’m just annoyed that I couldn’t easily find one. I realize of course, that the overall translation will be “To-Fu Szechuan Style”, but I’m interested in what each character means. Can anyone help?

Here’s a picture.

Here’s what I have so far:

  1. Appears to be 麻

má - sesame/hemp - MDBG Chinese-English Dictionary

Maybe it has sesame flavoring, or maybe this is just a generic word for spicy or Szechuan flavor?

  1. I’m stumped on this one. I can’t find it under any of the possible radicals. Seems to break down as 氵 + 丨 + 支 all on top of 女

It’s vaguely similar to 媭 (xu) but not exactly, and it appears to not have any meaning by itself.

  1. Appears to be 豆

dòu - bean; sacrificial vessel - MDBG Chinese-English Dictionary

  1. Appears to be 腐

fǔǔ -spoiled - MDBG Chinese-English Dictionary

3+4 together would seem to literally be “to-fu”, or fermented bean

Any ideas for 1 & 2?

Mapo doufu. Wikipedia has a page on it.

Yes, what you want is ma la dou fu, the first entry on the following link (warning .pdf)


Wow, thanks everyone. I would never have guessed it meant “acne scarred old woman tofu” lol. I will try asking for it under the Chinese pronunciation.

You haven’t been paying attention in Cafe Society. Link

I always heard it translated as “grandma’s tofu”.

You might consider getting a book like The Eater’s Guide to Chinese Characters by James D. McCawley, which will answer these sorts of questions. (Full disclosure: I knew McCawley, now long dead, many years ago.)

To my credit, it is only through this thread that I learned the proper name of the dish. Thanks for the link!

Haha, that is my thread. Using the advice therein (not the stuff about… ahem, the alternate meanings of “to eat someone’s tofu”) I adjusted my recipe and came up with something I’m very happy with, here in my wok, and here plated. ^^ The pics are kinda big though.