Taste of Empava: Sam Yang’s Mapo Tofu

By lax xie
updated: September. 29, 2021
Taste of Empava: Sam Yang’s Mapo Tofu

Sam Yang’s Mapo Tofu story is one that’s testament to the importance of legacy and kindness. Of dishes that have endured over centuries and the people who’ve shared their recipes through love and goodwill.

Dating back to 1860s Chengdu, in China’s Sichuan Province, Mapo Tofu is one of the region’s most iconic dishes, bursting with its signature mouth-numbing heat and spice. Silken chunks of tofu are intermingled with minced pork, soy, fresh ginger and fiery Sichuan peppercorns, all cooked to perfection in a giant hot wok.

The result is a vibrant red and powerfully flavored stir-fry dish.

Like many of China’s heritage dishes, the history of Mapo Tofu is steeped in folklore. Literally translating to ‘pockmarked grandma’s tofu’, legend has it that an old disfigured lady called Mrs Chen invented the dish during the Qing Dynasty. Laborers and locals loved her unique approach to tofu and word spread, leading Mapo Tofu to become a household dish in Sichuan.

While Mapo Tofu is a much-loved dish across China with a rich cultural heritage, few can boast the honor of being taught it by a third generation Mapo Tofu master.

By chance in 2011, Sam Yang got to know one by the name of Zhang. He was also an off-road enthusiast like himself. Both Yang and Zhang organized a trip to cross China’s four largest uninhabited areas.

The trip was risky with only half of those participating making it through the entire trip. Hypoxia, high altitude sickness and all sorts of unpredictable health challenges arose.

“One day when Zhang was refuelling his car,” explains Yang, “he accidentally hit his head and immediately lost consciousness. I didn’t know he had high blood pressure.”

Yang carried him inside his tent and stood by his side all night until he regained consciousness in the morning. Upon awakening Zhang told Yang, “We are very destined. You took care of me all night, and I have nothing to give you in return, but I’ll give you this secret recipe for Mapo Tofu.”

Zhang added, “There’s no secret in that recipe - a good recipe should be passed on and shared.”


Combining cubes of tofu with diced pork, fresh ginger, garlic, scallions, dried red chilis and Sichuan peppercorns in a large wok, Yang recommends stir-frying the dish with oil on an Empava gas cooktop at a high heat.


Pro-style 36" Slide-in Gas Cooktops - EMPV-36GC31


Taking on the deep crimson hue of the chili and peppercorns, and a glossy sheen of the oil, Yang’s Mapo Tofu is loaded with flavor, texture and color.

“This Mapo Tofu must be served with white rice as a staple,” explains Yang. “Sometimes I go to a friend’s house for a party, each person usually brings two dishes and no matter how many dishes there are, my Mapo Tofu is always the one that disappears first…”

A timeless dish that has been perfected by a rare few masters, through his kind deeds, Yang is blessed to have been shared the secret of creating the finest Mapo Tofu.

Explore our incredible range of gas cooktops, perfect for creating Mapo Tofu and other delicious stir-fry dishes.


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