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In China there is a famous dish called Ma Po Doufu 麻婆豆腐 and most of the recipes I find online have pork. I was wondering if anyone knew if pork was an essential part of the dish (in terms of flavoring) or if there was something you could do to make it a vegetarian option? Would the dish work with chicken/beef?

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up vote 8 down vote accepted

A number of Chinese restaurants are happy to prepare it without pork or beef. I've seen it with pork (most common) or beef (sometimes).

A vegetarian Chinese place that I occasionally visit uses a "vegetarian ham" along with some vegetables like peas to augment the custardy texture of the soft tofu. I like to add some ja tsai (zasai, depending on romanization preferences) pickles in there, though I'd guess that's not that common.

Pork is not absolutely essential to the identity of the dish, but it's certainly the most likely version to be served.

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Kenji Lopez-Alt at has a very nice article about coming up with this recipe for a vegan Mapo Tofu that he (otherwise a happy meat eater) claims is even better than the pork one.

The main replacement for the pork is mushrooms (he recommends a mix of wood ear, morel, and porcini), because of the good match in flavour. To get the texture he uses the Chinese technique of "dry frying", typically used for meat. I'll leave it to Mr. Lopez-Alt to explain the details - he does it better than I!

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