Back in my double-income-no-kids incarnation I lived in a much less salubrious, multicultural part of town. Drunks, 24-hour pubs, lots of dirty surfaces and every outing included some interesting encounter with someone a bit out of the ordinary. It was also a major Shanghai-nese centre, with rows of restaurants with menus only in Mandarin and old men sitting at back tables rolling pork and coriander dumplings…. hmmmm. I salivate at the memory. My first meal in one of these restaurants was a revelation with juicy dumplings and fish in oyster sauce. Then ma-po dofu – a gorgeous combination of minced pork and tofu. Apparently the name translates as ‘pockmarked-face lady’s tofu’. Delicious! The whole meal cost us less than $15.
Since then, of course, a couple of glorious kids have entered our lives and we’ve outgrown the dodgy surrounds and moved to a suburb that’s much shinier. Feeling nostalgic, we packed up the kids and headed off to our local Chinese restaurant. Large clean fishtanks in place of the paper menus sticky-taped to the walls. Fancy mirrored ceilings instead of grime. And the food? Well… it’s about 5 times the price and falls strictly into the Australian/Chinese category. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not bad, actually its good, but very top Aussie – sweet and sour as far as the eye can see. Looking at the patrons I realised the only Asian faces were those of the waistcoat-wearing waiters. All the local Asian residents bother to drive the 3 suburbs to where the pockmarked-face lady still reigns.
Here’s my version, tailored for the kids. It’s a handy recipe too – all the ingredients can be prepared early in the day, stored in the fridge and thrown together quickly that night.
Ma po dofu
500g pork mince
1 tbsp dark soy sauce (or regular soy sauce if you prefer)
2 tbsp shaoxing wine
(Chinese rice wine) or dry sherry or mirin
1 tbsp canola oil
1 large carrot, peeled, grated
1 zucchini, grated
125g can corn kernels, drained
1/3 red capsicum, deseeded, finely diced
200g packet flavoured tofu (honey/soy), diced (or use plain tofu if you prefer)
1 tsp crushed ginger
1 tsp crushed garlic
1 cup chicken stock
1 tbsp soy sauce
Marinate the mince in the dark soy and 1 tbsp rice wine for 1 hour (if you have time) in the fridge in a ceramic dish.
Heat the canola oil in a wok or large non-stick frying pan over high heat. Cook mince until browned, breaking up lumps as you go. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Reheat the pan on high heat, cook all the vegies, tofu, ginger and garlic for 1-2 minutes. Ensure heat stays high to avoid vegetables going soggy.
Return the mince to the pan, along with the stock, soy sauce and the rest of the rice wine. Simmer for 1-2 minutes. Serve with rice of your choice and coriander.
SERVES 2 ADULTS & 4 KIDS