Doufunao is a classic Sichuan dish. There are regional variations of doufunao throughout China, both sweet and savoury, but this mala version is especially popular in Sichuan and it’s one of my favourite childhood snacks. This Savory Tofu Pudding is piled high with aromatic seasonings, and is just the right amount of sweet, spicy, salty, and sour.
Why You’ll Love Spicy Douhua
- Can be eaten hot or cold. I love that I can eat doufunao year round. Cold from the fridge is so refreshing in the summer, and steaming hot is best during the chilly winter months. And you can eat it either as a snack or a meal in its own right.
- Just the right amount of spicy, sweet, sour, and savoury. Sichuan food is characterized by bold and complex flavours. This recipe uses a ton of different aromatics and seasonings to bring together all the classic tastes of Sichuan cuisine.
- No cooking required. Well, you do have to boil some water and use the microwave. But that’s it. It’s mostly just throwing stuff together in a bowl and heating it up. Along with Hiyayakko, this is one of my go-to busy season meals because it’s so effortless to make.
Although tofu originated in China, many classic Chinese tofu dishes like mapo tofu aren’t veggie-friendly. In China it is seen as a staple food that everyone eats, rather than a specialty vegetarian item. So meat-eaters and vegans alike embrace it as a regular part of the diet.
However, there are plenty of traditional vegan Chinese tofu recipes to be found, and Doufunao is one of them.
Doufunao means ”tofu brains” because it’s made from a very soft, delicate tofu which looks a bit like jiggly brains lol. Other names for it are Doufuhua or just Douhua (”tofu blossoms”). It has a lovely melt-in-your-mouth texture.
Doufunao / doufuhua / douhua is also an umbrella term for a huge number of dishes, both sweet and savoury. Growing up in Guangzhou, I was most familiar with the sweet version, which is pretty simple: tofu pudding in a light ginger syrup. However, my mom is a fan of Sichuan food and she often made a salty version loaded with spicy chili oil, soy sauce, sesame oil, and all that good stuff. I love this spicy version because it’s so flavourful, and you can make enough of it for a whole meal without feeling guilty.
Ingredients + Substitutions
A few important notes on some of the ingredients used in this Sichuan Doufunao recipe:
Tofu: The best tofu to use is Dou Hua (sometimes labelled ”tofu brains” or “tofu pudding”). This tofu is similar to Silken Tofu, but even more delicate and fragile. It will fall apart when you scoop it up unless you spoon it very gently using a large spoon or ladle. Check your local Asian grocery for this ingredient. However, if you can’t find douhua locally, silken tofu is a good substitute, which is readily available in most stores or even online.
Note on Mori-Nu: Athough all of Morinaga’s Mori-Nu brand of tofu’s are advertised as silken, they do come in varying level of firmness, and firmer tofu will not give you the same texture. Make sure to only use the ones that specifically say Silken on the packaging, like this one. 1 package of Mori-Nu tofu is the perfect size for making 1 batch of this recipe.
Garlic: Fresh garlic is best. But in a pinch you can substitute with 1/2 tsp of garlic powder (per clove of fresh garlic).
Light Soy Sauce: This recipe uses both light soy sauce and dark soy sauce. Chinese Light Soy Sauce (aka “regular” soy sauce) is saltier than dark soy sauce, and adds the signature Chinese umami flavour. My go-to brand is Pearl River Bridge. Or you can use Maggi sauce instead, which I also use in my Chinese Cucumber Bean Curd Salad recipe. For gluten-free, make sure to use a specifically gluten-free soy sauce as many soy sauces contain wheat. Both LKK and Kikkoman make good gluten-free soy sauce.
Dark Soy Sauce is not as salty, but it adds a beautiful dark brown colour to the sauce. If you don’t have dark soy sauce, simply leave it out and add a bit more regular soy sauce to taste.
Chinese Black Vinegar has a very different taste from lighter vinegars like white vinegar, rice vinegar, or apple cider vinegar. It’s also known as Zhenjiang Vinegar or Chinkiang Vinegar. Strongly recommend sourcing this ingredient, but if you don’t have it, substitute another type of black vinegar or balsamic vinegar.
Sugar is not optional. It balances out the other powerful sour and salty flavours. You can substitute it with any granulated or liquid alternative. Zero-cal sweeteners like stevia or erythritol work just fine.
Chili Crisp is not the same thing as chili oil. Chili crisp has a lot more solids, and like the name suggests, it has a crispy crunchy texture. It’s a lot more flavourful than chili oil too thanks to all the fried bits. I like using Lao Gan Ma brand, which can be found at almost any Asian supermarket or online.
Roasted Sesame Oil and Sichuan Peppercorn Oil: Two aromatic oils that add even more complex flavour to this recipe. I only like to put sesame oil in mine. My mom thinks doufunao tastes waaaay better with Sichuan peppercorn oil (this is what she uses), but I don’t like the taste of Sichuan peppers very much. Try it both ways and see which one of us you agree with!
For a full list of ingredients and quantities, refer to the recipe card at the bottom of this post.
Step 1: Crush garlic in a mortar and pestle. Cover with 1/4 cup hot water and set aside.
Step 2: Carefully spoon the tofu pudding / silken tofu into a bowl.
Step 3: Gently mix in light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, black vinegar, and sugar.
Step 4 (Optional): Microwave the bowl of tofu and sauce until hot.
Step 5: Drizzle over the garlic hot water mixture, chili crisp, sesame oil, and peppercorn oil.
Step 6: Top with fresh scallions / cilantro and roasted peanuts / soybeans.
Leftovers & Storage Tips
Doufunao tastes best when made fresh. However, the flavour isn’t too bad if you leave it overnight. Make sure to keep it refrigerated. I don’t recommend storing savoury tofu pudding for more than 24 hours.
Leftover spicy sauce can be slurped up or eaten with some Plain Steamed Rice!
Douhua, or tofu pudding, can be both sweet and salty. As a dessert, it’s served with sweet syrup, ginger, fruit, and/or nuts. In a savory form, it’s often accompanied by soy sauce, sesame oil, chilies, and toppings like green onions, Chinese pickled vegetables, and fried soybeans. Many provinces in China have their own unique regional variation. Its adaptable flavor makes it a versatile dish enjoyed in both sweet and savory contexts across Asian cuisines.
Dou Hua is a Chinese word that translates to “tofu flower” in English. It refers to a delicate and soft tofu-based dish, often known as tofu pudding or tofu custard. Dou hua can be prepared in both sweet and savory variations, making it a versatile dish enjoyed in various Asian cuisines. Its name reflects the soft and silky texture of the tofu used to create this traditional culinary delight.
“Tofu brain” in Chinese refers to 豆腐脑 (dòufu nǎo). This term is used to describe a popular Chinese street food dish that uses a silky and smooth tofu pudding that has a delicate texture resembling the softness of brains! Despite its name, there is no actual brain involved; it’s a playful metaphor based on the soft and creamy consistency of the tofu pudding. This dish is often topped with various condiments such as syrup, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, or toppings like peanuts and sesame seeds.
Tofu pudding, also known as douhua, offers several health benefits. Tofu is minimally processed and is a rich source of plant-based protein. It’s also low in saturated fat and cholesterol-free. The soft, easy-to-digest texture also makes it suitable for those with sensitive stomachs. Whether enjoyed sweet or savory, tofu pudding adds a nutritional punch to your diet.
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Sichuan Doufunao (Spicy Tofu Pudding)
Use Imperial/Metric buttons below to toggle between volume vs weight measurements. I recommend weighing out your ingredients for best results.
- Mortar and pestle
- 1 ½ cup douhua or silken tofu see Note 1
- 2 cloves garlic
- ¼ cup hot water
- 1 ½ tbsp light soy sauce aka “regular” soy sauce
- 1 tsp dark soy sauce for the colour *can sub with 1/2 tsp light soy sauce
- 1 tsp black vinegar see Note 2
- ½ tsp sugar
- 1 tbsp Lao Gan Ma chili crisp see Note 3
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 1 tsp peppercorn oil *optional
- 1 tbsp roasted peanuts or soybeans for topping *optional
- Fresh scallions or cilantro for topping
- Crush 2 cloves of fresh garlic with a mortar and pestle and cover with 1/4 cup hot water. Set aside.
- Spoon tofu into a bowl and gently mix in 1½ tbsp soy sauce, 1 tsp dark soy sauce, 1 tsp black vinegar, and 1/2 tsp sugar.
- Optional, for hot version: Microwave the tofu bowl for 1 minute or until hot.
- Pour over with the garlic hot water mixture. Drizzle with 1 tbsp chili crisp, 1 tsp sesame oil, and 1 tsp peppercorn oil (if using). Top with fresh herbs and roasted peanuts / soybeans.
- Tofu: The best tofu to use is douhua which is sometimes labelled ”tofu brains” or “tofu pudding.” This tofu is similar to silken tofu, but even more delicate and fragile. It will fall apart when you scoop it up unless you spoon it very gently using a large spoon or ladle. Check your local Asian grocery for this ingredient. However, if you can’t find douhua locally, silken tofu is a good substitute.
- Black Vinegar: Chinese black vinegar has a very different taste from lighter vinegars like white vinegar, rice vinegar, or apple cider vinegar. It’s also known as Zhenjiang Vinegar or Chinkiang Vinegar. Strongly recommend sourcing this ingredient, but if you don’t have it, substitute another type of black vinegar or balsamic vinegar.
- Chili Crisp: Chili crisp is not the same thing as chili oil. Chili crisp has a lot more solids, and like the name suggests, it has a crispy crunchy texture. It’s also more flavourful than chili oil thanks to all the fried bits. I like using Lao Gan Ma brand, which can be found at almost any Asian supermarket or online.