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The sign that runs across the dining room window at Kakan does not mince words: “The best mapo tofu in town.” For a casual, backstreet restaurant that has only been open a couple of months, that’s quite a substantial boast.

Māpō dōfu, that magical Sichuan alchemy of minced meat, heady spices and cooling tofu, is now almost as well established in Japan as it is in mainland China. At most restaurants, though, it’s usually just one option on the menu. But for Kakan, this palate-tingling dish is the star of the show, its raison d’etre.

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