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Salt and Pepper Tofu, Chinese Takeaway Style

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Salt and pepper tofu on a plate.

Red paper lanterns already illuminate the streets in preparation for the upcoming Lunar New Year, Chinatown hums with activity, and cultural events and musical performances fill venues throughout the city. It’s the perfect time to enjoy some delicious Chinese recipes, but there’s no need to head out or call up your local takeaway. No, you can make all your favorites at home, including this homemade restaurant-style salt and pepper tofu. 

If you’re anything like me, Chinese takeaway is your comfort food. Whether it reminds you of your heritage or it has become a tradition to order Chinese food every week, there’s no doubt that the cuisine contains a wealth of delicious meals. Salt and pepper recipes, like pork, chicken, fish, and squid, are incredibly popular worldwide, and salt and pepper chips are a cult favorite in Britain, where every takeaway and restaurant classifies it as a best seller. 

This recipe, however, uses tofu. It’s an ingredient that sometimes gets a hard time, but once you learn how to prepare the traditional Asian food, it’s endlessly versatile. I make vegan katsu currytofish and chipstofu pad thai, and countless other recipes regularly. I even make my own tofu

Here, the tofu provides an ideal texture — tender and soft inside, with a crisp and golden exterior coated in the spicy, peppery, aromatic, warm spices of our homemade salt and pepper seasoning mix. 

Add the slight sweetness of onions, the crunch of bell pepper, and the fiery heat of red chilis, and you have a dish it is impossible to stop eating. 

I often cook this up alongside other fakeaway classics like fried rice, chow mein noodles, vegetable spring rolls, and vegetable Chinese curry. The best part about this recipe is that despite its intense depth of flavor and impressive nature, it takes less than 10 minutes from start to finish. Yes, you heard me right. 10 minutes! 

Vegan salt and pepper tofu on a blue plate.

What is Salt and Pepper Tofu?

Salt and pepper tofu is a Chinese-style dish made from crispy tofu cubes cooked with onions, bell peppers, and chilies, all tossed in an aromatic seasoning mixture full of fragrant spices and unique flavors.

Salt and Pepper Tofu Ingredients

This straightforward side dish only requires a handful of ingredients. Some may require a trip to your local Asian grocery store (or Amazon!), while others are pantry staples. Where possible, I’ve included substitutions, while the precise quantities can be found in the recipe card further below.

  • Deep-fried tofu puffs are my number one choice for salt and pepper tofu, tofu satay curry, and many other Asian takeaway classics. They have a spongy interior and a light exterior that crisps up when fried, making them ideal for this dish. This is also what all my local Chinese takeaways use, giving the recipe an ultra-authentic fakeaway taste. If you can’t get hold of the ingredient, feel free to swap it out for homemade tofu, which you should coat in cornflour (cornstarch, for my U.S. readers!) and shallow-fry before using. 
  • Onions add sweetness. I used red onions in these photos, but for the aesthetics, I think white is better! Flavor-wise, either works.
  • Bell peppers again add a natural crispness. For a sweeter flavor, use red bell peppers. Alternatively, for subtly bitter notes, green. I went in between and selected orange! 
  • Garlic provides pungency. We mince it very finely so it sticks to the nooks and crannies in the tofu for maximum flavor impact. 
  • Red chili adds fiery spice. I like to use Thai bird’s eye chilis. 

Chinese Salt and Pepper Seasoning

  • Sichuan peppercorns are the most essential seasoning for Chinese salt and pepper tofu! The recipe doesn’t taste the same without the numbing spice of Sichuan peppercorns, but you’ll need to dry toast the peppercorns to mute their flavor and bring out the woody undertones.
  • White peppercorns are earthier than black peppercorns and less spicy. You can swap them out for black peppercorns to add more heat to the dish. 
  • Salt is a must! It emphasizes the other flavors.
  • Sugar balances the other flavors. Don’t worry; sugar doesn’t make the dish overly sweet, so don’t skip it. 
  • Chinese five spice adds complexity to the recipe, offering nuanced flavors of star anise, cloves, cinnamon, and fennel. 

Salt and Pepper Tofu Allergens

If you have a penchant for ordering Chinese takeaway, you know that the dishes often aren’t allergy-friendly, making it much more practical to cook popular dishes like vegetable chow mein at home (plus, it takes less time!) Luckily, this is the perfect side dish as it fits numerous dietary requirements. 

  • Is salt and pepper tofu vegan? Yes! This recipe is 100% plant-based and vegan-friendly. However, that’s not to say that omnivores can’t also enjoy the delicious flavors. 
  • Is salt and pepper tofu gluten-free? This salt and pepper tofu recipe is naturally gluten-free, making it suitable for anyone with gluten intolerance or coeliac disease.

Of course, this recipe is also vegetarian, halal-friendly, nut-free, and alcohol-free. However, the recipe isn’t soy-free due to the use of tofu — as an equally tasty alternative, you may want to make takeaway classic salt and pepper chips instead! 

Chinese salt and pepper tofu on a plate, with a blue background and chopsticks.

How to Make Vegan Salt and Pepper Tofu

I think this is one of my easiest, quickest recipes to date! 

Although I have a lot of 30-minute recipes, this one comes together in around 10 minutes. Plus, there are no complicated cooking techniques! It’s ideal for beginner cooks and veterans. 

  1. Make the salt and pepper seasoning by dry roasting the Sichuan peppercorns, then grinding everything into a powder. 
  2. Cook the tofu by flash-frying it in a well-seasoned wok until the skin becomes slightly crispy. Set aside. 
  3. Stir fry the aromatics (onion, bell peppers, and garlic) in a seasoned wok for one minute, then add the sliced red chilis. 
  4. Add the seasoning to the wok with the fried tofu and toss to coat everything well. 
  5. Garnish with spring onions/scallions. 

Naturally, if you choose homemade tofu over deep-fried tofu puffs, follow a different process: Pre-press the tofu, cut it into chunks, coat it in cornflour, and then deep-fry. sauté, bake, or air-fry until crispy. See below for more details! 

Alternative Ways to Cook

If you use deep-fried tofu puffs, you can skip this section entirely. However, if you make this recipe with my easy homemade tofu or storebought tofu, you’ll need to pre-cook the tofu before adding it to the wok along with the other ingredients. It’s the only way to get a good crisp!

Luckily, there are several cooking methods you could use: 

  • How to Make Salt and Pepper Tofu in Air Fryer: This method is ideal for health-conscious folks. Coat the pressed extra-firm tofu in cornflour, layer it in the air-fryer basket, and cook at 200 C (400 F) for 10 minutes, turning the tofu halfway. Result? Beautifully crispy tofu without the fat! After this, you’ll need to continue with the recipe as stated. 
  • How to Fry Salt and Pepper Tofu: Deep-frying tofu yields the crispiest results, but you’ll require a deep-fat fryer (or a large wok/saucepan) and plenty of neutral oil. Heat the oil to 180 C (356 F), and once it comes to temperature (use a kitchen thermometer to check), carefully add the cornflour-coated tofu. Deep-fry until golden brown, then drain on kitchen paper and continue with the recipe. 
  • Salt and Pepper Tofu in Oven: This is a fabulous alternative if you don’t have an air-fryer but you’re still seeking a healthier option. Add the pressed, cornflour-coated tofu cubes to a baking tray covered in parchment paper and spray with oil. Preheat the oven to 200 C (400 F), and once it comes to temperature, cook the tofu for 15 minutes. Turn, then spray with more oil and cook for an additional 15 minutes. Continue with the recipe as normal. 
Chopsticks holding tofu with chilies..

Tips to Make Salt and Pepper Tofu

Want to make the absolute BEST vegan salt and pepper tofu? While my recipe below will get you off to a great start, there are a few things you need to pay extra attention to:

  • Toast the Sichuan peppercorns to extract the best flavor. If used without toasting, Sichuan peppercorns can be unbearably tongue-numbingly hot. When toasted, the fellow mellows to a gentle citrusy, woody, and slightly spicy depth. 
  • Use a neutral flavored oil to not overpower the aromas from the salt and pepper seasoning mix. My standard choice is sunflower oil, but canola, rapeseed, peanut (groundnut), and grapeseed oil also work well. Avoid olive oil or toasted sesame oil. 
  • Always use a well-seasoned wok to avoid the dish sticking to your pan. In the same vein, be sure to allow the wok to get hot before stir-frying the tofu or aromatics. If you don’t have a wok, use a non-stick, deep-sided, frying pan. 
  • Toss, don’t stir! This is the best way for the seasoning to coat the tofu.  
  • Adjust the heat to your preference. Although I always recommend following the recipe exactly, we all have preferences when it comes to heat levels. If you prefer a completely mild dish, leave out the red chili entirely. Conversely, if you need to amp up the spice, add a chili or two. 
  • For the true Chinese restaurant flavor, you may want to add MSG. I don’t use it in my recipe, instead choosing to amplify the flavors with sugar, but it’s often used in Chinese takeaways. Alternatively, add a pinch of mushroom powder for extra umami! 

What to Serve with Salt and Pepper Tofu

While I usually serve Chinese restaurant-style salt and pepper tofu as a side dish or appetizer, it’s just as delicious paired with some other uncomplicated side dishes that, when served together, create a filling and nourishing main dish. 

Check out these examples for inspiration: 

  • Salt and pepper tofu with noodles might be my favorite combination! I like to go for a simple dish — noodles with beansprouts or vegetable chow mein — to let the salt and pepper tofu share the glory. 
  • Salt and pepper tofu with rice is hearty and satisfying. If you’re vegan, opt for vegetable fried rice, or, otherwise, choose the traditional egg fried rice.  
  • Salt and pepper tofu and chips are the best of both worlds. Why choose between either salt and pepper tofu or salt and pepper chips? Make a portion of half-half. 
  • Salt and pepper tofu with vegetables is a healthy option and an inventive way to get extra greens into your diet. I love pairing this recipe with Chinese broccoli in garlic sauce, pak choy, or mixed vegetable Chinese curry. 
  • Salt and pepper tofu with soba noodles adds an earthy layer of flavor, and the two components complement each other well. Depending on the brand of soba noodles, this option is also gluten-free. 

This Recipe Is:

  • Exactly like Chinese takeaway
  • Delicious and moreish
  • Non-greasy
  • Fast, ready in less than 15 minutes
  • Easy for beginners
  • Perfect for Chinese fakeaway night
Salt and pepper tofu on a plate.

Salt and Pepper Tofu

Yield: 2
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 5 minutes

Chinese restaurant-style salt and pepper tofu coated an aromatic spice mix is just as good as takeaway. Plus, it's quick, easy, and vegan.


  • 1 tbsp Neutral Oil
  • 130g Deep-Fried Tofu Puffs*
  • 1/2 White Onion, finely chopped**
  • 40g Bell Pepper, finely chopped
  • 3 Cloves Garlic, minced
  • 1 Thai Red Chili, sliced

For the Salt and Pepper Seasoning Mix

  • 1/4 tsp Sichuan Peppercorns
  • 1/2 tsp White Peppercorns
  • 3/4 tsp Sea Salt
  • 1/2 tsp Sugar
  • 1/4 tsp Chinese Five Spice


  1. Make the salt and pepper seasoning. Heat a small pan over medium heat. Add the Sichuan peppercorns to the pan and dry-toast the spice for 1-2 minutes, until aromatic. Turn off the heat, cool the peppercorns, then add them to a mortar and pestle (or electric spice grinder) along with white peppercorns, salt, sugar, and Chinese five spice. Pound into a fine powder.
  2. Pre-cook the tofu. Heat a well-seasoned wok over medium-high flame. Add a drizzle of oil and add the deep-fried tofu puffs. Toss until the skins are just crispy, a minute. Set aside.
  3. Stir fry the aromatics. In the same well-seasoned wok, add the neutral oil, and rotate the wok to coat it. Once heated, add the onions and bell peppers. Toss for 30 seconds, then add the garlic, toss for another 30 seconds, and add the sliced red chillis.
  4. Add the tofu to the wok along with the salt and pepper seasoning. Toss everything well to coat and cook for a further minute or two.
  5. Garnish with spring onions/scallions. 


* Deep-fried tofu puffs are my number one choice for salt and pepper tofu, tofu satay curry, and many other Asian takeaway classics. They have a spongy interior and a light exterior that crisps up when fried, making them ideal for this dish. This is also what all my local Chinese takeaways use, giving the recipe an ultra-authentic fakeaway taste. If you can’t get hold of the ingredient, feel free to swap it out for homemade tofu, which you should coat in cornflour (cornstarch, for my U.S. readers!) and shallow-fry before using. 

** While I prefer to finely chop the onions and bell peppers, which makes for faster cooking, some restaurants cut the vegetables in equal sizes to the tofu. Choose whichever you prefer, but add a little extra cooking time for large pieces.

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Nutrition Information:
Yield: 2 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 276Total Fat: 20gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 17gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 887mgCarbohydrates: 15gFiber: 4gSugar: 6gProtein: 14g

Nutrition information isn’t always accurate.

Did you make this recipe?

Leave a review below or tag me in your photos on Instagram!

Is salt and pepper tofu healthy?

Yes, salt and pepper tofu is loaded with plant-based protein. While it’s not a balanced meal with all the nutrients and vitamins needed, salt and pepper tofu is a side dish. When combined with other essential components, salt and pepper tofu can be part of a healthy diet.

Salt and pepper tofu calories

One portion of salt and pepper tofu contains about 270 calories. However, this is just an estimation, and nutritional calculators are often inaccurate.

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