Friday, June 21, 2024

A weekly notebook about food during the Covid-19 shutdown. Remember, if you’re dining out, doing takeout or getting delivery, the people serving up the food are part of the front line; keep it in mind when tipping.

So we’re into 2021 and looking for change: Bye-bye Covid, bye-bye 45 and bye-bye those extra Covid packed-on holiday pounds; hello a healthier you. For low-calorie protein, fish and tofu are pretty hard to beat. And while soybean curd is not the most flavorful in its pristine, white supermarket form, it can be quite delicious spiced up or added as a boost to a soup, salad or egg scramble. I’m a sucker for the spicy mapo tofu stew you can get at most any traditional Chinese restaurant (though it typically comes with ground pork). For some truly light tofu bites with flavor, here are some easy grab-and-go options.



Bon Me


Bon Me serves tofu as a bahn mi or in a bowl. (Photo: Bon Me via Instagram)

One protein choice here is roasted paprika tofu. You can get it as a bahn mi on toasted french baguette with pickled carrots, daikon and cucumber (“The J.P.”), but the best option is as a customized noodle salad. Go for soba with all the pickled sides listed above thrown in, and top it with either the spicy peanut sauce for some zing, miso lime or soy drizzle if you don’t want a bite. You can get this combo at any Bon Me outpost or food truck. I like ordering online and picking up at the Fresh Pond storefront. When you get there, your order is on a pickup table, labeled clearly and good to go. The sauce is always on the side, and the whole salad box is wax-lined and shrink-wrapped in plastic to prevent leaks.

Bon Me (201 Alewife Brook Parkway, Cambridge Highlands near Fresh Pond)


House of Chang

My favorite under-the-radar dim sum spot in non-Covid times has just completed an update to be more socially distanced for pickup. Instead of a table outside, there’s a plexiglass pickup chamber in the lobby with a kind of bank teller’s drawer/door to pass the food through. My Covid takeout favorite is the Black Peppered Tofu, found in the “specialties” section. Silken chunks of tofu are lightly coated, delicately fried and served in a dark, viscous, slightly spicy black pepper sauce atop a bed of stir-fried broccoli. It tastes sinful, but won’t bog you down.

House of Chang (282 Concord Ave., Huron Village)


The Smoke Shop

A barbecue joint offering those who don’t eat meat, or want to mix it up, a salt- and pepper-style tofu dish quite different from House of Chang’s. Like Japanese agedashi tofu cubes served with broth, what’s in the Tofu Basket is coated but super silky and moist inside. I get the tofu basket: thin rectangular slabs on a healthy bed of fresh green leaf lettuce and tomatoes, with a soy-infused dressing on the side. The tofu itself does not really need dressing or sauce; the light batter is packed with peppery spices, and you really taste the pepper in every bite. The basket comes with two sides. I love the pit beans (which I don’t believe are vegan), and the pickled cucumber salad or Brussels sprouts are good healthier selections. The Harvard Square storefront is open only for takeout; the Kendall Square original is open for takeout and sit-down dining.

The Smoke Shop (8 Holyoke St., Harvard Square)