Hot soup for cold times at ChoCho’s
A weekly notebook about dining options during the Covid-19 shutdown, with a focus on quality and ease of pickup and delivery.
With these subfreezing temps upon us, hot meals matter. One place to get your internal warmth in yummy fashion is ChoCho’s, tucked away in the Lesley University building on the south lip of Porter Square. It’s the lone Korean establishment amid a row of cafe-styled Japanese eateries and serves, as you might expect, the country’s essential street food staple, bibimbap: rice bowls arranged with fresh veggies, marinated beef (bulgogi) or another protein (tofu or salmon tartare) and topped with a fried egg and the gloriously spicy, sweet chili gochujang sauce that comes alongside many a Korean dish. My comfort-food favorite is the japchae, sweet potato starch noodles stir-fried with vegetables and meat and kimchi fried rice. I keep hoping ChoCho’s will add back to the menu its delicious dukboki, a true Korean street food of rice cake with sautéed peppers and fish cakes smothered in gochujang; it would be another one of those culinary comfort wins.
But we’re here to talk about things to slurp on during these cold snaps. At ChoCho’s all are Korean beside the udon bowls with a savory, light broth that you can get with your choice of veggie or shrimp tempura. On the thicker side there’s kimchi and pork (kimchi jjigae), bulgogi and short rib (galbitang) stews. The thing ChoCho’s does exceptionally well, and it’s not an easy find in the area, are the boiling crocks of soondubu tofu soup (in vegetable, seafood, bulgogi and kimchi versions) into which you drop a raw egg and let cook – like your own Sterno stove to warm your hands over. You can specify your degree of spiciness for the chili-based broth, and it comes with rice to drop in the crock to make the soup more stewlike as well as with banchans, those small plates of side nibbles such as seaweed, kimchi, fish cake and pickled sprouts. Another Korean comfort favorite that I feel I often forget about except around New Year’s Day is maandu guk: dumplings in a flavorful beef broth with rice cakes (yum) and those glassy sweet potato noodles that are the soul of japchae. You can get your dumplings (maandu) at ChoCho’s in pork or veggie versions. The belly-warming concoction is also known as “easy soup” and a New Year’s Day tradition in Korea, but something you could easily have every day and not tire of.
ChoCho’s, run by a husband and wife, has been a Lesley staple for nearly 20 years and continues to be one of the very few Korean eateries you can find this side of the Charles. It also has a focused menu of pan-Asian fare including katsu, pad thai, shumai and crispy vegetarian spring rolls.
Cambridge writer Tom Meek’s reviews, essays, short stories and articles have appeared in WBUR’s The ARTery, The Boston Phoenix, The Boston Globe, The Rumpus, The Charleston City Paper and SLAB literary journal. Tom is also a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics and rides his bike everywhere.