I have this belief that bakeries serve a greater social purpose than just providing us with deliciously baked breads and cakes. In crowded cities, at least, where there are car exhaust fumes, garbage outside, and the inevitable collective BO that collects when tons of people are on a given sidewalk, the aromas of rising breads and baking tarts from bakeries remind us that, yes, there is still a rustic, more appetizing side of life. In Beijing especially, a city we’ve all heard too much about in the environmental news, the bakeries on every other block make days here worthwhile, air-freshening the city in a natural sort of way.
A 10-minute bus ride brings me to this temple of flour and sugar, but within just half a block of my apartment are 3 bakeries selling freshly made breads and pastries. Contrast that with my hometown in suburban Boston, where the only thing that counted as a bakery was Dunkin’ Donuts. (Did I mention I come from the birthplace of Dunkin’ Donuts? Someone once told me we had 16 in town, something to be, um, proud of.)
Out of those 3 bakeries, 2 are actually quite pitiful, but the 3rd, part of a bakery chain, is where I go every other day for their bread, buik cookies, and decent Macanese egg tarts. Today I stopped in for a baguette. Now, I know someone out there is going to snicker, that no baguette even in the US, much less China, compares with those in France, and so on. Well, I’m not in France, and the baguette I got hot off the kitchen racks was actually pretty good. If French bread in Vietnam is good enough for báhn mì, Beijing’s baguettes are good enough for my Baked Tofu Sandwich.
Since I can’t make my favorite kind of báhn mì yet, due to an inability to procure pork paté, and I had extra tofu in the fridge, I found a recipe that called for baking it while making a sesame and soy sauce slaw topping. The sandwich makes for a simple and satisfying lunch. Once the weather gets a bit warmer and I can go picnic in the parks, this one’ll be in the lunch bag.
Baked Tofu Sandwich
Adapted from Food & Wine
Serves 3 to 4
1/3 cup mayonnaise, preferably Kewpie brand
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons finely grated peeled fresh ginger
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon chilli oil
4 cups finely green cabbage, finely shredded
One 18-inch baguette, split into thirds or quarters
14 to 16 oz package of extra firm tofu, drained
Preheat oven to 375° F. Slice the tofu lengthwise in half, then crosswise into 10 strips, so you have 20 pieces. Spread the tofu on a lightly oiled baking sheet (olive oil is best) and turn each piece over to coat. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until lightly brown and firm.
Meanwhile, in a medium-sized bowl, mix mayonnaise with the rice vinegar, soy sauce, ginger, sesame oil, and chilli oil until blended. Set half aside. To the other half of the mayo mixture, add the cabbage and toss well.
Slice baguette into thirds or quarters, depending on your appetite. Scoop out some of the soft bread from the top half of the baguette. Spread some of the mayo mixture (the half sans cabbage) onto the lower halves, and fill the top halves with cabbage slaw.
When tofu is baked and slightly cooled, put 4 to 5 pieces in each sandwich. Sprinkle salt and pepper over the tofu, close the sandwiches, and serve.