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Posts tagged ‘soup’s on’

Soup’s On: Plant Love House’s Keaw Teaw Num Tok

plant love house num tok

Keaw teaw num tok (not to be confused with the beef salad also called num/nam tok) is probably what all the non-Thai interlopers order (or not?) thanks to the recent glowing Hungry City write up that mentions it in the opening paragraph. It’s as good a place to start as any on the tightly edited menu, heavy on the noodle soups.

I don’t want to disparage the thenthuk from my last missive in this series, but num tok is its radical opposite: perfectly portioned so you don’t get stuffed and seasoned boldly so you don’t grow bored. Thin rice noodles, roughly five chopstick-pulls-worth, are more of an accent along with a handful of bean sprouts and still snappy Chinese broccoli. This $4.95 serving can be upsized for an additional $3, if you’d like.

The peppery broth, lightly perfumed with cinnamon and star anise is, yes, mixed with pork blood which isn’t remotely scary and lends none of that livery quality more noticeable in other blood-based edibles like morcilla or dinuguan. Pork is also featured in thin strips and a single pork ball.

I’m not sure if this was the medium I was recommended with the suggestion of doctoring using chile powder from the caddy if not to my standards or the spicier version I insisted I could handle. Either way, it was just hot enough, no enhancements needed. When my eyes started tearing up at one point I was glad I was on a stool facing the window so I could save face.

Being a cafe, and a cute, inviting one at that, desserts are also a selling point. Maybe next time. The pandan water, which was slightly sweet, overtly green and filled with ice cube globes I initially mistook for lychees (and nothing like the same-named beverage at Pok Pok) was a sufficient enough foil for the mouth-tingling soup.

Plant Love House * 86-08 Whitney Ave., Elmhurst, NY

Soup’s On: Spicy Tibet’s Beef Thenthuk

spicy tibet soup

I will admit that I haven’t stepped too far out of my Thai, Mexican, and Chinese comfort zone with soups. At prime lunch time, I walk right past Ecuadorian and Peruvian chalkboards listing a sopa or two and I can never bring myself to take a chance. I’m scared of bland chicken and over-boiled beef.

Himalayan? I’m getting there. The thenthuk at newish Spicy Tibet is ok. It did its job, to warm me up and fill the space in my stomach that leftover Cheetos broccoli and clementines didn’t earlier. If I wasn’t on a soup-seeking mission, though, I would’ve preferred trying the tripe or blood sausage or even the chopsuey, described as “American.”

This soup is all about the starch–and there is a lot of it. I was almost knocked-out by the thick, fat ribbons of hand-formed noodles that are the focus. The broth was light and more garlicky than anything with some baby bok choy slithering around for greenery, plus a few small strips of beef and a touch of cilantro.

You can punch it up with a thick, orange hot sauce that’s presented in a squeeze bottle (as opposed to the chile oil in a glass container that sits on each table by default). It’s grungy and hot in that dirty way that implies dried chile origins rather than fresh (though the bright color indicates otherwise). Some might say earthy.

In my limited experience with Himalayan food, I would say starch prominent with some meaty accents on the side or stuffed in dough. A mother and daughter plowed through a plate of momos (steamed dumplings) tingmo (steamed buns) and something doughy and fried golden, which by the end had the teenager declaring “I’m sleepy.” Me too!

spicy tibet tea service

I may have been saved by yak-buttered tea, the Himalayan answer to Bulletproof coffee that’s free for the taking at a plastic dispenser near the cash register. Though it wasn’t the point, the hot beverage lent a pleasant, saltiness and creaminess to the soup. In fact, it was the buttered tea that stuck with me as I trudged home through the icy slush, completely fortified and toasty. Maybe there’s something to this drinking melted butter business, after all?

Spicy Tibet * 75-04 Roosevelt Ave., Jackson Heights, NY

Soup’s On: Kitchen 79’s Tom Sabb Ka Moo

kitchen 79 hot & spicy pork knuckle soup big bowl

When you want something soupy, and you’re trying to avoid noodles but aren’t quite feeling bone broth (I’m still not getting the big deal with this craze beyond convenience–I spent less than $15 and 15 minutes prepping an enormous supply of chicken broth two weekends ago and have since moved onto what I’m calling beef broth but is really oxtail soup) Thai soups can be one way to go.

The tom sabb ka moo/hot and spicy pork knuckle soup at Kitchen 79 looks unassuming. The light amber broth is broken up by a floating slices of mushroom and pale red onion, the only edible vegetable matter. This bright soup is about the aromatics, filled with jagged strips of nearly medicinal galangal and citrusy from lime juice and woody spirals of lemongrass–and far spicier than the pale hue lets on.

You have to do a lot of fishing around to get a solid sip, free of organic debris. And even more so, depending on your tolerance for soft pork rinds. I like the rubbery, gelatinous skin encasing the wedges of meat, but I’ve seen others leaving the flab behind with the other tough-to-chew additions.

kitchen 79 hot & spicy pork knuckle soup small bowl

At $13, the pork knuckle soup is meant to share and easily fills four of the small glass bowls.

It may sound strange to call a pork-based soup light. Tom sabb ka moo, however, is a quick-simmered broth, nowhere near the intensity–in time or richness–of a Japanese tonkotsu broth. Now that I’ve worked my way through poultry and beef, I may tackle a similar porky soup at home next.


Soup’s On: 8 Paet Rio’s Kuai-Tiao Neua Tun

8 paet rio kuai-tiao neua tun

This is one of those dishes that’s Thai in name, but Chinese in origin. In the US, the closest commonly eaten thing to kuai-tiao neua tun would likely be pho.

It’s a rice noodle soup that’s rich with beef brisket and beef balls with a more mousse-like texture than a typical Western meatball. There are some bean sprouts and greens for contrast, but that’s the gist. I’m eating it here with more stuff and less broth than how it would be served in its entirety in a bigger bowl.

The broth is sweet (I’m nearly certain it actually contains sugar) and aromatic with cinnamon, ginger and star anise. It’s also pretty bold and salty from the inclusion of both soy and fish sauces. This may seem like a wet soup on the surface but if you refrigerate it, the liquid will solidify into a gelatinous mass. The collagen is why it’s so satisfying when it’s cold out and maybe you’re a little run down (or maybe said “yes” to more than one shot of Fireball Whisky at a holiday party).

What I’m not clear on is the intended spicing. As with pho and a noodle-free version of this soup from Qi, the flashy Times Square Thai restaurant with some genuine dishes that I frequently eat for lunch, I had assumed this was a simple beefy soup that you could jazz up if you liked with condiments. However, this iteration arrived already hot in that throat-tickly way that’s induced by powdered chiles. Maybe I was being second guessed because I also ordered my duck larb very spicy? Either way, this is a very good soup.

P.S. I apologize in advance for this bowl, which you’re probably going to see many times because I’m big on delivery and am not a food stylist with cupboards full of props.

8 Paet Rio * 81-10 Broadway, Elmhurst, NY

Soup’s On: El Toro Bravo Pancita

el toro bravo pancita bowl

The first time I visited NYC, twenty years ago, I ended up having a falling out with my travel companion, also a recent graduate who had no clue what to do with a fresh B.F.A. I kept pestering and pestering, literally asking “What are you going to do?” as if she must’ve known the answer since she was a decade older. After a stint on a floor off Avenue C, we ended up at a budget hotel, The Roger William, and eating lunch at a Chinese restaurant on the ground floor.

The friend wouldn’t eat soup. “Soup is too wet,” she said. I knew what she meant but pretended I found it absurd to further antagonize her.

Pancita is a wet soup. Pancita is also confusing. On the west coast I’d never heard Mexican tripe soup called anything except menudo even if my experience with it was primarily from a can until adulthood. My dad liked it from a can, so I liked it too.

el toro bravo pancita

In NYC, we have pancita, which at least at El Toro Bravo does not have the heft and starch of the hominy kernels characteristic of menudo. (To confuse things further, I once had a version called pancita in Oaxaca that used chickpeas) Pancita is for purists, just broth fortified with cow’s feet for body, and tripe for chew.

I can’t help but think that the soup’s reputation as a hangover cure has something to do with stomach soothing a stomach (a cabeza taco would probably also be in order). The blobs of soft and jiggly honeycomb tripe combined with the hyper-red, oil-slicked broth, works, though. The spice is strong, a building tickle that never turns brutal.

Pancita will not convert tripe-haters because there is little to distract from the meat, even though the flavor is mild and not gamey in the least (or I could just be lacking scent receptors because I’ve never seen this soup described as anything but funky). A squeeze of lime perks up the broth, but isn’t needed for masking purposes. And don’t forget the onion, if only to add contrasting texture and bite to all the smoothness and, yes, wetness.

El Toro Bravo * 88-12 Roosevelt Ave., Jackson Heights, NY

Soup’s On: Uncle Zhou’s Spicy Beef Knife-Shaved Noodle Soup

I would like to take partial credit for spurring the brodo trend (of one, currently). I’ve long been outraged by what I call office ladies, others call basic, and their obsession with fat-free yogurt. If one were watching calorie intake and in need of a snack, broth seems so much more sensible and satisfying to me than cracking into a disgusting container of Chobani. (Based on Facebook feedback, I was alone in this, it turns out, and everyone apparently loves the flavor of fat-free dairy and it has nothing to do with weight-watching and I’m horrible and judgmental.)


Anyway, my new winter project is to start eating more soup. This is harder than it seems because soup often sounds like the least interesting thing on a menu to me. Pancita when there are tacos? Tom yum instead of crispy pork with chile and basil? It is practical, though, in my neighborhood where there’s tons of exploring to do and a dearth of dining companions. Soup’s a warming meal for one. I’m going to embrace it–and maybe it will love me back.

uncle zhou spicy beef noodle soup

Yes, yes, Uncle Zhou is all about the big tray of chicken. I also had a brief Thanksgiving fantasy of ordering the $225 Four Treasures a.k.a. the Chinese turducken (quail in a squab in a chicken in a duck). You won’t suffer too greatly if you simply order the spicy beef knife-shaved noodle soup with fat, irregular squiggles of dough cut by hand rather than twisted and pulled into strands. The chile oil-enhanced broth is light and doesn’t detract from the star, which is the slick and chewy (dare me to say toothsome?) starch. The thin slices of stewed beef are more of a hearty condiment, floating along with a handful of chopped cilantro.

After burning your tongue, the soup may also sober you up pretty nicely if you’re the sort who thinks day drinking and shopping at Target is a good idea (it’s kind of not).

uncle zhou tripe

If you’d like, also pick a cold dish from counter like these frilly strips of tripe. Unlike Sichuan preparations, the Henan approach retains the chile heat while going easier on the oil and eschews the metallic peppercorn zing altogether.

The Mandarin-speaking couple seated next to me peppered their conversation with English phrases like “Jackson Heights,” “chicken with broccoli,” and “shrimp fried rice.” Someone, somewhere was being mocked. That will not be you slurping your noodle soup.

Uncle Zhou * 83-29 Broadway, Elmhurst, NY