Sunday, October 18, 2009

Soup is Good Food - My Favorite LA Soups

As the air finally begins to develop something akin to a chill, for Southern California at least, my thoughts turn to soup. Soup is a comfort food in nearly every culture; perhaps the warm, wetness appeals to our desire to return to the womb and feast, once again, on amniotic fluid from the one time in our lives when we lacked any literal independence and were totally and completely dependent on the care of others. Or maybe it's just warm and tasty.

In no particular order, then, come a few of my favorite LA area soups.

Seolleongtang with beef tongue at Hanbat Shul-Lung-Tang. Like Pho Minh's pho, the broth is the essence of beef, though this time, it's beef bones, oxtail to be precise. The murky, milky broth shows the presence of stewed bones and reaches out to comfort every extremity. The tongue is sliced so thinly and is so tender that you might think you are eating ultra-thin strips of filet mignon. This may be the best of the cold-day soups on the list.

Ajiaco at La Fonda Antioqueña. Made from specially imported potatoes and only available on weekends, ajiaco is a Colombian chicken and potato soup in a rich, corn broth. The rich, yellow broth yields flavors of corn and chicken fat and puts the rest of the ingredients to shame, making you wonder why they are; even there. This may be the most delicious broth on the list; it's hard to stop eating.

Pho at Pho Minh. There are thousands of phos throughout the Southland, but none that I've tasted is as intrinsically beefy as Pho Minh's. The broth is so full bodies and representative of beef, that I hesitate to add any of the traditional condiments lest they interfere with that broth. Unlike the beef bone broth at Hanbat, this broth is the essence of the meat, the cow, simmered for God knows how long to wrest every last bit of flavor and present a liquid composition of meat.

Napa Soup with Lamb and Hand Cut Noodles at Dumpling Master. It's tangy, sour and gamey, filled with cabbage, boiled lamb, a good dose of vinegar and chewy, hand cut noodles. This funky Northern Chinese soup is one of my go-to soups and seems like it should cure hangovers, improve virility or have some other mystical effect.

Cream of Corn at La Cabanita. Given how much I love cream soups, it's odd that this is the only one on the list. I just haven't been excited about that many creamed soups in LA. La Cabanita's cream of corn, however, is velvety smooth, sweet and corny. It's topped with crumbled Mexican cheese, which gives it just the right amount of added salt. La Cabanita has a number of excellent soups, but the cream of corn is my favorite.

Bean Paste Casserole at Seongbukdong. The funk continues at this home style Korean restaurant with the bean paste casserole. Not a casserole at all, in the way westerners conceptualize of such a thing, this is a chewy, salty fermented soy bean soup. It tastes like eating an entire bowl of slightly diluted doenjang, the fermented soy bean mash served as a condiment to Korean BBQ. Since it's all I can do not to eat doenjang of the condiment tray with a spoon, this casserole suits me just fine.

Ramen. I'm no Rameniac, but I like a good bowl of ramen, and I go back and forth between whether the ramen is better at Daikokuya in Little Tokyo or Santouka in the Mitsuwa Marketplace. I have a porky soft spot for both Santouka's fatty broth and the pure porky goodness of Daikokuya.

There are other soups I love, but don't have a great example of in LA. Lobster bisque is one of my favorites (are there any Hamburger Hamlets left?). I'm a huge fan of vichyssoise, but I really like my own version the best and besides, it doesn't really count as a cold weather comfort food. And Hawaiian chicken long rice from Ono Hawaiian in Honolulu always deserves a shout out. Then there is Laksa and...well, I could go on.

What are your favorite LA soups?

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