Monday, January 18, 2016

My Inexplicable Soup Obsession

Like Anthony Bourdain is obsessed with pork, I get down-right oogley over soups. Clear/brothy soups, thick/creamy soups, seafood, chicken, vegetable, with rice, with noodles, broth all by its lonesome. I don't discriminate. It's all good. No,  it's great.

I love it. I want it. I need it. I don't give a rat's left butt cheek that it's 90 degrees out. Give it to me and no one gets hurt. 

It's pretty ridiculous how many pictures I have with soup. Like more than with some family members.

My love for soups is both inexplicable and something I can describe in painfully great detail.

For instance, I love the way clear broth tastes "clean." Like the Food Gods magically extracted the essence of a chicken, piece of beef or fish, mixed it in warm water and sprinkled glittery dots of animal fat on the top for bitty flavor boosts. I love its ability to give you that savory satisfaction all while remaining light and fresh. And, when perfectly cooked rice or noodles, meat and leafy greens are in the mix, you get a theme park of textures. Plus, the soup adopts an entirely new character. The same but different. Like if an already amazing friend studied abroad for a year and came back all spicy and cultured. Weird analogy, but I think it works.

(FYI, don't get my friend Amanda and I started about this new "bone broth movement." You'll see it in places like trendy grocery stores and on TV. Don't get sucked into that Columbus-y silliness folks. Typical, take-something-that's-been-done-forever-by-other-people-and-sell-it-yourself-to-make-it-trendy crap going on. How else do you make proper broth, I want to know? With bones! Yes, my grandma made soup by going to the butcher, asking for cheap bones and boiling the living daylights out of them. "Bone broth" shouldn't be sold like a cold-pressed juice for goodness sake! Okay, I'm done here. This was supposed to be a quick aside. See! I told you not to get me started. Read more.) 

But, why soup? I can describe any food. A haiku about fried chicken. A sonnet about burritos. But, soup...

Maybe it's because it reminds me of growing up. As a single parent working two full-time jobs, my mom didn't have a lot of time to cook. So, she threw a bunch of bones and meat into a crock pot to make broth. Then throughout the week, we'd throw in veggies and meat that would cook in minutes and voila, a meal!

Then there's my grandma who'd make us drink a whole bowl of Chinese soupy something before we could eat. Believe me, most of the time it was not good, but it was healthy (she claimed...). Three words at which most Chinese kids shudder: bitter melon soup. The horror! It was something my brother and cousin and I tortured through, sometimes making jokes like "I'm going to put as much as I can in my mouth then go to the bathroom and spit it out." We'd try and then see chopsticks come flailing towards our temples followed by angry threats from my grandma I didn't understand. Well, I did. Not the words because I don't know Chinese, but the gist. Something along the lines of "I'm going hit you! When I was your age, I was 90 pounds! Fine, get sick. See if I care!" Oh man, I love my grandma. Isn't she cute and cuddly? (If she knew I wrote this, she'd glare at me with a five pound cleaver in her hand. She was a cook, so she usually had a cleaver handy. Oh, the love.)

Finally, there's college. I lived off soup because I was broke and it was cheap and easy to make. Safe to say, I did not gain the freshman fifteen.

Also safe to say, I have a soft spot for soup. Soupy McSouperson, you've been a good friend. Always there to warm me up, make me laugh, make me cry....what? This is getting weird? Sorry.

Alright, here's the moment of truth. My favorite places to get soup in San Diego.

1.  Clam Chowder @ Ironside Fish & Oyster (Little Italy)

2. Pho @ Pho Hoa (City Heights), Pho Cow Cali Express (Mira Mesa), Pho T Cali (Kearny Mesa), Phuong Trang (Kearny Mesa), Pho-Ever  (Vista)- I know my pho.

3. Wonton Noodle Soup @ Minh Ky Chinese Restaurant (City Heights)- This has egg noodles, ground pork wontons (Chinese meat dumplings), BBQ pork and green onions swimming in a clear broth. To...die...for. Make sure you have the chili oil on hand!

4. Pozole @ where ever you can get it. It's a very traditional Mexican soup made up of tender pork chunks and hominy. Think of menudo but without tripe. Comfort food to the max. The Waterfront Bar and Grill (Little Italy) serves some and it's received good reviews. I've had pozole at random restaurants throughout the county. I love getting it at Northgate Gonzalez Markets (countywide), which is a gem in itself.

5. Soon du boo @ Convoy Tofu House or Grandma's Tofu and BBQ (both in Kearny Mesa).

6. Souplantation (uh...err where)-  Don't hate. I'm no food snob. I get my soup where I can get it. I mean, the flavor lacks sometimes, but add a little salt and hot sauce...BAM! The best ten bucks you'll spend on all-you-can-eat soup.

7. Ramen @ Izakaya Masa (Mission Hills) and Santouka (Kearny Mesa).

8. Sinigang - I need help with this one! It's one of my favorite soups of all time. Sour Filipino soup made with either pork or seafood. Problem is, the only time I've had really good sinigang was at someone's house.