I know it was 90-degrees what feels like five minutes ago, and it most likely will be again. But all of last week the sky dropped rain in fits and spurts, and I dreamed of soup. Here, then, are a few ideas to keep in your pocket for days when the weather turns grey and drizzly and the sky is a ponderous question. All of them are lovely and humble.
When what you want is not a cocoon, but something to awaken you with color and texture, head to La’ Me in the Lake Highlands strip-mall stretch that holds Hong Kong Market and Bistro B. Many are here for pho or for bahn xeo, crispy crepes served with a flurry of herbs. But you’re here for Mi Quang, the iconic soup from central Vietnam that’s unmistakable with its bright-yellow, turmeric-tinted rice noodles. It’s a more unusual find, distinctive even within the repertoire of Vietnamese soups that includes the classic pho. Its pork broth is wonderfully flavorful. The bowl also holds a tangle of shredded lettuce, bean sprouts, toasted peanuts, fried shallots, pork slices, shrimp, a halved hard-cooked egg, sprigs of mint and basil. Alongside are lime wedges, chiles should you need more heat, and a puffy, black-sesame-studded rice cracker that adds crunch. With its brilliant colors and play of textures, it’s simple (it’s a common breakfast dish), but multi-faceted and marvelous.
The soba curry at Tei-An is not the usual Japanese curry, often a sticky brown, homogeneous goo, a sort of workaday spice mud to ladle over rice. Tei An’s version is still homogeneous and it is still brown, with bits of onion and a few slivers of scallion, but it has the subtle marks of Tei An’s refinement—in the way the soba noodles (Sakurai’s specialty, and one of the things that gives this curry a twist) slip and glide through the curry that is, itself, a little more svelte, more beguiling in its spices—the flavors earthy and comforting, but still animate. A big bowl sends up wafts of spice. Sakurai works a little magic with this ultimate Japanese comfort food.
The garlic soup at Si Tapas, a Castilian specialty, is rather nice on a rainy day. A humble peasant dish, it falls squarely into the realm of brothy staples, like a Spanish version of French onion soup. It’s part of the lexicon of Spanish “caldos,” many based around simple greens and garbanzo beans, maybe with a touch of paprika. Sopa de ajo may be one of the humblest. I love its broth, limpid and redolent with garlic. Bits of serrano ham add smokiness, bread cubes bulk. The yolk of an egg, broken into the broth, contributes a little body and richness, while the white forms clouds, as in egg-drop soup. I like its simplicity, the dish fully tied to its origins of frugality. Eat this and imagine Castilian shepherds keeping warm.
In a tiny shop tucked in a corner of the shopping center that houses H-Mart, Charm Juk’s owner serves variations on the homely Korean rice porridge that’s sort of like a ricey cream of wheat, thick and ivory-colored and comforting. You can find it laced with chicken and ginseng or with abalone (a classic). You’ll recognize the variation that’s solid orange from pumpkin. Carefully prepared banchan—dishes of marinated mushrooms and kimchi—are lovely savory additions that deliver little umami touches to what is really a big bowl of porridgey comfort that soothes the soul.