Soup's on! Learn all about soup and the many forms soup takes around the world. From Japanese ramen to Vietnamese pho, from Chinese congee to Russian borscht, soup is often not just the starter to a meal, but the meal itself.
Daikokuya ramen. All photos by Bun Boy Eats LA

Daikokuya ramen. All photos by Bun Boy Eats LA

When I first moved to LA, my only background in ramen was of the Cup O’Noodles variety. Then I began to get Japanese ramen at my local haunt, Atch Kotch, but this was before tonkotsu ramen began to hit it big here, and it wasn’t exactly love at first sight.

I had a lot of trepidation before writing this article. Not being of Asian descent, I questioned whether I had the background to be any kind of authority on ramen. After diving in deep, I realized I had a LOT to learn and a lot more ramen joints to try out! Of course, I was happy to remedy this.

There are four main types of ramen broth: shio (salt), shoyu (soy sauce), miso (soybean paste), and tonkotsu (pork bone).

My experiences with the often simple (read, bland) shio and shoyu broths were very “meh.” That wouldn’t stop me from slurping them down in seconds, however. Especially once spicy components were added. And then tonkotsu took over. (more…)

Posted by on May 14th, 2013

Photo by Joe Loong

Photo by Joe Loong

This Wednesday, January 23, has been proclaimed Brunswick Stew Day in my home state of Virginia. A contingent of cooks from Brunswick County in southeastern Virginia will travel to the state capital and prepare 140 gallons of stew for the governor and General Assembly.

Brunswick stew is a slow-cooked, one-pot tomato-based stew, consisting of meats, usually chicken, or in more traditional preparations, rabbit or squirrel. Its ingredients also include many vegetables and legumes, such as lima beans, corn, tomatoes, and okra. Think of it almost as a hearty chicken chili. The stew is often made in huge batches in a cast-iron pot, and is said to be ready when it’s so thick that the paddle stands up in the middle. (more…)

Posted by on January 21st, 2013

Photo by Streetname

With fall officially upon us and the cool weather creeping in, the chowders, cioppinos, and fisherman’s stews grow ever more appealing. The stars of these savory concoctions that warm the soul are usually shellfish known as bivalves — particularly mussels and clams.

What is a bivalve? Bivalves are shellfish consisting of two hinged shells and a soft body, such as oysters, mussels, clams, and scallops. These shellfish provide a slightly sweet taste and chewy texture that perfectly compliments the crunch of farm-fresh vegetables and savory broths from which we make our favorite seafood soups and stews. Bivalves are an excellent source of low-fat protein, vitamin B12, and potassium. They can also be a responsible seafood choice! (more…)

Posted by on November 29th, 2012

Richie Nakano of Hapa Ramen

Before roaming ramen venture Hapa Ramen served its first customer (at a pop-up at Coffee Bar last spring), before it set up a twice-a-week stand at Ferry Plaza, and way before everyone and their moms got on board with the latest ramen craze, the buzz began to build around Hapa Ramen. Nearly a year later, it’s still just as loud. For a culinary venture without four walls (or four wheels for that matter), Hapa Ramen’s not hurting for fans. Its lack of a permanent location hasn’t deterred ramen enthusiasts from seeking it out wherever it may roam–be it the ferry building or pop-ups at Coffee Bar, Bar Tartine and Off the Grid.

Richie Nakano is the chef, owner and all-around “everything” guy behind Hapa Ramen. He develops the recipes, slings the noodles, and tweets about it all @haparamen. From his cooking chops to his hot chef status to his admitted Twitter addiction, the former Nopa sous chef’s been getting his fair share of press. Can’t get enough of Richie? If we ask nicely, maybe he’ll make a return to his blog Line Cook in 2011.

Why ramen?

I’m not sure that there is a lot of personal significance, except this: instant ramen was the first food that I learned to cook, and I grew up eating various forms of saimin, udon, and ramen. When I got older I realized that there was no one doing ramen using quality ingredients, and certainly no one doing it without ties to a particular style. (more…)

Posted by on January 28th, 2011

Photo by naotakem

To hear some food writers tell it, ramen is the Next Big Thing. Not, of course, the 6-for-a-dollar instant noodle kind that you survived on when you were in college, but the proper, artisan-made Japanese noodle soup of the same name. The good news, for those of you who’ve been living in ramen deserts, is that several Japanese ramen chains are opening up shop in big North American cities. That, as we’ll see, is the bad news, too.

On the surface, ramen is nothing more than a bowl of broth with some noodles, vegetables and three thin slices of roast pork, and nobody could call that “fancy.” But in Japan, people take ramen seriously and obsess about it endlessly, making it the perfect fusion of junk food and high cuisine. (more…)

Posted by on December 29th, 2010

It’s soup weather, at least in some parts of the world, and there’s one particular soup that I have my eye on, the Bouillabaisse.  Simply, the Bouillabaisse is a traditional Provençal fish stew that originates from the port city of Marseille in France. If you are a seafood lover, this French soup is definitely going to be one of your favorites.  A traditional bouillabaisse usually has three kinds of fish like scorpionfish, sea robin and the European conger.   However, depending on what’s available, fish substitutions could include anything from turbot to monkfish to mullet.

Other ingredients include shellfish and/or even langoustine, if you have an extra buck or two.  All this seafood is simmered with a variety of vegetables like leeks, onions, tomatoes, celery and potatoes in a broth that is seasoned with Provencal herbs and spices. The way the bouillabaisse is served in Marseille specifically is quite unique.  The broth is served in a bowl containing grilled slices of bread that is spread with a rouille, a mayonnaise made of olive oil, garlic, saffron and cayenne pepper.  The seafood and vegetables are removed from the soup after cooking and then served in a separate bowl or platter.

Now for a little history.  The bouillabaisse, in its modern form, was created by Marseille fisherman who wanted to make a meal as soon as they returned to port.  Instead of using the more expensive fish, they’d simply throw their nets and lines into the ocean and would pull up any rockfish and shellfish that just happened to be swimming by.  The rockfish was usually too bony to serve in restaurants, but throwing them, along with shrimp and veggies, in a pot of sea water, cooking everything over a woodfire and then seasoning with garlic, fennel and later on tomatoes, all this became meal for kings.

Eventually, what was just a free for all fish soup recipe truly became a bouillabaisse by virtue of the method of preparation.  The broth is first boiled (bouillir) then the different kinds of fish are added one by one, and each time the broth comes to a boil, the heat is lowered (abaisser).

As the port of Marseille became more wealthy, restaurants and hotels began serving bouillabaisse to its customers.  Adjustments were made to the recipe, so water was replaced with fish stock and saffron became an integral ingredient to this soup.  In Marseille, bouillabaisse is rarely made for fewer than ten persons; the more people who share the meal, and the more different fish that are included, the better the bouillabaisse. Eventually, bouillabaisse spread from Marseille to Paris and eventually all around the world, with each country adapting the recipe to suit their local ingredients and tastes.

If you’re looking to take a spoonful of this delicious fish soup, check out some of the listings below.

1300 On Fillmore
1300 Fillmore St
San Francisco, CA 94115
(415) 771-7100

Cafe Pastis
7310 SW 57th Ave
South Miami, FL 33143
(305) 665-3322

Chez Napoleon
365 W 50th St
New York, NY 10019
(212) 265-6980

Church & State
1850 Industrial St
Los Angeles, CA 90021
(213) 405-1434

Le Bouchon
1958 N Damen Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 862-6600

Posted by on December 6th, 2009

With winter soon coming upon us, soup is going to be a popular dish to help warm us from the inside and out, so if you’re looking for a little variety beyond just chicken soup, here are some ethnic soup options that may just hit the spot.

You’ve already learned a little bit about ramen, but let’s get a little more souped up education. Even if the ones below don’t catch your fancy, hopefully, it’ll open your eyes to new possibilities.

Borscht from Russia and Poland [BOHR-sht]
Originally from Russia and Poland, borscht is a soup made with fresh beets. It can be prepared using an assortment of vegetables, or with meat and meat stock, or with a combination of both. Borscht can be served hot or cold; it should always be garnished with a dollop of sour cream.

Bouillabaisse from France [BOOL-yuh-BAYZ, BOOL-yuh-BEHZ]
A celebrated seafood stew from Provence, made with an assortment of fish and shellfish, onions, tomatoes, white wine, olive oil, garlic, saffron and herbs. The stew is ladled over thick slices of French bread.

Congee from China [KON-jee]
A soup of boiled rice and water, which serves as a background for a host of other foods including fish, shrimp, chicken, peanuts, sesame seed and eggs. In China, where it’s also known as jook or juk , congee is particularly popular for breakfast

Menudo from Mexico [meh-NOO-doh, meh-NOO-thoh]
Long touted as a hangover cure, menudo is particularly popular in Mexico on New Year’s morning. It’s a hearty, spicy soup made with tripe, calf’s feet, green chiles, hominy and seasonings. It’s usually garnished with lime wedges, bowls of chopped chiles and onion and served with hot tortillas.

Mulligatawny Soup from India [muhl-ih-guh-TAW-nee]
The name derives from the Tamil, a people inhabiting southern India and the surrounding area, and means “pepper water.” This soup is based on a rich meat or vegetable broth highly seasoned with curry and other spices. It usually contains bits of chicken (sometimes other meats), and can also include rice, eggs, coconut shreds and even cream.

© Copyright Barron’s Educational Services, Inc. 1995 based on THE FOOD LOVER’S COMPANION, 2nd edition, by Sharon Tyler Herbst.

Want to check out some of these more unusual soups?  Then look below for some restaurant recommendations.

8151 Santa Monica Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90046
(323) 654-3030

Le Central
112 E 8th Ave
Denver, CO 80203
(303) 863-8094

Mike’s Noodle House
418 Maynard Ave S
Seattle, WA 98104
(206) 389-7099

Brothers Taco House
1604 Dowling St
Houston, TX 77003
(713) 223-0091

Gaylord India Restaurant
100 E Walton St
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 664-1700

Posted by on October 8th, 2009

ramenThough of Chinese origin, it’s unclear how ramen was introduced to Japan.  The only thing that is known is that in the early Meiji period, ramen was originally called shina soba which translated to “Chinese soba.”  By 1900, the few Chinese restaurants in Japan had on their menu a simple ramen dish made of noodles, a few toppings and a broth flavored with salt and pork bones.  Ramen evolved after World War II when cheap American flour flooded the Japanese market.  Concurrently, Japanese troops were returning from China and East Asia and now familiar with Chinese cuisine, quite a few of the servicemen started opening even more Chinese restaurants.  Even with the emergence of more Chinese restaurants, ramen was still more of a special occasion food.

In 1958, taking advantage of the availability of the American flour, instand noodles were invented by Momofuku Ando, the Founder and Chairman of Nissin Foods.  This instant ramen was a hit and it was a dish that spread in popularity not just in Japan, but internationally as well.  Who couldn’t fall in love with a dish that people could make just by adding boiling water?

While instant ramen is currently prevelant in most pantries and dorm rooms a like, dare I say that instant ramen is just a mere shadow of the real thing.  So let’s learn more about ramen cooked the non-instant way.  First and foremost, although a wide variety of ramen exists in Japan, ramen can be generally categorized by its three main ingredients: noodles, soup and toppings.

Ramen noodles are  made from four basic ingredients: wheat flour, salt, water and kansui. They may be fat, thin, or even ribbon-like, as well as straight or wrinkled. It’s all about preference of the ramen noodle maker.

The soup is generally made from pork or chicken stock and combined with a variety of ingredients.  These ingredients could be any one or more of the following:  kelp, tuna flakes, dried baby sardines, beef bones and more and flavored with salt, miso or soy sauce.  The resulting combination is generally divided into four flavors (though these are sometimes mixed together to produce new, original variations):

– Shio (“salt”)  ramen is  made with a simple chicken broth that  is clear and almost transparent.

– Tonkotsu (“pork bone”) ramen has a thick broth made with crushed pork bones that have been boiled for hours.

– shoyu (“soy sauce”) ramen soup is made by adding a soy-based sauce to a stock usually made from chicken and various vegetables.

– Miso ramen is a relative newcomer, having reached national prominence around 1965. This uniquely Japanese ramen features a broth that combines chicken stock with a fermented soybean paste.

Standard toppings for ramen are boiled egg, fermented and pickled young bamboo, nori, spinach, finely chopped scallion and  traditionally a thinly sliced boiled pork. Other toppings may include stewed egg, bean sprouts, wakame, deep fried scallion, or kimchi. Hokkaido-style miso ramen is often topped with sweetcorn. In most cases, toppings are added after having been already cooked so as to not change the flavor of the soup.

Instant ramen is what I refer to as a starter ramen. It’s a good way to give ramen a test drive, but once you’ve had the real thing, you may never look at instant ramen the same way again.  Ready to check out real ramen for yourself?  If so, look below for some restaurants suggestions.

Goma Ichi Ramen
631 Keeaumoku Street
Honolulu, HI 96814
(808) 951-6666

Hakata Ramen Shin-Sen-Gumi
8450 E Valley Blvd
Ste 103
Rosemead, CA 91770
(626) 572-8646

312 8th Ave
San Francisco, CA 94118
(415) 221-9165

Hashiguchi Jr.
3400 Around Lenox Rd NE # C520
Atlanta, GA 31132
(404) 841-9229

4130 SW 117th Avenue #H
Beaverton, OR 97005
(503) 350-1801

Posted by on October 4th, 2009

seoul-house-05A slight chill is still in the air, which means it’s still soup weather and if you’re someone like me who loves strong, bold flavors than sometimes the only kind of soup that will do is Korean Soon Tofu Soup. If you’ve never had Soon Tofu Soup before, let me give you a little more information.

What is Tofu?

Before we can even delve into Korean Soon Tofu Soup, first, a quick introduction for tofu itself. Tofu (the Japanese “Romaji” spelling), also called doufu (the Chinese “Pinyin” spelling often used in Chinese recipes) or bean curd (the literal translation), is a food of Chinese origin, made by coagulating soy milk, and then pressing the resulting curds into blocks. The making of tofu from soy milk is similar to the technique of making cheese from milk. Wheat gluten, or seitan, in its steamed and fried forms, is often mistakenly called “tofu” in Asian or vegetarian dishes.

There are basically three types of tofu: soft/silken tofu, Asian firm tofu and Western firm/dried tofu. For Korean Soon Tofu Soups, the tofu of choice is the soft/silken tofu.

What is Soft/Silken Tofu?

This undrained tofu contains the highest moisture content of all fresh tofus. Its texture can be described as similar to that of very fine custard. In Korea and Japan, traditional soft tofu is made with seawater which has an even higher moisture content and is often eaten as a dessert, but sometimes with salty pickles or hot sauce added instead. Because it is nearly impossible to pick up this type of tofu with chopsticks, it is generally eaten with a spoon.

What is Korean Soon Tofu Soup?

In Korea, tofu is often served not as a substitute for meat, but alongside it, with a small amount of meat flavoring enriching the silken tofu, which adds its incomparable body and mouth feel.

The Korean specialty soon dubu (tofu) chigae (soup or stew) combines soft tofu, spicy broth and bits of meat or seafood or kimchi. Like all Korean soups and stews, it is served hot enough to boil an egg, which is exactly what you do; at “soon houses” all over the world.

Now that you’ve learned more about Korean Soon Tofu Soup, here’s a list of some Tofu Houses you can check out for yourself.

Beverly Soon Tofu
2717 W Olympic Blvd Ste 108
Los Angeles, CA
(213) 380-1113

My Tofu House
4627 Geary Blvd
San Francisco, CA
(415) 750-1818

Cho Dang Tofu House
5907 Buford Hwy Ne
Doraville, GA
(770) 220-0667

Tofu Village
9889 Bellaire Blvd
Houston, TX
(713) 777-9889

So Gong Dong Tofu House
3307 W Bryn Mawr Ave
Chicago, IL 60659
(773) 539-8377

Posted by on April 10th, 2009

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