Pho, Menudo and Old Sober: A Love Letter for Breakfast Soup

Pho, Menudo and Old Sober: A Love Letter for Breakfast Soup

Chicago’s Little Vietnam, a crowded strip of businesses gathered around the Argyle Red Line stop, seems to come to life a little earlier than the rest of the city – especially on winter weekends. After sunrise, while the fog hovers at the level of the red paper lanterns drawn through the trees scattered across the sidewalk, people open the doors to restaurants like Pho 888 and Nhà Hàng Vietnam Restaurant, causing a steam buzz to erupt while the exploding heat for a moment meets the crisp air.

Once inside, they are greeted by a confused symphony composed of a few reliable sounds: plink-plink of Café du Monde percolating table side; the drone of a small television set for local cable; and the light spoon scrapes and gentle slurps associated with generous bowls of pho.

Pho, considered Vietnam’s national dish, is a deceptively simple soup consisting of rice noodles, a shock of green herbs like mint and basil, meat and delicate broth. It is considered to be an ideal breakfast as it is solid enough to start the day but not so heavy that it weighs one down before work.

This is the case in both Vietnam and Vietnamese-American enclaves throughout the United States. So much so that Alex Lam, the owner of Vietnam Kitchen, my favorite Vietnamese restaurant in Louisville, Ky., Recently told me that his business survived the first few years by serving “$ 2 iced coffee and bowls of pho early in the morning” “to other resettled Vietnamese refugees in his neighborhood.

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However, soup of any kind, in the minds of many Americans, remains a lunch or dinner dish. America is one of the few regions that does not have much of a soup breakfast tradition, although it is not completely devoid of one. Maybe this winter is time to change that by borrowing inspiration from countries where soup is considered to be one of the best ways to start the day.

“In the Jewish Moroccan household I grew up in, harira was served on colder evenings in late fall and all winter as a dinner soup,” food writer Liz Vaknin told me via email. “We ate the leftovers for lunch and it was the kind of lunch that made you sleepy and got a silly smile on your face. When I traveled to Morocco a few years ago with my dad to learn more about my roots, I discovered ( to my delight) that the soup was served for breakfast in the colder months and I fell completely in love with the idea. ”

Harira, as Vaknin describes it, is a velvety tomato-based soup, spiced with warming cinnamon and ginger and earthy cumin and coriander and enriched with lentils, chickpeas and even thin noodles. It can be made with lamb, chicken or beef, but the version she grew up eating was vegan.

“There was not a single breakfast buffet at the hotels we stayed at that did not serve the soup for breakfast, and since then I have readily taken the idea to myself at home,” Vaknin said. “After sharing this find with my mother, I learned that her family would also make harira for breakfast. It was only when she and my father moved to the United States that she stopped making it for breakfast because” it just was not something that the Americans did. ”

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It’s not entirely accurate, although I was not aware of this until I read Lauren Shockey’s 2019 book “Hangover Assistant,” which contains an entire chapter of hangover soups and stews that, as Shockey puts it, “weaves a common thread through it. global wallpaper. hangover kitchen. ”

Some of these – like Japanese ochazuke, a simple soup with rice and other tasty pieces partially soaked in green tea, and Mexican caldo de camarón, a spicy shrimp stew – are not sold exclusively as a cure for hangovers. New Orleans, however, is home to Yaka Mein, a Chinese-Creole beef noodle soup so associated with reviving itself after a night of heavy drinking that it has earned the loving nickname “Old Sober.”

“It’s basically a beef broth that has been seasoned with Creole spices,” Shockey said. “But what makes it unique is that it is made with spaghetti and hard-boiled eggs. So you definitely see the tradition of the Asian noodle soup that you might enjoy as the ramen, but it has this very American culinary perception. ”

She continued: “They think it could have come to Louisiana through the Asian workers who worked on the railroads.”


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While researching this chapter in her book, Shockey found some commonalities between the soups served for breakfast across the globe. Typically, they fell into two categories: they were either spicy and energizing to help “sweat the toxins out” (like caldo de camarón or Bolivian fricasé, a pork stew stuffed with aji amarillo peppers) or more nutritious and comforting, as ochazuke or Albanian tarator, a chilled cucumber soup studded with garlic.

Even within these two categories, the spread is varied. There is Mexican menudo, a peppery soup made with kallu and hominy, and Polish milk soup, which author Olga Mecking described for “Roads & Kingdoms” as basic “warm milk, sometimes served with pearl barley, oats or with zacierki – tiny dumplings made from grate the pasta dough directly into the soup. ” There is caldo de costilla, packed with ribs and potatoes, and Cambodian kuy teav.

Expand even more to include dishes like congee or jook that span the line between porridge and casserole, and the options for breakfast are seemingly limitless. In the last few weeks, writers – including myself – have heralded the start of the soup season; If you do not already have a habit, let this be the year where you take it seriously enough to also start your winter days with it.

Some of our favorite soup recipes:

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