Chinese Hot And Sour Soups–Dozen Best
When hot and sour soup was introduced to lovers of Chinese food in New Orleans, it created a sensation. Until that time, Chinese soups were noted for their blandness. Eggs drop soup and wonton soups were given a pass by palates accustomed to much more robust potages. Those same palates went wild when Andy Tsai of the Dragon’s Garden added hot and sour soup to his menu in the mid-1970s. It wasn’t long before it spread to all other Chinese restaurants.
And beyond. Because Asian restaurateurs are eager to please their customers, after enough people asked for hot and sour soup in Vietnamese and Thai places, the soup appeared. Some of these are better than in a lot of Chinese places. Beware, however: both cuisines have their own soups under the hot-and-sour name, and are very different from the Chinese version. Many restaurants have both kinds.
A well-made hot and sour soup doesn’t come from a pot on the stove, but is made to order. The standard ingredients are matchstick-size strips of pork, fresh mushrooms, water chestnuts, and beaten eggs (added the same way they are to egg drop soup, making petals in the chicken broth). The hotness comes from hot red pepper flakes; the sour is that of rice wine vinegar. The soup is usually thickened up a little with cornstarch.
A great hot and sour soup begins subtly and build in flavor as you eat, such that you wind up eating more of it than you thought you would.
1. Trey Yuen. Mandeville: 600 Causeway Blvd. 985-626-4476. Perfect texture and flavor, with fresh everything. They serve you a cup, and you might want another.
2. Five Happiness. Mid-City: 3605 S Carrollton. 504-482-3935. A mainstay of the menu since the restaurant opened. A must-order dish every time I go there.
3. Cafe East. Metairie: 4628 Rye. 504-888-0078. An elegant presentation and first-class ingredients.
4. Royal China. Metairie: 600 Veterans Blvd. 504-831-9633. Not only is this an excellent soup, but you get a bowl so large that you wonder how you’ll go on to an entree.
5. La Thai Cuisine. Uptown: 4938 Prytania. 504-899-8886 . Like most of the menu at La Thai, “Mama’s hot and sour soup” is a fusion dish. It’s lighter than the typical Chinese version, uses chicken instead of pork, and had a couple of offbeat ingredients (baby corn and bamboo shoots). But it’s convincingly delicious.
6. Sesame Inn. Mandeville: 408 N Causeway Blvd. 985-951-8888. A thick, made-to-order version that I never pass up.
7. Kim Son. Gretna: 349 Whitney Ave. 504-366-2489. The city’s oldest Vietnamese restaurant had to play that pretend-we’re-Chinese game early in its history. Remaining from those days is this great hot and sour soup.
8. Thai Spice. Covington: 1531 US 190. 985-809-6483. It’s hard to pull me away from Thai soups, but this place does Chinese hot and sour so well that I usually get it.
9. Jung’s Golden Dragon. Garden District: 3009 Magazine St. 504-891-8280. All of Jung’s many restaurants over the years have used a terrific recipe for hot and sour soup, with a shade more aromatic spice than most.
10. Hoa Hong 9 (Nine Roses). Gretna: 1100 Stephens. 504-366-7665. They cook both the pineapple-laced Viet hot and sour and the meatier Chinese version equally well.
11. China Rose. Metairie: 3501 N Arnoult. 504-887-3295. Not the restaurant it was when in Lakeview, but still good for the basics. Like hot and sour soup.
12. Pho Orchid. Metairie: 3117 Houma Blvd. 504-457-4188. Vietnamese food in a handsome, recently-renovated restaurant with enough range to include a good hot and sour soup.