The Perfect Soup Weather

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - April 05, 2006
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I thought we might make it all the way through the winter without doing a column on soup - but as the days get wetter and we head into our second month (!) of rain, steaming hot bowls of soup are the order of the day. Who can resist a bowl of piping hot saimin on a rainy day, or the deeply concentrated broth of rich oxtail, or a spicy bowl of Tom Yum with fragrant lemon grass?

And Hawaii has some great examples of the cultural journey soup has taken around the world. Anytime you get a craving, whether it’s for saimin, pho, oxtail, hot and sour, French onion, clam chowder or won ton with noodles, there’s a place in almost every neighborhood.

Here are a few of my (many) favorites.

Pho, the Vietnamese soup is hugely popular, and while there’s always a line on River Street, you can create your own at My Cahn on Maunakea Street by adding beef to massive bowls of noodles and stock. Accompanying platters of herbs, lettuce leaves, basil, cucumber and mint are more than enough for two.

Shige’s Saimin Stand in Wahiawa does great won ton mein and probably the best fresh noodles in Hawaii.

If you prefer your soup a little on the spicy side, then Thai Tom Yung is worth trying at several locations - Champa Thai on S. King Street and Phuket Thai (both Mililani and McCully locations) do a good job with this sweet and spicy dish, as does my “new” favorite Thai spot, Bangkok Thai on Kapahulu Avenue. Tom Yung with extra flavor and a lot of style comes in a bowl at Spices on S. King Street, where true Laotian food (the French-trained chef, Pony, is from Laos) is served along with a mixture of Thai and other Southeast Asian cuisine.

For oxtail soup, head to Kam Bowl (Kapiolani Coffee Shop is the official name) or to Mililani Golf Course Restaurant, where they serve an excellent meaty, flavorful “old-style” oxtail.

I have always really enjoyed the wonderful French onion soup at Nick’s Café in Mapunapuna - and it has to be one of the bargains of all time. So hot you can burn your mouth on the cheese if you don’t wait for a minute or two, it comes with a topping of Gruyere cheese and a side order of toasted bread. Wonderful! In Kaimuki, Covenant Café - which started life as a bookstore - has almost been taken over by its soup. It is more of a café/restaurant nowadays than a bookstore, and there’s even a soup calendar available for the addicts who go every day.

I love the creamy clam chowder at Panya, and the fabulously spicy Soondubu served in a clay pot at So Gong Dong. And I’m a huge fan of the roasted duck soup at Wah Kung in the 99 Ranch Market shopping mall.

For hot and sour soup, I don’t think you can do better than The Phoenix Chinese Restaurant in Hawaii Kai, where there is a real consistency to the taste - and a definite sourness to the soup. Don’t expect anything in the way of atmosphere, but the soup is really good.

There are wonderful soups, too, at some of our finest dining restaurants, and so many more soups I’d love to list but, as usual, space is of the essence. By the time you’ve worked your way through this lot, maybe the rain will have stopped.

Happy eating!

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