For National Soup Month, a look at some of the soups that define the Bay Area.
by Alexander Quebec
Growing up in the multicultural mix that is the San Francisco Bay Area, you’re often exposed to a lot of things most other people in the country may not normally be exposed to, food items being no exception. As the lure of fast money in the tech sector combined with amazing climate and world class amenities, people from all over the world come to the Bay Area (in spite of the high cost of living and rent, but I digress) bringing along with them a taste of home.
While we’re spared from the blizzards and flurries of the East Coast, we still get a winter chill during the month of January, in addition to a lot of rain (if we’re lucky). When the temps dip down past 50 degrees (Shut up Canada!) many of us take comfort in a bowl of piping hot, savory soups. Being in the Bay Area, we’re given many options to have for dinner, but what’s truly amazing are the soups that seem to have a strong and fervent following here.
We can’t start this list without a nod to the rich culinary heritage we have here in the Bay. We have some decent clam chowder this side of New England, and we invented cioppino. The fishermen from all over the world who came here to make the bay home have given the Bay a solid foundation of seafood soups, all accompanied by a freshly baked loaf of SF’s world famous sourdough bread (all due to bacteria native to the bay).
Due to the large Mexican-American population and California’s Mexican heritage going back all the way to the 1800s, menudo is here to stay. A popular soup for post New Year’s revelry (or any time a post hangover cure is required) menudo tends to be a very polarizing soup as you either love the chewy intestines and firm hominy or hate it. Some people enjoy its intestine free cousin known as pozole, but either way, menudo is one soup staple for the Bay.
We’re not talking about the shit in the cups the rest of the country (Except Hawaii) seems to be okay with (although let’s be honest, we’ve eaten those when money was tight, so it’s more of a necessity than a full out desire). Many arguments have been fought over which ramen joint is the best, some people love the ones in Japantown in the city, other people love Santouka inside the Mitsuwa market in San Jose. Either way, Having a few ramen joints in your restaurant repertoire is always a good idea.
Hot Pot is relatively new to the Bay food scene (I use that word loosely) but it has made an impact on the food scene in so many ways. Hot pot is the answer to the question “How can I get to eat a ton of shit without going overboard?”. Many hot pot places offer add ons in addition to the 10 to 12 items you already get. Somewhat similar to hot pot is Shabu Shabu, where the meat is served raw and you cook it in the broth. Unlike Hot Pot, Shabu Shabu is a communal experience best enjoyed with a friend or three.
We can’t end this list without Pho, one of the juggernauts of the Bay Area food scene. There are only two certainties for sure: San Jose has the best Pho in the area and pho is one of those best late night foods shared amongst friends and family, hell, even those forever alone types like me find comfort in a bowl of Pho every now and then. Wanna find the best place? Ask your Vietnamese friends and colleagues, but be warned, pho place debates can be as intense as the ramen ones, so play it safe and try them all.
Edit: Added the name of that one place inside Mitsuwa Supermarket.