Soup’s on!

“I put instant soup in the microwave and almost went back in time.”

In homage to Steven Wright, there’s a great double-ententre here. Instant dehydrated and canned condensed soups, though popular in a few old school recipes, are a throwback to our childhood. Today, soup can be had fresh with nary a can or package in sight.


When people talk clam chowders, they speak in terms of geography: New England (cream base) or Manhattan (broth and tomato base). Here on the West Coast, New England is more popular and readily available. There are better clam chowders to be had, but no one can beat Boudin Bakery’s Fisherman’s Wharf (160 Jefferson Street at Taylor, 928-1849) for its kitschy milieu. Started in 1849 by French immigrants (which is appropriate since the word, “chowder” derives from the French word “chaudron” meaning “cauldron”), the Boudin family originated the sourdough French bread, then poured in their already famous clam chowder. Served in its edible bowl, this savory soup of velvety cream with chunks of potato and clams hits the spot on a cold, blustery day on the Wharf.


San Francisco has about 250 Chinese restaurants, so how do you pick just one when you’ve got a hankering for wonton soup? Easy. Don’t go to Chinatown but head towards the Haight to the perpetually populous Citrus Club (1790 Haight Street near Shrader, 387-6366). Here you’ll unearth a treasure trove of Asian soups that are all quite tasty but their heavenly wonton soup is the best I’ve had. Shrimp wonton is a staple among Cantonese restaurants (pork is popular in Mandarin eateries) but this one rises above all others – a monster bowl filled with flavorful chicken broth, fresh bok choy, crunchy carrots, tender rice noodles and of course, gingery and slightly peppery shrimp wonton. If the Fountain of Youth came in soup form, this is it – one spoonful and you can’t help but feel you’ve just added ten years to your life.


In Japan, what noodle soup is more popular than udon, is high in fiber, protein and B-complex vitamins, symbolizes longevity and is traditionally eaten on New Years Eve? Soba, of course. This oddly colored buckwheat noodle can be eaten warm on cold nights, or served cold during the summer. In the inner Sunset, you’ll find the tastiest soba at the cozy and friendly Hotei (1290 9th Avenue near Judah, 753-6045). Ebisu’s eight-year-old sister restaurant specializes in Japanese noodles – somen, udon, and ramen but it’s the Tori Soba that soothes the soul. Sliced chicken in a rich broth with plenty of buckwheat noodles to slurp make for a delightfully satisfying, tummy warming, cold-fighting meal. Who knew grey noodles could be so nutritious AND delicious? Vegetarian and vegan requests are gladly accommodated as well.


When you think “tomato soup,” most people think “Campbell’s” -the tinny tasting, watery concoction served by Mom, or Andy Warhol’s famous tomato soup can painting which was inspired by the soup repeatedly served to him by his mother. But tomato soup has grown into something a bit more sophisticated by adding cream and turning it into bisque (although a true bisque is made from a seafood puree). Surprisingly, Safeway (multiple locations city-wide) has the corner on this creamy potage in their Tuscan Tomato and Basil Bisque. Zesty and ever so buttery, this rich and hearty soup can warm the chilliest of hearts. You can buy it in pre-packaged refrigerator containers to take home, or hot and ready to eat. Please note, however, this Signature Soup is not vegetarian (it has a chicken-broth base).


So when your pangs of hunger are calling out for something warm and soothing, push aside those insta-processed-dry-mix-in-a-cup-can-plastic-wrap soups and head out the door. Soup’s on and it’s served anytime.


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