We all know soup. It is nutritious, satisfying, warming in cold weather, refreshing in the heat, an appetizer, a full meal, even a dessert — all of which make soup the ideal, all-purpose, year-round favorite turn-to dish.
It also is absurdly easy to make and serve. Even kids can do it. Open a can or a carton, add liquid to a dry mix, heat it on the stove or in a microwave, season if you want, stir and serve.
Better yet, it’s easy make your own, starting with some bones and vegetable scraps, or even ready prepared broth as a base, simmering slowly, tasting, adding seasonings and ingredients — meat, vegetables, beans, whatever — as it cooks to concoct your own endless variety of flavorful, fragrant, nourishing, usually inexpensive, soups.
In this era of super-convenience, though, many local markets with their own kitchens (Whole Foods, Balducci’s, Wegmans, some Giants and Safeways among them) have taken over the job of cooking and now offer their own versions of “homemade” soup. Some are surprisingly good. And of course, most restaurants have one or more specialty soups, and some of those also are very good.
While, especially in restaurants, soup is used as a starter or appetizer, for many cultures and from many kitchens, soup is, or can be, the meal. Fairfax County’s amazing diversity of both ethnic restaurants and talented chefs provides the opportunity to try some of the soups that are staples in other parts of the world or too complex and time-consuming to try in your own kitchen.
Below are a few restaurants where you can find special soups. Many, but not all, are Asian, as many Asian cuisines specialize in soup-based meals. The list is not in any particular order; it does, however, provide a brief guide to what to look for and some restaurants where you can find unusual and delicious soups. You won’t find some of them, such as those from Burma and Laos, in many restaurants; others you will.
Thai Luang, 171 Elden St., Herndon, 703-478-2233. Forget the more familiar Thai lemon grass or coconut milk chicken and shrimp soups and try the main dish attraction here, the addictive specialty Duck Noodle Soup, with wide rice noodles, slices of crispy duck and bean sprouts mingled in a spicy duck broth.
Mediterranee, 10123 Colvin Run Road, Great Falls, 703-757-9300. In the south of France, bouillabaisse is made with fish and shellfish fresh from local waters. This version may not be quite the same, but with assorted fresh fish and seafood cooked in a rich saffron broth and served with rouille and garlic bread, it is a worthy local substitute.
Present, 6678 Arlington Blvd., Falls Church, 703-531-1881. Vietnam offers far more soups than the popular pho, as Present’s choices of noodle soups and cac mno canh (soups) show. These soups have poetic names, such as Open Field in the Sunset, an unusual sweet/sour broth filled with fish, fresh bean sprouts and herbs; or Sweet Home, a South Vietnamese purple yam soup with minced pork, shrimp and fresh herbs.
X.O. Taste, 6124 Arlington Blvd., Falls Church, 703-536-1630. In addition to the expected wonton and sweet-and-sour soups, this Chinese restaurant offers hearty Hong Kong style noodle soups with brisket, pork belly, tripe, pork or meatballs, and more elaborate crab meat and shark fin or crab meat and fish maw soups for two.
Myanmar, 7810 C Lee Highway, Falls Church, 703-289-0013.You can add your own heat to Mohingar, the classic Burmese fish noodle soup, or you can try the hot and spicy lemongrass soup with tilapia, shrimp, tomato, tofu, mushrooms, green beans, cauliflower, fresh lime and cilantro, or any one of six other Burmese soups.
Bangkok Golden, 6395 Seven Corners Center, Falls Church, 703-536-9480. Skip the Thai and try one of the not-often-found Laotian soups, perhaps one with chicken, ginger, lemongrass, taramind juice and tomato, or one of the heartier rice noodle soups such as the rice noodles with coconut, lemongrass, galangal, ginger and chile served with shredded cabbage, bean sprouts and carrots, with a choice of minced fish with fish balls, chicken or beef.
Saigon Pho Style, 281 Sunset Park Drive, Herndon, 703-435 9573/Pho Sate, 2814 Graham Road, Falls Church, 703-698-8088. Pho is the classic Vietnamese soup, and Fairfax County has more than its fair share of good restaurants that specialize in pho, a beef noodle soup, and ga, its cousin made with chicken, and these two are among the best. A variety of beef cuts can be added to the rich pho broth, while only chicken is added to ga, but both have rice noodles and you add fresh herbs, bean sprouts, sliced chilis, a squeeze or two of fresh lime and hot sauce to taste, then enjoy any hour of the day or night, as the Vietnamese do.
Woo Lae Oak, 8240 Leesburg Pike, Vienna, 703-827-7300. Soups are an integral part of Korean meals, which means great variety, and you’ll find some of these soups at most Korean restaurants. Woo Lae Oak’s Mandu Guk, a dumpling soup with sliced beef, scallions and vermicelli noodles in a mild beef broth; and Wooguji Galbi Tang, a spicy beef short rib soup with seasoned cabbage, tofu and scallions, are two outstanding, but very different, examples.
Harth, Tysons Hilton, 7920 Jones Branch Road, McLean, 703-761-5131. The amazing Six Onion Soup, with its soft onion, rich and fragrant broth, a cover of melted Gruyere, and sourdough croutons, is hearty (and filling) enough to be a stand-alone main dish, maybe with a small salad and/or one of the restaurant’s signature desserts. The same is true of Harth’s Saffron Mussel Bisque, served with peasant bread.
Blue Ocean, 9440 Main Street, Fairfax, 703-425-7555. If you can manage to move beyond the tempting sushi, sashimi, tempura, teriyaki and other Japanese favorites on the menu, in the evening the kitchen produces a variety of both hot and cold noodle soups, ramen, udon and soba, served with a choice of scallions, beef, seaweed or tempura, among others.
La Caraquena, 300 West Broad St., Falls Church, 703-533-0076. The Sopa de Mani, or Bolivian peanut soup, is not offered as a main dish, but the smooth, creamy soup with rice, bits of fried potatoes and cilantro might well be, as could the Sopa de Frijoles, the Latin-style bean soup with Spanish sausage topped with white cheese and micro cilantro.
Sarita's, 2794 Graham Road, Falls Church, 703-533-9448. Two specialties, Sopa de Res with beef short ribs and Sopa de Mondongo with tripe and feet, are served only Saturday and Sunday, though Sopa de Mariscos, fish soup with or without cream; and Mariscada a la Crema con huevos, brimming with seafood, shrimp, crab and lobster with egg, are served daily.