When we woke up on Saturday morning, rain was pouring down and flooding the streets, there was a chill in the air, and Joe was complaining that he was coming down with a cold. There was only one thing to be done: Chinese noodle soup.
This is another treat I was introduced to in New York, at the now-defunct Mee Noodle on First Avenue. Like Vietnamese pho or Jewish matzo ball soup, it’s one of those comforting soups with curative properties. And damn, is it tasty. My friend Lynn, who’s Taiwanese, had raved about this place, but we hadn’t been there yet. Clearly it was time.
We arrived at Nan Zhou‘s little shop on Race Street (between 9th and 10th), shook off our umbrellas, and were seated at a big round table with a Chinese family. The menu was short and sweet: appetizer platters of various meats (beef intestine, sliced beef, jellyfish), and noodle soup with your choice of meat. I ordered roast duck, and Joe got beef brisket. You can add a egg, marinated or fried, for fifty cents, so I took marinated and Joe took fried.
If you’re choosing your seat at Nan Zhou, try to face the back, because the fun part is watching the noodle-makers at work. All of Nan Zhou’s noodles are pulled by hand on the premises, and it’s an amazing skill to watch in action. (If you’re a fan of Tony Bourdain’s show No Reservations, you’ve seen it in a few of his China shows!) The dough is rolled into a cylinder and stretched as far as the noodle man’s arms will go. Then he doubles it over like a length of yarn, twists it, rolls it, stretches it, and doubles it again. This continues until there are lots of thin, slightly irregularly shaped noodles. He then divides them into portions, and they’re boiled and served in a meaty broth.
For five dollars (or less, depending on what you pick), you get a huge bowl of soup with a generous portion of meat, lots of noodles, cilantro, mustard greens and optional egg. I was impressed with the portion of duck I received– just as I thought I’d run out, another meaty piece of duck would come floating up from under my noodles. The skin was richly flavored in a warm-spice marinade, and the presence of fat and bones caused the broth to get darker and richer as I ate. Joe had the same experience with his beef, which was tender and just a little spicy. The noodles themselves were lovely: fresh, yeasty and flavorful, and surprisingly light. The marinated egg turned out to be marinated in vinegar and hard-boiled– it disintegrated into the soup and added an extra layer of flavor and protein.
We left Nan Zhou warmed, satisfied, and feeling better about the world. I’ll definitely be back, and I was happy to note that they open at 10 am– early enough for me to stop by for a takeout lunch on my way to work! I don’t recommend it if you’re gluten-free or vegetarian. If not, though, it’s definitely worth your time.
[where: 927 Race St in Philadelphia, PA,19019]