Eating has always been a lifeline for me. I have such vivid memories attached to flavours and I think that’s why we make the foods our parents and grandparents made because they feel like home. Food tastes better differently to everyone because it’s not just how your tongue tastes it but how your memory absorbed it.
Soup is a big one for me as I still make my grandfathers “vegetable” soup with beef shin and pasta. It reminds me of being a child on the plot. Playing in the veld with icy toes because the dew wet your shoes. Then walking back to the farmhouse with the sun on our backs in the evening. The smell of that soup takes me back to their house when the fire was burning in the old coal stove and the scent permeated the air. The softness of my Ouma’s hands as she ladled into our bowls. Crusty thick bread and so much butter.
Soup is a theme in my life, I would look for soup wherever I went. It gave me a little bit of home when I was far away and California gave me some great food memories.
Creamy tomato soup with grilled cheese toasties at a Motel in Calabasas. Which meant great views but tiny rooms. I sat outside at a picnic bench with my soup (microwaved in the lobby) a sandwich and breathed in the frozen air off the mountains, the Malibu Hills outline just a blue strip in sky.
Wonton soup from Whole Foods, in a tall weird clear container. Delicate prawn wontons floating in a clear broth with bak choi, spring onions and Chinese spinach leaves. I grew really fond of their Asian food offering as they nailed the flavor profile. We didn’t always have a kitchen and eating junk food there is a slippery slope. You can so easily get sucked into terrible habits when a salad is more expensive than a sandwich, you’ll always take the sandwich. Whole Foods became a haven, the food was pricy but always worth it.
Matzo ball soup from a Jewish deli. Our sponsor and friend had us over for dinner, He was just getting over a cold and the only thing he wanted was this soup and it had to be from Brent’s deli in Westlake Hills. So we told them to order for all of us and we would pick it up on the way there. The place was madness and had a que out the door, it was in this weird, out of the way, strip mall. Completely unexpected but dinner was just amazing. We sat at their kitchen counter, we were all given spoons to taste each dish. Hot Pastrami with sauerkraut , Beef and lentil soup, and to my utter surprise, one of the best soups I’ve eaten. That Matzo ball soup tasted like a mom had made it. Our host was sent back home with it, telling us stories of his childhood in New York.
Vegan Ramen from a foodstall at Grand Central Market, which is a trip in itself. It’s in a historic part of Downtown Los Angeles, it’s a fresh market with old school butcheries and grocers as well as hosting renowned eateries like Eggslut and Ramenhood. It was my first experience of Ramen and it was really bizarre. The egg was made from plant protein in the shape of a real egg, barbequed eggplant that tasted like pork, mushroom broth and handmade noodles. This might sound super gross but it was such an experience. Sitting in the busy market at a bar, experiencing all these sensations with all that noise around you.
Pork Tonkotsu Ramen from a restaurant in Venice Beach, with master stocks boiling away in front of you as you eat at a tiny counter facing the kitchen. That was all they served, and there were people on a waiting list just to get thirty minutes inside to eat their soup. It was incredible.
Lastly ,but not least, Pho from a strip mall in San Diego. We had had a long day driving from Woodland hills, we were visiting a friend and my partner had a meeting. It was an exhaustively hot day and I felt like I needed something nourishing, maybe tasting a little home made. I saw a sign for Pho close to our hotel, walked across and ordered, of which I pronounced wrong and the cashier had a chuckle at me. It was pricy and I wasn’t sure that this would be worth it. I was handed a massive container of clear broth, thin raw beef wrapped in paper, cut up limes, jalapeño, coriander, ginger, amaranth and Thai basil. Then handed another bowl of noodles. On the table of a hotel kitchenette, I sat and feasted with all my little containers. Trying different garnishes while leaving the beef in the scorching broth to poach. It was such a new but wonderful experience and gave me the confidence to order it out. Pronouncing it properly now I hope.
I was very lucky to be able to eat at so many places in LA. Finding eateries on Instagram and trying to figure out how to get there, checking if the area was okay to drive to. Did we need to bus or Uber? Then looking up the reviews on Yelp to make sure it wasn’t dreadful and a waste of time. Finding so many unexpected and wonderful spots, it was a food adventure where I knew I would be eating something that was good for my soul. Take me a home for a little while.
I wanted to include my Oupa’s soup recipe here as it means a great deal to me. Spreading joy in food is why I love eating and making soup for people. This kind of food is what is passed down through families because it’s easy and can feed loads of people you love.
Oupa’s “vegetable” soup
2 shin bones
A little olive oil for browning
Soup pack from Impala grocer ( celery, carrots, turnips, parsley )
About 4 tablespoons of Ina Parma’s beef stock
Water to cover
About a Handful of Pasta (what ever you have, Oupa always used macaroni)
Peel and chop vegetables in similar sized cubes and set aside
Heat a little oil in a large stock pot and brown
shin quickly both sides
Remove beef and add a little water to deglaze the pot, fry vegetable with a bit more oil until they start to smell good
Add the beef, water and stock and simmer on low for about 3 hours. When the meat has fallen off the bone add pasta and cook for a further 7 minutes. Add more hot water if there isn’t enough to submerge the pasta.
Serve hot, enjoy, smell and taste a little moment of my history
PS. Always pick out the sad looking veg. If it’s not fresh it’s bitter.