Monday and Tuesday night were probably not the best nights to have slightly spicy soup. Stomach issues for the past week and a half have really put a damper on my appetite. But that’s really never stopped me from at least attempting to eat. My dad always said, “As long as you know you’ve tried your best…” I think he’d be proud of me right about now.
I went to Cascabel Taqueria on the Upper East Side on Monday night, alone, for some Sopa De Tortilla ($5) with chicken, queso fresco (fresh cheese), Mexican oregano, fried pasilla (big-ass, blackish-brown, medium-hot chile, aka “chile negro”) and tortilla. Then, Tuesday night, I met T and M at Galanga in the West Village for some $9.50 “Khao Soi” (according to New York Magazine) – aka “Chiangmai Curry Noodle” (according to the actual menu at the restaurant) – with tofu (or chicken, if you wish), mild yellow curry sauce, egg noodle, pickled cabbage (mmm!), crispy shallots, scallion, and red onions.
Got all those ingredients in your head? Good.
Eating by yourself at a public space is always interesting. A couple of years ago I wouldn’t have been able to brave it alone. But, in a city that never sleeps, any time you can take for yourself is precious – time to breathe, read a book or magazine, reflect about your career and relationships and figure out how you want to change the world…if you want to change the world.
Normally, a time of reflection would go well with a hot bowl of good soup, but I just wasn’t hungry at the time. I only went to Cascabel because I had a meeting in the area, and I wasn’t sure when I’d be back. With about 30 minutes to spare, I stood in line by the cashier for a few minutes before realizing I should just take a seat at the bar. The space was small, but it still had a lot of character with all the luchadores (think Nacho Libre) throughout, and it still felt comfortable and airy.
The bowl of Sopa de Tortilla came out in a simple, sleek, silver tray with two small lime wedges on
the side. The presentation excited me. So much going on in the bowl. The 6-inch long fried pasilla resting on top made me stop and say “whoah” before putting it aside. The abundance of light pink-ish/ivory chicken, fresh green cilantro, fried brown oregano, and red tomato made for a colorful palette to mix with the creamy white melted chunks of fresh cheese hiding at the bottom. The tortilla chips added some texture, providing a soft crunch to every bite, and the medium heat from the chile pieces gave me a slight wake-up call. But, unfortunately, I had to give myself a rest after only three spoonfuls and asked for the rest of it to go. I tried to eat more when I got home a few hours later, but, by that time, the tortilla chips had selfishly soaked up most of the liquid. I’ll beat them to it next time!
* * * * *
Tuesday night, the Chiangmai Curry Noodle Soup at Galanga had some relatively high expectations to meet: T is Thai, but that’s exactly why I told her she had to come with me. Interestingly enough, when we were chatting about this a few days before, she said she had never actually eaten this dish since it was from a different region of Thailand. She was still Thai, though, and would know much more than I would.
I took a look at the menu and almost had a heart attack since I couldn’t find “Khao Soi” anywhere. I looked through a second time, and finally noticed that the restaurant called it something else entirely. Phew! My noodle soup ended up being pretty darn big, and I, surprisingly, ate the whole darn thing, leaving only a few spoonfuls of broth.
Does that mean I thought it was the best bowl of noodle soup I’ve ever had? Definitely not. The small, extra firm, medium-sized chunks of tofu somehow didn’t fit in. They should maybe think about cutting them into much smaller slices, like the rest of the ingredients. Or maybe that’s my OCD-ness talkin’. I took out most of the raw red onions since my stomach yells at me every time I eat too much. The pickled cabbage, however, made me smile. The vinegary sourness contrasted well with everything else. The broth was not overwhelmingly creamy from the coconut milk, but it definitely needed an extra kick of something to save it from a slight blandness, as T mentioned. We also agreed that the noodles were overcooked for our tastes. More al dente, please! Perhaps a texture between the soft, main noodles and the fried, crispy birds nest sitting on top. But, overall, it obviously satisfied me since there was barely anything left. I’d probably have it again if I was in the area and craved something like this.
During dinner, and well after our dishes were removed, T, M and I had a pretty lively night just chatting and laughing away. It was a nice change from the quiet night before. This is the second time it was just the three of us hanging out, and there was no shortage of new stories, revelations and observations about each other. These are two generous women who give a lot to their friends and who have a much higher tolerance than I do for those that have “unique” personalities. I feel lucky that they put up with my low tolerance, and they can feel lucky that my low tolerance has welcomed them into my world. ;p
What I’ve learned from these friendships and from two books I’ve recently read* is that one person alone has the ability to begin the process for extraordinary change. But it’s the generosity of many along the way who help kick you into gear, keep you going and fulfill your dreams.
*Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time, and The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between the Rich and the Poor in an Interconnected World
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