The Search for Noodle Soup With Chicken In It
(by Nina Mrose)
I spent most of my college semester in London battling the British version of the flu. The perpetual cold, damp weather didnít help much. Nor did my flatmatesí legendary partying that won my living room the nickname "Club Flat 10." The labels on over-the-counter cold medicines in the drug store might as well have been written in Greek. So, during a particularly miserable day, I resorted to calling my mother in New Jersey to ask for advice.
"Chicken soup," was her reply, "preferably hot and clear."
It was a simple prescription, but difficult to fill in a country that likes soups creamy. (I hadnít seen a soup that escaped the blender since I arrived at Heathrow.) I consulted England on $45 a Day, and located a famous kosher restaurant across town. It was clear across London, but I figured there could be no better place to get some nice Jewish (hot, clear) chicken soup, so I headed out.
By the time I traveled an hour on the tube, I was feeling decidedly worse. At least the scene in the restaurant was welcoming. A long, glass deli case filled with knishes, kugels, pickled herring, chopped liver and other delicacies stretched across the room. Salamis hung from the ceiling over the case. Seated at a small table, I thought, "This is a little piece of home that slid across the Atlantic." Ah, the Motherland. I smiled at a group of Hassidic men in a nearby booth. They ignored me.
I turned my attention to the menu. To my horror, no chicken soup was listed. I asked the waitress, "Do you have soup?"
She replied, "Soup of the day is minestrone."
Minestrone? My sense of being home away from home was shattered.
Miserable, I slurped my mediocre minestrone soup. I coughed and blew my nose loudly, hoping subconsciously that a little Jewish grandmother hiding in the kitchen would take pity on me and come up with the some chicken soup. No such luck. The waitress gave me a dirty look and the Hassidic men continued to ignore me. So much for the Motherland.
When I got back to the flat I called my mother again, and whined pathetically, "There is no hot, clear chicken soup to be had in London."
"Well, try wonton soup. That will work."
Yes. Wonton soup. I can do that. Chinatown is a mere eight blocks away!
I started out in the general direction of Chinatown. By this time, my fever was raging and I was probably borderline delirious. Even though I had made the trip thirty times, I got lost, and found myself in a creepy-looking alley. When I turned to retrace my steps I noticed a small, dingy looking restaurant. Ducks and a variety of other critters hung in the grease-stained window. Beside the door was taped a faded menu, and on that menu I spotted "Soup." I scanned down the list:
Noodle soup with pork
Noodle soup with prawns
Noodle soup with chicken
Inside, the restaurant was dark, the air heavy with cigarette smoke. A Chinese family sat, talking and eating at a table toward the back. Otherwise the place was empty.
A young women approached, herded me toward a table and slapped down a menu. It barely resembled the one in the window and was missing the all important entry: "Noodle soup with chicken." I asked the girl if it would be possible to get the noodle soup with chicken. She looked at me blankly. I tried again, "Could I get the noodle soup, with chicken in it?" The girl shook her head in frustration and disappeared.
A few minutes later an older women appeared, clearly the mother. She asked me what I would like.
I cleared my very horse voice. "I would like noodle soup." I pointed to the appropriate menu item, "with chicken in it."
Confusion. Blank stares.
"Please, I just want the noodle soup with chicken."
The women disappeared and I heard increasingly enthusiastic chatter coming from the back of the room.
I was next approached by a small man, clearly the patriarch, who looked about 110 years old. He was flanked by a younger man wearing a messy apron. The old man smiled broadly and asked me what I would like.
I spoke very slowly, "I would like the noodle soup--with chicken in it."
"Noodle soup with chicken in it?"
"Yes, yes, thatís right! Noodle soup with chicken."
He smiled again, then turned and yelled at his younger companion in Chinese. The old man tapped me on the shoulder and nodded, then disappeared.
The volume of chatter coming from the back of the room continued to rise. I didnít care. All I could think of was how much I wanted that noodle soup with chicken in it.
It arrived about ten minutes later, escorted by an entourage consisting of the waitress, her mother, the patriarch, a few cousins, and pretty much everyone else in the restaurant. A huge bowl was placed in front of me containing noodle soup with a chicken in it--the whole chicken, feet and all. They had courteously hacked the bird into quadrants with a cleaver. To eat this, I was provided with chopsticks. Then the group gathered around to watch.
I was there, working on that soup, for what seemed like about six hours. I woke the next morning in my flat with no recollection of how I got home, but feeling surprisingly better. Absent the delirium, and no matter how much I looked, I never found that restaurant again.