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Mar 18, 2012 02:04 AM

Hot & Sour Soup

Alright...I know that foodies have for the most part stopped bothering with hot & sour soup, but I've been addicted to the stuff since I was about 12 years old (I first remember seeing it around Philly a lot in the early 80's). I know that dumpling noodle soups and such have become more the thing. Still, my heart cries out for delicious hot & sour soup!

What makes for great hot & sour soup? In my humble opinion, it should be a bit vinegary, peppery, a bit mushroom-y, and every bite should have different textures...some silky, some crispy and crunchy. It should not be sweet, thick or gloppy. I truly believe that so many places making lousy hot & sour soup is what pushed it out of favor with my fellow food lovers.

Does anyone here have any recommendations for where I should go for a hot & sour soup fix?

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  1. While not a fan of chains by any means, I find P.F. Chang's hot and sour soup to be very close to meeting all of your requirements. The cup is substantial enough but if you order the bowl for $3 more, you will have a bodacious amount to bring home.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Chefpaulo

      *Sigh* I am flashing on the old days, when every reasonably decent Chinese restaurant in Philadelphia had delicious hot & sour soup...

      1. re: StrandedYankee

        Agreed. Most are too gloppy with cornstarch or unreasonably spiced. Changs' reminds me of the soup I enjoyed years ago in Shanghai - nicely balanced and replete with shoots, golden needle, tofu and wood ear. I had forgotten about Yang Ming. Their interpretation is interesting.

        1. re: Chefpaulo

          Hot & sour soup started doing downhill in the 90's, I think. Places started way over-thickening it, and they stared adding a lot of sugar. For a while, a lot of places were serving hot & sour soup that almost tasted like BBQ sauce. That seems to have stopped, and the most egregiously gloppy soups have disappeared, but now so many of them are kinda bland. Pardon me, chef, but I am ordering something called HOT & SOUR soup. I am not going to be upset if it turns out to be spicy and vinegary! Also, I'm not angry when my chocolate pudding turns out to taste chocolatey.

          However, I can add a bit of vinegar and chili oil at the table to make more flavor in the soup. No, it's not the same as being served a bowl of wonderful hot & sour soup, but it can still be tasty. The thing that seems to have disappeared in hot & sour soup that makes me incredibly sad is the wonderful textures that would make each bite of soup a bit different from the last. I can adjust the flavor a bit, but the textures are as they are. Some textures were crispy, some were silky, some were slippery, some were rough, some to a westerner were even a bit odd...but they made for a dish that started and stayed interesting the whole time you were eating. They seem to be using fewer different ingredients with texture, and less quantity of those ingredients as well.

    2. I seem to recall that Lee How Fouk (11th and Spring) had an excellent hot & sour. It's been a few years, can anyone else confirm?

      4 Replies
      1. re: Sloth

        While LHF is not the same since Doris and Shiang turned over cooking and running the place to family, their Hot n' Sour is coming back. Need to add a bit of hot pepper oil, but quite worthy.

        1. re: Delucacheesemonger

          Can't be that good then. Good Chinese chow requires no additional seasoning at the table.

          1. re: Delucacheesemonger

            That's too bad. I used to love their hot and sour soup. And I never used to like it, probably because so many places just make the gloppy corn starch version. It came in a gigantic bowl that served three people easily and it was truly spicy. The rest of their menu was good too although the last time I ate there was probably in 2001. I believe people still thought it was good as recently as 2007

        2. My husband still loves the hot & sour soup at Lee How Fook, even though we no longer give the restaurant a high ranking. Worth a try.
          He also enjoys the version at Yang Ming in Bryn Mawr. Of course, we love just about everything there.

          1. Square on Square in Center City does this kind of fare very well.

            9 Replies
            1. re: barryg

              When you say "this kind of fare", what do you mean? Classic Chinatown dishes? Spicy or vinegary fare? Something else? If I'm honest, I'd also really LOVE to find a place still making an egg roll worth eating. Not a spring roll, an egg roll where the shell is crispy/chewy, the cabbage still had some life in it, and the pork and shrimp have real texture and flavor.

              1. re: StrandedYankee

                LHF has an eggroll of which you speak, classic chinese-american Cantonese

                1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                  Lee How Fouk has been a favorite of mine since...Was it the mid-90's that I first found them? When I go next, I will be sure to get the egg roll.

                2. re: StrandedYankee

                  Sorry, I mean Chinese-American food that is actually good. Not quite like the Chinatown places, but classic dishes that are not gloppy, bland or overly greasy.

                  1. re: barryg

                    That would be a real find for me. When I was a very young child, my parents ran a business near downtown, and we ate in Chinatown 2 or 3 nights a week. Back in 1974, I'll bet that I was the only Caucasian 3 year old in the Western Hemisphere whose favorite foods list included hot & spicy bean curd. My parents were partial to Ho Sai Gai (but who wasn't back in those days), a place called The Mayflower, and my Dad's favorite was the Imperial Inn (think 1974-1978, people, not current day). I remember as a kid going into places in Chinatown with my mom when they weren't busy, and seeing a large table in the corner full of kitchen staff and they were filling egg rolls, wontons and other dumplings. Once upon a time, every place in Chinatown did that.

                    So where is Square on Square? How are their prices? Any particular recommendations?

                    1. re: StrandedYankee

                      1900 block of Chestnut. I wouldn't say its worth a special trip but outside of Chinatown its the only place I've found recently that does Chinese-American and caters to non-Chinese but actually puts care into the product, e.g., fresh thin skinned wantons instead of the thick doughy ones. Very refreshing. No particular recs, I've only eaten there a handful of times and I'm not sure the soup will be up to your standards but its way better than the glop most places serve. I even had terrible hot and sour in Chinatown recently, at Charles Plaza, not gloppy but tasted like dishwater.

                      1. re: barryg

                        That is HEARTBREAKING! Oh my, I always LOVED Charles Plaza, and their H&S soup was always delicious. Was the other stuff you ordered good? I always loved their Seafood in Birds Nest and their steamed fish with ginger.

                        1. re: StrandedYankee

                          No, it was all bland and unsatisfying, as well as skimpy on the portions. Spring rolls were dripping with grease. The fish dish we had, I forget exactly how it was prepared, was probably the best thing but I only got a small taste. The General Tso's chicken was also ok. This was with a very large group, fixed menu, maybe if the ordering would have been different or not served as a banquet it would have been better. Then again, lot of people like it, maybe I don't share that taste. Also I admit to be taken off guard and perhaps biased because they don't serve pork, which seems awfully silly for a Chinese restaurant.

                          1. re: barryg

                            Well, their concept of serving Chinese "health food" was their gimmick, but at least they used to back it up with fresh, tasty, well-made food.