The sign said “Noodle Soup + Good Time.” I was sold. I hobbled towards the softly lit shack, oversized backpack in tow, complete with a week’s worth of clothing and toiletries. Nothing would get in the way of me + noodle soup + a good time. I was already salivating at the thought of the savory broth, perfectly blended with spices, herbs, beef, hitting my lips in a precisely shaped spoon that cups the simmering liquid in perfect scoops. Every bone, muscle, tendon, and inkling of the animal was put to use to make a hearty meal – a perfect meal. What an incredible option for a lone traveler. The bowl brought a taste of home, although I hadn’t grown up in Southeast Asia and my mother was not a Thai woman from Bangkok. Soup reaches the soul, no matter where you come from. No matter how hot or how cold the day, warm liquid eases all pains and aches.
Is that not why they call it “soup for the soul?”
I slowly opened the door and stepped in, hoping that despite my rather shoddy appearance, I could gain respect by showing respect for the quaint establishment. I entered quietly, briskly and, as much is possible for a patron seeking food, efficiently. I wanted to avoid the stereotype of the Ugly American (i.e. inefficient, loud, dirty, in a Chang Beer shirt, and possibly already drunk). Though this type of backpacker had become a standard staple in this region over the past half decade, I was not here for tomfoolery. I was here for the food.
I was hurriedly ushered to a table for one (it’s possible I was being too passive in my great strain to show respect, hovering eagerly by the door). I sat down, happily. Immediately I was given a laminated menu with three options, pictures included (God Bless). Fruit Shake, beef soup, or pork soup. I narrowed my options down, after some hefty contemplation, to the beef soup. When the only options on the menu are all soup, you know you’ve come to the right place.
A hurried woman brought a piping hot bowl moments later. I bowed my head (still straining to show respect). The woman did not seem so impressed, but gave me a quick nod and continued with her business. Under ordinary circumstances, my immediate reaction would’ve been to dwell on this woman’s slight-scowl-reaction and plot ways to win over her affection. Yet, these were no ordinary circumstances. I was in Thailand and I came here to eat.
The medley was of a beautiful golden-brown color. Inside laid a deep array of deliciousness. Thin, freshly cooked rice noodles expanded throughout the soup, slices of meat, intestine, other random chewy things I could not identify, floated joyfully in a sea of serenity.
I first spooned the broth, carefully and slowly to savor the flavor. I took my time. I wanted to enjoy each sip. Only after a few moments, once satisfied, I picked up chopsticks to dig in. The noodles were perfectly chewy, soft, and clearly made with love. I became slightly more adventurous, and went for a bite of meat that honestly looked like a sponge that may or may not have seen better days. I chewed – at first, cautiously, then, willingly, then I devoured the entire piece ferociously. This went on for some time. This is what love felt like, I thought. As my bowl slowly and steadily depleted, as the broth turned cold and lost the piping hot passion it once had, I realized it was over. I had crushed this bowl of soup. I was at first sad, but then I remembered – chin up. There are always more bowls of soup out there.
I paid my 60 baht, with a nice tip for the scowling Thai woman, hoping she’d develop a more favorable view of backpacking types – or, at least us foodie types.