During my final flight back to the U.S. after half a decade in the U.K., I tore a sheet from the SkyMall catalog and started a list. On it were all the foods I couldn’t wait to eat when I landed, dishes I had no chance of finding in the historic, yet frustratingly insular small English city where I had been studying.

Crusty, boat-shaped khachapuri stuffed with melted cheese and a still-runny egg were on the docket, as were swollen tapioca pearls suspended in lurid purple taro milk tea slush, not to mention wobbly galaktoboureko custard served with tiny cups of Greek coffee as assertive as an air horn. But at the very top of my list – the thing I planned to order on the taxi ride from the airport – was soup.

Soondubu jjigae, to be specific. 30,000 feet in the air, all I could imagine about eating that evening was a stone pot full of oniony, pork-belly broth, bobbing with soft tofu and red pepper flakes.

A few weeks ago, when I visited Portland’s Yobo restaurant on a snowy weekday, I was feeling both frozen from the inside out and a little nostalgic, so I ordered their version of this Korean classic. It got me thinking about the almost supernatural power of steaming broth, funky umami and a little spice. Together, this magical trio animates many Asian soups, giving them the ability to make January feel like June, at least as long as steam keeps rising from the bowl.

So as we slide into the nippiest part of the year, I’ve been compiling another list. This one I’m sharing with you: a brief guide to some of Portland’s best Asian soups. Here’s hoping it helps you track down something soothing and restorative when you’re feeling bulldozed by the winter chill.



Sichuan Kitchen’s spicy sour soup noodles (suan la tang mian, $10) is the hottest dish on this list. A distant cousin to ramen, made not with bouncy, alkaline noodles, but with angel-hair vermicelli, this Chengdu classic gets its distinct personality from the Sichuan peppercorns, white pepper and red chili oil that power its galloping heat. Don’t let the promise of numb lips put you off: Through a compensatory dose of Chinese black vinegar, Sichuan Kitchen’s suan la tang mian always tastes balanced. Better still, ginger-spiced ground pork and baby bok choi build substance and structure into this soup, making it an ideal lunch for someone under the (frigid) weather.

Bonus: Every Wednesday this winter, Sichuan Kitchen will be hosting a reservation-only Sichuan hotpot night ($30 per person, or $25 for a vegetarian option).

Sichuan Kitchen, 612 Congress St., Portland, 536-7226, sichuankitchenportland.com


Yobo’s kimchi tofu hotpot ($15) is an updated take on soondubu jjigae, the soup I dreamed about on that flight many years ago. Served roiling and bubbling violently in its black stone bowl, Chef Sunny Chang’s anchovy-based broth is full of all the usual suspects: hot pepper flakes, onion, cubes of daikon radish, and a freshly cracked egg that continues cooking as you slurp. But Yobo’s soondubu goes a step further than most, with the inclusion of chewy tteok, cylindrical rice noodles the size and shape of a short roll of dimes. The starchy tteok eliminate the need for cooked white rice – soondubu’s traditional accompaniment – and transform the fiery soup into a full-fledged, single-dish meal.

Yobo, 23 Forest Ave., Portland, 536-0986, facebook.com/yobomaine



If you’re getting hungry picturing open pots of boiling broth, the choose-your-own-adventure-style of Japanese hot pot (nabemono) at Ginza Town might be just what you require. Five broths, five varieties of noodle, nine meats and dozens of other options mean that every nabemono you enjoy will be at least slightly different from the last. Best to start with either the miso stock or the spicy house special broth, add fish cakes, shiitake mushrooms, lettuce and brisket. While you’re at it, ask for the salmon jaw. It might sound crazy, but as it simmers with the other ingredients, it adds a rich, sweet-savory backdrop to the soup ($35 for three people, $40 for four).

For those less inclined toward DIY dinners, Pai Men Miyake’s generous portions of ramen offer another good option. Without making much of a fuss about it – and undoubtedly due to new competition from other ramen shops like the recently shuttered Suzuki-ya – the quality of Pai Men’s signature dish has improved significantly over the past two years. Maybe it’s the kombu-thickened broth dotted with pinpricks of red chili oil, or the intertwining of acid and smoke from fermented bamboo shoots and charred cabbage, but either way, the springy Shojin (vegetarian) ramen at Pai Men Miyake ($13) is finally one of Portland’s best noodle soups.

Ginza Town, 1053 Forest Ave. No. 2, Portland 878-9993, ginzatown.com

Pai Men Miyake, 188 State St., Portland 541-9204, miyake- restaurants.com/pai-men-miyake



While banh mi sandwiches gain in popularity across the country, pho still remains Vietnam’s most famous culinary export, and with good reason. It is hard to top the patchwork quilt of flavors from torn fresh cilantro and holy basil floating on the surface of beef bone-broth, slow-brewed from charred onions and ginger, fish sauce, star anise and cinnamon. And that’s just the stock. Add in supple rice noodles, a squirt of hoisin and fresh red chile sauce, and maybe shavings of sirloin (tai) and bouncy meatballs (bo vien), and you have one of the best hedges against the winter blahs.

Huong’s version of pho tai bo vien ($7.95) is the area’s gold standard, with marble-smooth, halved bo vien that squeak satisfyingly as you chew them. Upstairs at the Portland Public Market, Pho Co ($8.50) makes a version that is nearly its rival, with rougher, more savory meatballs, and a brighter, floral broth.

On the lighter side of pho, Cong Tu Bot’s chicken-based pho ga ($14) – lavish with flat rice noodles, shreds of poached chicken meat and schmaltz – is also fantastic.

Huong’s Vietnamese, 267 St. John St., Portland 775-2344, facebook.com/huongspho207

Pho Co, 28 Monument Square, 2nd Floor, Portland, 409-5822, facebook.com/phocoportlandmaine

Cong Tu Bot, 57 Washington Ave., Portland, 221-8022, congtubot.com



As if to prove the point that a phenomenal winter soup does not require noodles, Thai Esaan has introduced creamy, peppery broken rice soup (khao tom) to its specials board ($8). Call to place an order, and Chef Siwaporn Roberts will ask if you want yours with a lightly beaten egg mixed in for an extra dollar (you do). Her congee-like soup appears simple, but it cleverly layers nearly a dozen flavors and textures, from ginger to lemongrass, ground chicken to pungent fish sauce.

I’m not ashamed to admit that, after a brutal bout with a seasonal cold this autumn, I ate khao tom for lunch five days in a row, fogging my glasses as I leaned over the bowl to breathe in the steam from the broth. Now that I’ve recovered, I’m back to once a week. But I’ve still got Esaan on my speed-dial, just in case.

Thai Esaan, 849 Forest Ave., Portland. 536-0752, www.thaiesaan.com

Andrew Ross has written about food and dining in New York and the United Kingdom. He and his work have been featured on Martha Stewart Living Radio and in The New York Times. He is the recipient of two 2018 Critic’s Awards from the Maine Press Association. Contact him at:


Twitter: AndrewRossME

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