Belmont, MA: Shangri-La's Homestyle Egg-drop Soup
Fall officially started last week, so I felt inclined to eat big bowl of soup. More specifically, I'd been craving the Homestyle Egg Drop Soup ($7.25) at Shangri-La in Belmont, and the autumnal equinox was just a good excuse to make the trip. I can't take credit for the find, though. Slice maven Meredith Smith sniffed this one out, and rest assured she's as savvy about great Chinese food as she is about pizza.
This version is nothing like run-of-the-mill egg drop soup, with gummy chicken broth and curdled, stringy bits of egg. First and foremost, the homemade broth has savory depth and body, with a subtle buttery sweetness that distinguishes it from the clearer, more straightforward chicken-y stuff you might get in a good Jewish deli. It's also a portion built for two, and arrives in a bowl as big as a washbasin.
What really sets this soup apart, though, is the fixin's: wilted fresh spinach leaves, whole shiitake mushrooms, sliced bamboo, cellophane noodles, and—as a true testament to the soup's name—an omelet that stretches from one side of the bowl to the other. The combination is pretty brilliant—and surprisingly complex. The greens predictably work in some freshness, but the shiitakes have a rich tanginess that I'd never noticed before—not to mention squeaky, satisfying chew. The dried bamboo pieces (which, in my dreamy soup haze, looked like cross-sections of a wind instrument) aren't crunchy by the time they steep in the broth, but they do add firm-tender bite, as well as some vegetable-y sweetness.
But the noodles and the omelet are by far my favorite parts. Imported from Korea, the green bean starch threads are the springiest, slipperiest, most delicious cellophane noodles I've ever had. If I didn't know any better, I'd say they were fresh. As for the omelet, it's a study in contrasts: The deeply browned crust isn't very texturally distinct, but it is rich and meaty-tasting. Inside, the wrinkly mass is light, plush, and velvety like a good soufflé, but also juicy after the spongelike matrix soaks up a good bit of the broth.
Finally, there's the tableside presentation ritual: Upon delivery, the server (often a grandmotherly type) gently tears the omelet apart with chopsticks and the overturned soup ladle, then ladles the broth, vegetables, and egg into individual serving bowls. If that's not comfort food, I don't know what is.
About the author: Liz Bomze lives in Brookline, MA, and works as the Associate Features Editor for Cook's Illustrated Magazine. In her free time, she freelances regularly for the Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, the Improper Bostonian, and Martha's Vineyard Magazine; practices bread-baking and canning; takes photos; reads; and watches baseball. Top 5 foods: fresh noodles, gravlax, sour cherry pie, burrata, ma po tofu.