It is difficult to talk about Asian cuisine without touching on the subject of noodle soup. Noodle soup is found across Asian cuisines from our own La Paz batchoy to the Indonesian (also Malaysian and Singaporean) soto ayam to the Japanese ramen and udon to the Korean Ranchi guksu to the Singaporean laksa to the Burmese Rohingya.
Irrespective of the subtle similarities and the vast differences, there is one common truth’ a good noodle soup is based largely on a flavorful broth. What kind of noodles is used, what meat, seafood, and vegetables go with it, and what assortment of garnishes are added are all secondary. Without a good broth, a noodle soup is a bland bowl of textures and colors.
Where does a good broth begin? It begins with meat or chicken bones, fish heads or carcasses, or, in the case of vegetable broth, an excellent combination of vegetables. Herbs and spices are added and everything is simmered for long hours to draw out all the flavors. The reduction results in highly concentrated flavors and these are what make the broth a good base for noodle soups.
It isn’t difficult to make good broth at home. Soup bones are sold in supermarkets at very reasonable prices. Seventy pesos worth of beef and pork bones can make you a lot of broth. And you don’t have to go through the lengthy simmering process each time you want a hot bowl of noodle soup. You can make a large pot of broth, divide them into portions, keep them in the freezer, and take out only what you need each time. Here’s my recipe for homemade broth.
Place the soup bones (or fish heads and carcasses) in a large heavy pot. Fill the pot with water. Bring to the boil, skimming off any scum that rises. Add the rest of the ingredients. Season with salt. Cover and simmer for two to three hours. To store: Strain the broth and cool. Pour into individual containers. Freeze until needed. Now, if you want a quick bowl of noodle soup, here’s what you can do. Remember that leftover meat is great for making noodle soups so don’t think that you have to go out to get a slab of beef or pork or a chicken breast just to make your noodle soup.
Boil two to three cups of water in a pan. In another pan, boil the noodles according to package directions. While the noodles cook, thinly slice the cooked meat (if using chicken, shred the meat by hand). Cut the leafy vegetables into two-inch lengths. Peel the carrot and slice it thinly or cut it into matchsticks. Slice the mushrooms. Blanch the vegetables in a pan of boiling water for 30 seconds. Drain and refresh in cold water.
Drain the cooked noodles and place them in a bowl. Top with the meat and vegetables. Pour in the hot broth. Garnish (optional but recommended) with toasted garlic and/or onion bits, sliced onion leaves, and torn cilantro, if desired. Presto! A hot bowl of noodles with all the wonderful goodness of fresh ingredients.