I considered my return trip to Maneelap Srimangkoun Restaurant today to be both a chance to sample the second of two Lao noodle soup specialties on offer there (khao piak sien, listed as kao piak on the menu) as well as something of a sideways tribute to the Campbell Soup Company, which is celebrating the 80th anniversary of Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup.
In recounting my first experience with khao pian sien (a.k.a. kaow paik) at Champa Garden, I noted that it was not so different from a chicken soup my very American farm-wife grandmother would have made (though she'd have put dumplings, not noodles in it). The same could be said of Maneelap's version. Described on the menu as "Home-made rice noodles with bone-in chicken soup," it featured a broth that was less rich but cleaner in taste than Champa Garden's version, more akin to a pho ga broth with less sharpness in the spicing and milky from tapioca flour. Galangal and lemongrass were likely seasonings, though chicken-ness was lord and master of the broth. What Lao cooks (as well as Vietnamese cooks and even Campbell Soup Company lab technicians) have learned is that the broth rendered from the carcass of a chicken is already close to soul-satisfying perfection and will countenance only the most light-handed flavor tinkering. Maneelap Srimangkoun's kao piak was filled with chewy hand-made noodles (slightly less thick than Champa Garden's) and garnished with cilantro and shallots.
I accompanied my soup with a side order of roti (from the "Thai Appetizers" section of the menu). The roti itself was nothing special, but the green curry dipping sauce it came with was superb.
Where slurped: Maneelap Srimongkoun, 4995 Mission St., San Francsco.
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