Back in high school, I dated a guy who didn’t like soup. This was a red flag for several reasons the first of which was a very basic “who the hell doesn’t like soup?” And second of all, he was in a relationship with someone who’s appreciation for broth and noodles went as deep as an extra large bowl of Phở [fuh]. We remain friends to this day but my distrust of him for distaste for soup lingers like the subtle aftertaste of a large bowl of spicy Ramen.
Soup is great. Cold soup is disgusting. I don’t get the point of Gazpacho. There is definitely something wrong with you if you are craving a bowl of soup on a hot day so pull up your big girl pants and cook yourself something cold that does not involve throwing tomatoes, onions, carrots, spices and water into a blender, whoozhing it, calling it SOUP and eating it. Because it’s not soup. It’s whoozhed tomatoes and that’s kind of gross. The only thing to do with that shit is to nuke it. Or spread it on pizza dough and bake it. Either way, it will only be delicious once it has been heated up to a certain degree (SEE WHAT I DID THERE??).
Let’s be honest, Soup is meant to be eaten hot (though preferably with chopsticks because chopsticks are great). It’s a dish meant to warm the very cockles of your heart (or your aorta and ventricles? I don’t know where the cockles are situated). It’s meant to remind of a simpler time when meals were made fresh every day with ingredients you could actually pronounce instead of adding water to a suspicious-looking off-yellow powder with bits of dehydrated onion swirling ominously in every slurp.
Soup is just great. Soup with noodles and lots of cilantro is even better. It’s a full meal in a bowl that you can eat with chopsticks and nurse for an hour only to find that, contrary to what science has to teach us about the dispersal of heat and energy, the broth is still warm. Soup is truly magical, and there is no question that the Vietnamese and Koreans know their stuff when it comes to turning a simple broth into a complete meal that leaves you feeling sloshy and maybe a little tired but overwhelmingly pleased that you spent so little on such a large and delicious meal.
A year ago, I wrote a post detailing the experience of feasting on a bowl of Phở (for sanity’s purpose, as of now I shall be writing it as “pho”, but without the quotation marks). What I neglected to mention was the overwhelming number of soup joints where you get get a monstrous bowl of soup for as little as $6.50.
Luckily for me, my treks downtown were made obsolete when a new pho joint, Pho Sho, opened in my neighbourhood.
The decor is minimalist-cool, dim lighting, high stools if you’re sitting at the bar-style tables, unfinished floors and a handwritten menu adorning the wall, thoroughly explaining what each dish contains. An eclectic mix of Dr. Dre, Mariah Carey, and indistinguishable top 40 accompanied my sister and I on our lunch date as we ordered fresh papaya mango salad and grilled chicken Pho.
The papaya mango salad was gorgeous; I mean, just look at it. We tucked in and admired the subtly sweet tones of sesame oil and rice vinegar. A few bites in, however, and I had to wonder, amid all the delicious vegetables: where was the papaya?
I was confused. The salad was listed as Papaya salad, not Carrot-Parsnip salad. I mean, no complaints, it was delicious, but I flagged down the passing waiter anyway and jokingly asked where the papaya was.
He just looked at me strangely and pointed to the white bits before returning to the kitchen. Interesting, I’d never heard of white papaya before…
Despite this confusing turn of events, we polished off the salad as we waited for the steaming bowls of Pho to cool down. I grabbed a spoon and took a sip. Cinnamon, intense chicken flavor, delicious… Chicken bouillon at its best, in my opinion, without the overwhelming greasiness that often accompanies animal-product broth. My sister’s only complaint was that there wasn’t enough chicken. But then she refused the extra chicken that I wanted to give her so I don’t know.
My experience with Pho has been that it’s a very heavy, greasy dish with an underwhelming amount of vegetable nourishment. Seriously, a handful of onions and cilantro do not count as a serving of vegetables. This is why I got so excited when the soup arrived. It came with a heaping mass of broccoli and cauliflower. Veggies! So many veggies! And we didn’t even order the vegetarian soup! Oh, happiness.
I’ve been enjoying Pho for a few years now so it was definitely time to change things up. Nearly a year ago, my friend/co-worker/stage manager introduced me to a little restaurant that forever changed the way I enjoyed soup. Behold, the majestically minuscule GaNaDaRa.
On a good day, this place can seat maybe 30 people. They usually try to cram in at least 36 to speed up the lunch time line up that extends into the tiny vestibule and out the door. In the summer time this isn’t so problematic but, on a cold winter night, it’s the last thing you want to be doing. But, let’s face it, the food here is so good it’s worth waiting half an hour in the deep freeze.
GaNaDaRa offers homey street food with prices to amaze even the most strapped-for-cash Concordia student. Nestled just seconds away from the St Matthieu Guy Metro exit, it’s populated almost exclusively by students at lunchtime and just about everyone else at dinner.
After finally getting seated, you are treated to lemon-infused water and two variations of home-made Kimchi (fermented pickled cabbage. Honestly about as delicious as it sounds). As you can tell by my tray, I avoided the Kimchi like the plague but tucked into the pickled cabbage and jalapeños with gusto. Service here is ridiculously fast so we had barely handed our menus back before steaming pots of ramen, heaped with grilled marinated beef, shitake mushrooms, carrots, zucchini, and rice cakes arrived.
In my opinion, this is one of the best meals money can buy. Tender egg noodles, mountain of delicious beef, crisp veggies, chewy rice cakes, and a hot, spicy broth to wash it down. You will also find an egg surprise at the bottom of your pot but I’m not usually dying for added protein so I usually opt out. The meat and veggies are add-ons but, at a dollar each, it doesn’t break the bank to make the meal extra tasty. Prices at GaNaDaRa are so accommodating that, often, we will order more food than we can eat but, let’s be honest, it’s always worth it.
Other “appetizers” include dishes like this general-tao style chicken; crispy, fried morsels generously covered in their special Ganadara sauce (it’s what they give you when you order the Bibimbap which, though filling, is not terribly interesting). Don’t be fooled; this is enough chicken for a meal but, hey, why stop there?
Ganadara doesn’t shy away from its deep fryer. Crisp and piping hot, these tofu bites pack incredible flavor. Topped with green onions and a sesame-soya sauce, they are an easy accompaniment to the spicy, flavorful ramen (shut it spell check, canadian spelling takes more work).
If you’re downtown and looking for a quick, cheap meal that is more-or-less on the somewhat kind of healthier side of the food spectrum, be sure to give these places a try:
1862 Maisonneuve Blvd W
Montreal, QC H3H 1J9
“A busy nook for traditional Korean fare”
Restaurant Saigon VIP
Rue Ste-Catherine O
Montréal, QC H3H 1M1
“A simple setting for Vietnamese fare”
Restaurant Pho Nguyen
1452 Rue Saint Mathieu
Montréal, QC H3H 1M2
“Spring rolls. Vietnamese”
1016 Boul St-Laurent
“Mom and pop outfit”
5175 Rue Sherbrooke O
Montréal, QC H4A 1T5
“So hip it hurts”