Go to a Chinese restaurant in the United States and chances are you’ll find hot and sour soup on the menu. But there’s a downside to such ubiquity: Most versions of the soup are mediocre at best, acceptable for takeout or an office lunch, but not a special occasion.
Talk to Chinese-food expert Ed Schoenfeld of RedFarm in New York City, though, and it becomes clear that with a little effort, hot and sour soup can be a revelation. The secret, as with so many dishes, is in selecting quality ingredients. “It’s best when made with good stock, and perfumed with dried lily buds,” he explains. “It’s a very inexpensive ingredient, but in a takeout setting they might not put it in.”
According to Schoenfeld, hot and sour soup is essentially an egg drop soup punched up with boldly flavored ingredients like those lily buds, plus finely ground white pepper (the source of all that heat, and, when fresh, lots of musky fragrance), tangy vinegar, sesame oil, bamboo shoots and soy sauce. A final garnish of chopped scallions and cilantro gives the soup a fresh green, herbal kick.