If there is one rule that governs travel food, it is this: the worse the seating, the better the eating. To get the true essence of a country’s cuisine, one must eat on as many plastic stools, lawn chairs, and street curbs as possible. So when we saw dozens of locals sitting down at the plastic kiddie tables at this Cao Lau stand, we knew we wanted to eat there.

Cao Lau is special soup with a lot of stuff in it. Technically it’s special because it can only be made using water from one well; but what really makes it special is all the stuff that goes on top. The earthy-rich broth is laden with thick noodles, salty pork loin, crunchy rice crackers and fresh greens. Holy texture combination heaven.

The owner agrees: the stuff makes it special. We can’t communicate through words but she won’t let us touch our chopsticks until we add condiments that she presents to us like Christmas gifts. She nods as we load the bowl with chopped pickled peppers, dried peppers, fresh peppers and pickled onions. I’ve never been so glad to like peppers.

But even if I didn’t like peppers—even if I thought they were terrible—I’d add them for her. Because she hauled that soup water out of a specific well on the outskirts of town just to make her famous Cao Lau, and she’s not about to let someone eat her masterpiece wrong.

A masterpiece it is. $1.25.

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