With the number of folks listing “losing weight” or “eating healthy” as New Year’s resolutions, the diet and exercise possibilities for keeping up that resolution are endless.
To kick-start your “new year new you” plan, how about starting off with some restorative broths — hearty and loaded with vegetables and protein from beef and chicken meat and bone broth, yet still relatively light and definitely satisfying. There is a reason menudo, the Mexican broth-heavy, beef tripe soup, has been a New Year’s Day staple, lauded as a cure for those who have imbibed a bit too much the night before.
Countless blogs, magazines and other sources have touted bone broth as a protein-heavy comfort food and a cure-all for everything from arthritis to colds or a weakened immune system.
After you’ve finished throwing out the leftovers from the high-fat, high-sugar, low-nutrition holiday treats and snacks, head out on the town for a comforting bowl of one of these brothy favorites.
According to the record of the Yokohama Ramen Museum, ramen originated in China and made its way over to Japan in 1859. Early versions were wheat noodles in broth topped with Chinese-style roast pork. In 1910, the first ramen shop named RAIRAIKEN opened in Asakusa, Tokyo, where the Japanese owner employed 12 Cantonese cooks and served the ramen arranged for Japanese customers.
Ramen was first introduced to Japan by Chinese immigrants in the late 19th century, according to Japan Quarterly, and originally consisted of noodles in broth topped with Chinese-style roast pork. In December 1945, Japan recorded its worst rice harvest in 42 years. Combined with the loss of agriculture from wartime colonies in China and Taiwan, Japan drastically reduced rice production, which is how a hot bowl of noodles gained prominence in Japan’s rice-based culture.
There are four major types of Japanese ramen, named for the base flavoring: shio (salt-based ramen), shoyu (soy sauce-based ramen), miso (soybean paste-flavored ramen) and tonkotsu (pork bone broth ramen).
Today, ramen is arguably one of Japan’s most popular foods, with Tokyo alone containing around 5,000 ramen shops. Ramen has hit the mainstream, appearing in many creative forms on restaurant menus (Asian and not) around the world. Mainstream or not, Tulsa has its own ramen bowls to brag about.
Roppongi is the third branch in Libby Billings’ restaurant tree and couldn’t be any more different than her other two spots — Elote and The Vault. Billings snatched up the tiny corner spot when it became available and took a crash course in ramen through a trip to Japan. She took the inspiration found in the Roppongi district of Tokyo and created her version of a ramen shop. Roppongi features several ramen varieties, including a vegan option with tofu and coconut.
601 S. Boston Ave., 918-221-0818
Tomonori Takahashi founded JINYA Ramen Bar in 2010, after he was unsuccessful in finding options for traditional Japanese food in the United States similar to what he had at home. The Tulsa location opened in 2016, within weeks of Roppongi. JINYA offers three types of ramen: chicken, tonkotsu (made with pork) and vegetable — the tonkotsu versions are enriched with pork bones and pork chashu (pork belly).
JINYA Ramen Bar
416 E. Second St., 918-861-4100
Caldo, in Spanish, means “broth” or “soup.” Caldo de siete mares (translated, seven seas soup), also known as caldo de mariscos, (seafood soup), is a Mexican version of fish stew. Prominent in coastal regions of Mexico, it is typically made with chicken, tomato, fish or seafood broth and local fresh-caught seafood stirred in either alone or in combination. Despite our land-locked location, many local Mexican restaurants offer authentic versions of caldo and caldo de mariscos, and there are a few standouts.
Mariscos el Centenario offers four kinds of caldo, including 7 Mares, which features seven different types of seafood — fish, mussels, clams, scallops, crab, octopus and shrimp.
Mariscos el Centenario
1744 S. Garnett Road, 918-437-8255
El Rio Verde is known for its wet burritos, but the caldo, either shrimp, fish or a combination of the two, is worth stopping in for. While you’re there, try the torta ahogada (literally, “drowned sandwich”). I discovered the addictive combination in Chicago at Rick Bayless’ lunch spot Xoco. A Mexican torta (sandwich) stuffed with pork carnitas was sent out swimming in a bowl of spicy tomato-arbol chile broth. It was fiery and the best thing imaginable for a cold Chicago day. I have only seen it offered locally at El Rio Verde, and their version is just as satisfying.
El Rio Verde
38 N. Trenton Ave., 918-592-2555
Pho (pronounced “fuh”) is a Vietnamese noodle soup consisting of beef broth, rice noodles and your choice of meat. Bowls are typically served with an array of toppings, such as cilantro, sliced jalapeno peppers, bean sprouts, lime wedges and basil, as well as bottles of Sriracha and hoisin sauce, for customizing each bowl. Meat offerings include brisket, flank steak, tripe, chicken or shrimp, or an assortment of veggies.
Don’t call it “the new ramen,” though, for Pho has a history much longer than a noodle strand. The soup was created at the beginning of the 20th century as make-do cooking when French colonials in Vietnam ordered the slaughtering of cows for the steaks they craved. The bones and tough cuts were left to local cooks, who found a way to turn the leftovers into a delicious broth with rice noodles and thinly sliced meat. It was sold as affordable street food that vendors customized for each diner. Pho fans came from all backgrounds, as the soup’s popularity spread — from Hanoi in the north to Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) in the south. Inspiring cooks and even poets, it became Vietnam’s national food. Pho is a smart choice for the start of the year, for the aromatic noodle soup is a notoriously healthy option. Rice noodles are naturally low-calorie. By substituting chicken over beef and adding fresh vegetables, such as onions and sprouts, only adds to the bowls’ flavor and health benefits.
Pho Nhi, flanking the entrance of Nam Hai Oriental Food Market, serves traditional Vietnamese fare, and the pho is exceptional. Owners Quan and Linda Do spent months perfecting the pho broth before opening the restaurant, and it is now one of the most popular bowls in town.
11514 E. 21st St., 918-947-4388
Local chefs vouch for Trang Le in Broken Arrow, according to several informal social media polls. Trang cooked at Ri Le for 20 years before venturing out south. Ri Le is Trang Le’s brother-in-law, and Binh Le, who also operates his own restaurant, is her brother. Branch out from pho and order a bowl of bon bo hue, spicy herb and lemongrass noodle soup, quoted by some to be the “best bowl of noodles in Tulsa.”
723 N. Aspen Ave., Broken Arrow, 918-994-7676
Tom kha gai (coconut chicken soup) might be the darling of Thai soups. Still, tom yum, clear, hot and sour broth loaded with shrimp or chicken, mushrooms and other vegetables is the powerhouse. Tom yum is characterized by its distinct hot and sour flavors, with fragrant spices and herbs used generously in the broth. The soup is also made with fresh southeast Asian ingredients, such as lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, lime juice, fish sauce and crushed red chili peppers. Tulsa is peppered with a dozen or so Thai restaurants serving the soup, and Lanna Thai’s and Bamboo Thai Bistro’s versions are at the top of the list.
Lanna Thai’s and Bamboo Thai Bistro’s spicy and tart tom yum goong (shrimp) and tom yum gai (chicken) are loaded with galangal, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes and lime juice. Served with steamed rice, it could be a meal in itself, but bowls are large enough for sharing.
Lanna Thai Restaurant
7227 S. Memorial Drive, 918-249-5262
Bamboo Thai Bistro
5079 S. Yale Ave., 918-828-0740
Don’t be afraid to try a bowl of this fragrant, restorative broth, bobbing with hominy and tender strips of honeycomb beef tripe. It is rich, savory and satisfying, and pigs’ feet or a calf foot is sometimes added to the pot to enrich the broth’s texture even more. In some parts of the country, red chiles are added for additional flavor.
The soup, native to northern Mexico, is traditionally eaten in the morning. But menudo makes a great lunch or dinner and should not be limited to a New Year’s Day hangover cure.
Just before serving, the soup is typically garnished with chopped green onion, lime wedges and chopped fresh oregano and coriander. Many local restaurants have their version of menudo, but there are two that offer my favorites.
I typically stop into Tortilleria de Puebla because of the thousands of freshly made corn tortillas churned out daily. Usually, half of what I buy gets eaten on the drive home. My suggestion? Grab a bag of tortillas and one of the few seats in the place and enjoy a steaming bowl of menudo, ideal for dipping those fresh-off-the-griddle corn tortillas in.
Tortilleria de Puebla
3118 S. Mingo Road, 918-610-8816
For truly authentic Mexican fare, head to Cancun Restaurant. Menudo (tripe stew), lengua (tongue) tacos and pastor tortas (spicy pork sandwiches) are just a few of the delicious offerings, but the restaurant offers menudo (and pork posole) Saturday and Sunday only.
705 S. Lewis Ave., 918-583-8089
A story on restorative soup wouldn’t be complete without mentioning chicken soup. Matzo ball soup is known for having a golden, rich, clear broth that is guaranteed to cure what ails you. Perhaps this is why it is famously known as “Jewish penicillin.” Many cooks argue over what makes the soup — whether it is light-as-air matzo balls or the golden broth.
Whatever the case, and regardless of your religious inclinations, it is always worth seeking out a good bowl. Tulsa may be lacking in Jewish delis, but one local spot honors classic deli traditions. Jane’s Delicatessen on Route 66 serves sandwiches piled high with meats cured and cooked in-house. It’s worth starting your meal there with a bowl of matzo chicken soup, the menu equivalent of a warm hug.
2626 E. 11th St., 918-872-0501