Some of the great achievements of human history are anonymous: the invention of the wheel, the alloying of copper and tin to create bronze, whoever tweeted that ‘Davey Cameron is a pie’ from the official Jeremy Corbyn account. To this list, add another: the person — almost certainly in China — who first put noodles into broth, and gave a nation its most potent form of soft power.
As Japan opened up, la mian from China became ramen, and from there it took over the world, becoming a canny vehicle for transmitting flavour and culture in the same way the sandwich and pizza would for the West. At its heart the noodle soup contains three infinitely variable components — broth, noodles, and toppings — consider the distant affinity between the textural complexity of a laksa, with its rich broth and layers of flavour, and the maternal simplicity of a chicken noodle soup with matzo balls.
There is another aonymous hero in this story: The inventor of chilli oil. It’s a brave person who adds chilli oil to a soup. Irreversibly diffusing into the liquid, it draws out mucus and all ailments, to be wielded like a spell to ward off pestilence, hunger and quite possibly death. As the days get colder, it is a duty of care to tell Londoners exactly where they can get their medicine.
Shimogamo, recommended on the initial version of this guide as the best place to eat soba in London, closed on 15 November 2019. The hunt goes on.Read More