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Ode to Tom Yum Soup

10 January 200912:26PMlife

Tom Yum soup is the greatest thing. Tonight, we went to the Wembley food court, where there are no less than three shops that serve it (out of the eight or so shops). Previously I've had the Tom Yum from the Thai place and the Malaysian place. Tonight was the Singapore place's turn. I have to say, out of the three Tom Yums available there, the Singapore one is the best. If you've never had Tom Yum, or have never had it properly, let me try to describe the experience to you...

Your Tom Yum arrives. You almost let slip a swearword... Christ, that is a HUGE bowl. Before you you see a veritable ocean of red soup with a thin film of chilli oil on top. Beneath the turbulent surface lurks seafood, tofu, veggies, if you're lucky, a chunk of tomato, and depending on your restaurant and order, maybe rice or egg noodles. Being essentially liquid with bits in it, your meal probably arrived before anyone else's. Not wanting to feel weird by waiting, you take a tentative slurp...

And WOW IS THAT SPICY! You probably almost choke, it burns your throat on the way down. Your eyes water a bit and smile sheepishly as the rest of your table raises their eyebrows at you. That's okay though. They'll soon wish they'd ordered it. You take a few more mouthfuls of the slightly sour spicy liquid and fish around in the murky depths for tofu as everyone else's meal arrives, and once they do, you start in earnest. Don't try to keep up with the conversation. From now on, the soup is your priority.

As the water level (soup level?) drops to about one-third, you'll have to start pulling out the prawns, chicken and the floatier noodles, as well as whatever mysterious vegetables your chef saw fit to include in this batch, not limited to buk choy, spinach, or other indescribable leafy bits, plus mushrooms and the rest of the tofu. This is what I'd call the 'interesting bit', not necessarily the best bit (that's still to come), but the most varied. Once most of the 'stuff' is gone, you may think that all that's left is the noodles and soup, and maybe a wedge of tomato way down at the bottom. At this point it has been known for people to discard the meal, as they think it's 'over'. DO NOT! The best is right ahead.

By this point some of your table mates will have finished, or will be quite close. This is not the case with you. You're only maybe half, or two thirds of your way through, and the best is yet to come: This is the bit I call 'swimming'. You place your head directly over the bowl, quite low, so you have the minimal polite distance from food to mouth (if you watch Asians eating, especially Japanese, they tend to eat a lot this way, very quickly too). By now you'll have adapted to the spicy, and won't be able to get enough of that delicious broth. So, you alternate between a few spoonfuls of liquid, slurped in rapid succession, to a mouthful of noodles (if you were lucky enough to get some) This, this rapid, slurpy, noodley, fantasticness, this is the best part. This is the climax. This is the part you want to go on and on and on...

...but it can't. Now you're into the endgame, noodle-less, desparately scraping the last vestiges of soup from the bottom of the now tilted bowl. Once you're absolutely certain that you will never get those last few drops out, you let the bowl tilt back away from you, fall back in your chair, put your hands behind your back and sigh. You're done! You can now lick your lips, and once again engage in polite dinner conversation, and reminisce about your delicious Tom Yum experience. Because it is an experience, not just a meal, and not nearly enough people realise that. They see 'soup' and dismiss it as boring, or too spicy, and maybe never try it. But you're okay with that... all the more for you!

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