A Fabulously Hearty Soup in an Alleyway…


This is an extremely rare photo of Mrs. MM sitting on a low seat in a somewhat grimy alley in Xi’an, China. Let me stress, this is NOT her comfort zone. But when traveling, we almost always do things that we rarely, if ever, do at home, it’s just part of the adventure. Actually, the alley wasn’t that bad really, but just before we managed to get this particular table, it was filled with other people, and let’s just say there were projectile this and that which was enough to make one’s eyes roll here and there. :)


Stop #2 on the Lost Plate Food Tour that morning was a ginormous cauldron (batya or filipino laundry basin more accurately describes it actually) of steaming soup. Thick enough to be a stew, it was a stick to your ribs (literally) type of breakfast treat. This couldn’t have been much past 9 in the morning or so, and there were lines for this particular purveyor.


The soup, made with little lamb meatballs, cabbage and various other vegetables, probably a starch thickener of some sort, or one of the veggies acted as a natural thickener, was heady with aroma and chockfull of stuff. at about $1 or just a little more, it seemed like an incredible bargain, all over again.


Several ladles full of soup are placed in a large bowl. The man serving it makes very, very pointed efforts to count the number of meatballs that get included in each bowl, then you can choose a little or a lot of chili sauce, chopped herbs and greens to go on top of it.


I love how abundant these servings are, you don’t get the feeling that it’s all carefully costed and measured to the gram (except for the meatballs, of course)… and it definitely looked like one got his money’s worth. It’s heavily vegetable inclusive, but the strong flavors of lamb also make this meaty at the same time.


You get an old or dry piece of bread for each bowl (we split one order into three bowls) and you break this bread up into little pieces. Ladle the soup over this and mix until the bread absorbs the liquid and it all gets even thicker and heartier. It’s got your carbohydrates, vegetables and protein all in one bowl. I found this a bit heavy and I have never liked starch-thickened soups, but I must say, it was delicious nonetheless. I don’t think I could have finished a whole order, but it was definitely worth the experience. It was still a bit cool the morning we set out on this tour, so a bowl of hot soup was a welcome treat.


We were increasingly flabbergasted by how economical and abundant the meals on this tour were turning out to be. I can’t imagine doing a similar tour anywhere in the Philippines with the same kind of reaction, perhaps only in places like Bacolod or Pampanga, but at PHP40-60 per large serving of anything? Not so easy… After the soup we got back in the tuktuk and headed to the nearby Muslim market…


12 Responses

  1. Probably the servings are not as massive as or as cheap as Xian, but the closest thing we probably have is the Binondo food tour of Ivan. I believe you’ve featured his tour early on in the blog.

  2. The price of a meal in BPO offices here in Manila normally range from P55 to P70, rice included. Of course the vendors don’t pay rent but those are the price points that seem to be the most acceptable to the employees.

  3. Produce is pretty cheap in China. I guess that’s why cooked food ends up cheap as well. Cabbage, for example, is 1.99 RMB/kilo and often goes down to 0.99 RMB when it’s on sale. This is supermarket price, mind you. The corner veggie stands (they are everywhere) will be a bit cheaper. Carrots, corn, lettuce, potato, broccoli, and cauliflower are other vegetables that VERY rarely cost more than maybe 7 RMB/kilo. How they are farmed, however, is another story. LOL I’m not complaining, though!

  4. My best bowl of soup was from a sidewalk hotpot in Hanoi while almost squat on a low stool. The rest of my family who I did not join for lunch walked out of the nearby restaurant with a so so expression on their faces. I was grinning ear to ear, happy with my food adventure.

  5. It is usually on the streets and in little alleys like this that some of the best food awaits. I remember sitting on a low stool over a gutter in a tiny alley just to enjoy some fantastic slightly-fermented rice noodles in boiling hot pork-based broth. Better than some restaurants!

    Is it just me or has produce in Manila gotten a tad more expensive lately? :(

  6. Hearty soups make gratifying meals. It’s just hard to control the salt, when ordering in restaurants.

  7. I’ve always ascribed the cheap food prices in Vietnam and China to their communist past. You know, champion the agricultural laborers, food for the masses, etc. Any takers?

  8. Tracy, I think you are absolutely correct. It’s the same for Thailand, where the royal family absolutely positively focused on agriculture for the past 40 years. The Philippines doesn’t grow very much, and the intermediation costs (transport, middlemen, storage facilities, retail) add way too much on. With Asean free-trade, we should technically be able to bring in fruit from Thailand, vegetables from Vietnam, etc. and it’s just the transport cost, but it will kill local agriculture further. But the incredible cost to our overall population of high prices is appalling…

  9. One of those unforgettable meals where chinese love to burp out loud after a hearty meal and clear their throats from deep within only to spit after a gulp of tea. Ahhh memories . . . Haha. . . Yes and the projectiles. . .

    I have somehow forgotten those meals until you mentioned it in this article. As the british tourists with me then would say, ”Lovely’. Haha.



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