Written by Catzie Vilayphonh: Perhaps it’s the fault of Campbell’s manufacturing that soup is overlooked as a full meal. Yet for many Asian cultures, soup, especially the kind accompanied by noodles, is so prevalent it’s served as breakfast, lunch and dinner at establishments that serve just that. While the Japanese have a monopoly on perfecting the ramen (the film Tampopo is a prime example of this), a discussion about Vietnamese cuisine is incomplete without a bowl of pho. The latter has been my usual go-to for soup cravings, but when I’m too lazy to flavor my broth my next favorite is noodle soup from the Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodle House in Philadelphia’s Chinatown.
As its eponym states, Nan Zhou promises freshly-prepared noodles created by Chef Zeng Feng Zheng, specially skilled in the technique of stretching strands. If you’ve never had fresh noodles, you’ll be amazed by its taste and texture. Forget the reconstituted consistency of instant noodles, and the “al dente” firmness Italians idealize for their pasta. There’s nothing “hard” about Nan Zhou noodles – just soft stretchy dough that yields a somewhat “bouncy” bite. The liberal helping of noodles will also quell any doubts of getting full off of a soup, often times I end up sharing my order. In addition, there are also a few vegetarian and non-noodles dishes — the garlic fried snow pea leaves and spicy pig ears are both superb, but the fish ball soup is standout thanks to its nutty soy sauce ground pork filling surprise inside. Oh and did I mention dishes are $4-9?
Of course as yummy as the dishes are, the real treat is the show that happens in the back. The small eatery which seats 15-20, has a generous view of the kitchen where you can watch the hand-drawing in action, where Chef Zheng displays the art of churning mounds of dough into 2 strands, then 4, then 8, then 16, 32, and 64 before being tossed in broth or sauce. If the restaurant is busy (which often times it is) the waitstaff has no problem accommodating your view, even informing the cooks of a photo opp. For a truly memorable experience I recommend ordering the “shaved” noodles and having your camera set to catch the Chef using a knife to chuck pieces of dough flying through the air and landing in a boiling pot of broth or sizzling frying pan.
Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodle House
927 Race Street, Philadelphia, PA