About a month ago, Geordie was sick with a persistent cold. Like any normal person, he craved some Chinese hot and sour soup. We had not been to any Chinese places since moving to San Antonio, and nobody really had any suggestions for us (we have, however, found an awesome Middle Eastern place we eat at whenever possible, as well as a great Mexican place). All we really wanted was some soup, but we figured it would be nice to know of a good place when we had cravings for full plates of Chinese food.

The first place we tried was a family-style restaurant that is pretty much like every other family-style Chinese restaurant in America. We went there the day before Thanksgiving and managed to put in a to-go order right before they closed. We ordered hot and sour soup, egg drop soup, and crab rangoon (because I’m an addict). Nothing left much of an impression, except for the crab rangoon, which was terrible. It had more green onion in it than actual crab. Or fake crab. I’m pretty sure that was fake crab. The soups were bland and uninteresting. They not only did nothing for Geordie’s health, they seriously dampened my mood.

That weekend, still hopeful for decent Chinese soup, we decided to try again. We settled on a Chinese restaurant near the Salvation Army store (where we were hoping to find a decent couch for cheap). I checked it out online, and the one we were going to had decent enough reviews; there are two other locations, and this was the original one. We figured it couldn’t be worse than the other restaurant.

Famous last words. It was like a cosmic joke had been played on us. The website is very slick-looking, very professional, very inviting. The restaurant itself was the exact opposite. They had all the blinds drawn against the afternoon sun, which made it very dim; it looked more like they were trying to hide what a disappointment the place was. You order at a cash register, grab a glass at the drink bar, and seat yourself. A waitress (and it looked like they had one on duty, at 1pm on a Sunday) delivered food, refreshed your drinks, and otherwise tended to you. That waitress was the only good thing about this restaurant. We weren’t sure if tipping was in order, but we left her one anyway, because it seemed like she was the only person in the place putting any effort into her job.

I could probably forgive all that if the food was good. That was not the case here. They have a soup and rice bar, and right in full view of everyone, they bring out big containers of soup and just dump it right into the bar when something needs refreshing. Kind of annoying when you’re trying to get some soup, and also considerably unappetizing. Their egg drop soup was completely flavorless and a frightening orange color. Their hot and sour soup was extremely sour, extremely hot, and otherwise not very good.

The crispy noddles (you know – the ones you pile onto your soup and usually taste stale if you eat them alone) were the best part of the meal. They were actually tasty, which makes me horrified to think what they might have been fried in. Our meals were terrible. I ate maybe 5% of mine, a platter of sweet and sour pork, wherein the pork was severely over-cooked. Geordie got something that looked disgusting. Some kind of shrimp dish that had a faint fish smell to it. He ate more than me, but that’s because he paid for it. It’s quite obvious why they make you pay for your food before you even see it.

The best thing that can be said about this place? It was cheap. I think most Chinese places run on the cheap side, but at least the food is edible. This was not edible. And the place was not very welcoming. It had a aura of complete apathy about it, like everyone inside – even the patrons – had just completely given up on life. It was the saddest meal I have ever eaten. We fled as quickly as possible.

On our way home, Geordie said, “Can you make me hot and sour soup for Christmas?”

All sorts of yummy. Mushrooms, tofu, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, and all sorts of yummy Asian-style flavorings. No disappointments here!

Mushrooms, tofu, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, and all sorts of yummy Asian-style flavorings. No disappointments here!

Yes. Yes, I can.

I made it in the slow-cooker, working from this recipe. I added wood ear mushrooms, which are often a traditional hot and sour soup ingredient. Geordie really wanted pork, but I didn’t feel like making any and the pre-cooked stuff at the store wasn’t exactly appetizing. Considering how easy this was to make, I might just consider cooking up some pork and adding it next time.

I mean, there has to be a next time. I made a pretty decent hot and sour soup, if I do say so myself. And, oh, it made the house smell so delicious! The only (minor) issue was that we both would have liked the broth a little thicker. I’ll have to see if I can tweak that. As it is, it’s a very tasty soup, full of flavor – just enough sour, just enough hot. We added a drop or two of rayu sauce for added kick, and that was just plain delicious. Definitely something I’ll put in my make-again file. Especially when colds come to visit!

The best thing, though, was that it was done in the crockpot, which allowed me to focus on the 40+ cupcakes I baked up that day. I sold some cupcakes! True, I sold them to one of Geordie’s co-workers, but she requested them and offered money for them, and she wanted to buy cupcakes from me! It was quite exciting. I made her chocolate-peanut butter cupcakes and almond-orange cupcakes. Both turned out very nice, which was a relief. I would hate to make crappy cupcakes for someone who wanted to pay for them.

Anyway, the soup. Apparently, Texas (or at least San Antonio) is not so keen on the Chinese food. I realize that most Chinese restaurants in America are going to be, well, American-ized, but these were just plain bad. We’re still looking for a decent Chinese place to call our “go-to” but for now, I think I’m going to have to explore more homemade Chinese dinner options. If a restaurant can’t even get a simple hot and sour soup right, how can I possibly trust them with an entire meal?

Merry Christmas, Geordie! I’d gladly make you homemade hot and sour soup anytime!

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