Spicy Rice Vermicelli Soup

First of all, I’d just like to state for the record that I HATE SNOW. I am definitely moving some place that never sees so much as a flake of the awful stuff. Mark and I had plans to surprise his mother for her birthday on Tuesday by visiting her in Charleston. Due to a snow storm on Saturday, the day we’d planned to leave, we didn’t get to Charleston until Monday morning. On Tuesday, her birthday, she had to work from 8am to 8pm with a couple hours off in the middle, during which we got lunch. Since she’s off on Wednesdays, the family celebrated her birthday with dinner that night, shortly before which I looked at the weather forecast for back home and realized WE’RE SUPPOSED TO GET TWO FEET OF SNOW FRIDAY AND SATURDAY. Which meant we had to leave three days early in order to rescue Brachtune, as the cat sitter wouldn’t be able to get to her during a blizzard. I set a land speed record of getting us from Charleston to Fairfax in 7 hours, because I’m a race car driver. I didn’t let Mark drive because he drives like a granny.

Anyway, the theme of our truncated visit, in my mother-in-law’s eyes, seems to have been “Convince Mark and Renae to move to Charleston”. High on her list of reasons we should move there are: 1) no snow and 2) no traffic. Both of which are excellent, and enticing, reasons, however, they are both countered with my reasons not to move to Charleston, which are: 1) no Asian grocery stores and 2) no Wegmans. So my mother-in-law set out to take me on a tour of Charleston’s Asian grocery stores to prove I could survive there. She did some googling for Asian grocery stores in Charleston and her top search result was my blog post complaining about the lack of Asian grocery stores in Charleston. Not a great start. Despite this setback, she dug up three addresses for Asian grocery stores, not in Charleston (which really has none), but in North Charleston, which is a whole other city about half an hour north, and she packed Mark and me into the car for a road trip.

This is the Asian grocery store at the first address she found:

If that looks a lot more like a deserted office in an industrial park than an Asian grocery store, that’s because that’s what it is.

Fortunately, the second address was more fruitful:

That’s Hang Lung Grocery (that’s what was on the receipt), and I’m pleased to say their selection rated a B-.

Just don’t wander into that Fresh Fresh Fresh Meat department in back. Trust me.

Korean specialties were lacking, though, and the produce department was very disappointing (this is pretty much all of it):

… but they did have many necessary staples. They also had the world’s largest whisk!

(I’m sorry that Mark does not know how to focus a camera; also he was incredibly embarrassed by my forcing him to take my picture in the store.)

I think Mark, whose idea of a fun day is NOT a tour of Asian grocery stores, actually found as much stuff he wanted to buy as I did, his favorite being:

Thai Red Bull. At $8.99 for 10 bottles, it’s quite a bargain compared to the American stuff. Unfortunately, poor Mark was disappointed to find it tastes like syrup and is not carbonated. So I’m actually going to try using it as an extract and carbonating it myself through fermentation. I’ll let you know how that goes.

And in my final Charleston talk, another complaint of mine has long been that the food is terrible. Not only is it full of meat, meat-flavoured vegetables, meat, and more meat, but it’s all deep-fried. Mark ordered a lettuce and tomato sandwich one time and was horrified to find the tomato battered and fried. There have always been a few reliable places we could go, but overall, I have found Charleston to be pretty un-vegan friendly. But this seems to be changing! We went to the Mellow Mushroom and got a great pizza with vegan cheese (the vegan cheese is not on the menu, but you can ask for it). I was so surprised! Then we went to Three Little Birds, which is hidden behind a shopping center, but is worth seeking out, because they ALSO have vegan cheese! (And vegan soy milk and vegan yogurt.) This BBQ Tempeh Melt on spelt bread (I’m pretty sure that’s a Tofutti single) might not look that great, but it was really tasty:

All in all, Charleston’s definitely making headway, but something must be done about the Asian grocery store situation.

Now, did you think you’d ever get to today’s recipe? I got only a couple hours’ sleep last night, got up at 5:30 am (which is typically a bedtime for me), drove across three states, battled pre-blizzard crowds at the grocery store when I got home, unpacked, did laundry, and basically ran around all day like a lunatic, all on a single meal of cold cereal eaten at 6 am (and a few snacks in the car), which, believe me, is extremely unusual for me: I get irritable if I go three hours without food. So when I finally had a moment to stop and make something to eat, I was exhausted and wanted something in a hurry, but it had to be “real” food and not just another snack. So here’s the nearly instantaneous soup I threw together.

Spicy Rice Vermicelli Soup

4 cups vegan broth
2 Tbsp gochuchang (Korean red pepper paste…if you live in Charleston, you’re out of luck with this, I’m afraid)
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 small can mock abalone
4 oz firm tofu, diced
1 large or 2 small carrots, julienned
2 cups tender pea shoots (or other green, such as spinach)
small handful dried cloud ear fungus (No, I have no idea why I own or can tolerate this ingredient.)
4 oz (?) thin rice vermicelli (I forgot to weigh this for you before adding it to the soup, although I used too much anyway; use what you think is appropriate for 2 or 3 servings)
1 tsp chili oil

Bring the broth to a boil, then whisk in the gochuchang and rice vinegar. Add the rest of the ingredients, stirring the vermicelli well to avoid clumping. Heat for three minutes or until vermicelli is cooked. Note that the vermicelli likes to absorb liquid and will drink it all up if you give it a chance (so don’t overcook).

We seasoned ours with sriracha for additional spiciness.

Now excuse me, I’m going to go pass out.


  1. Mark Said,

    February 5, 2010 @ 1:31 am

    Hey, you’re the photographer, not me!

  2. Lisa G/K Said,

    February 5, 2010 @ 9:44 am

    Fabulous post! Does one need to be Asian to own/operate/open an Asian Market? Perhaps moving to Charleston and starting your own business might be in the cards….

  3. Lou Said,

    February 5, 2010 @ 10:29 am

    “because I’m a race car driver. I didn’t let Mark drive because he drives like a granny”. I burst out laughing at this…so, so much the same as me and Benny. I don’t know if you’ve seen Top Gear, but I have a Stig keyring on my car keys for a reason 😉

    Renae, I’m coming to nyc in two weeks…where should I absa’tivly posi’tootly go while I’m there? (don’t say Candle/Counter/Curly’s, they’re on the list ;))

  4. Josiane Said,

    February 5, 2010 @ 2:59 pm

    “North Charleston, as seen through its Asian grocery stores” – when the city will realize that it could be promoted as a touristic attraction, I bet they’ll do something to improve the situation! 😉

    It’s no wonder I suddenly find myself craving vermicelli soup: yours look terrific! I had other plans for dinner, but I may just have to bastardize them to include some of that vermicelli goodness!

  5. Tiana Said,

    February 5, 2010 @ 3:23 pm

    Hey hey! No dissing on granny drivers. Although I like to think of myself as more of a “safety first” driver =P

    Your Asian dishes always look amazing. Thanks for the inspiration to make something different!

  6. trinity Said,

    February 5, 2010 @ 4:39 pm

    God, your mother-in-law sounds just like my mom. I can sometimes hardly enjoy our visits because my mom spends the whole time badgering us to visit more and to move closer. That’s what mothers do I guess. That soup looks awesome, and so does that melty cheezy sammy.

  7. renae Said,

    February 5, 2010 @ 6:10 pm

    Lisa – I believe both Mark and his mother have made that same suggestion!

    Lou – That’s great! Is it your first trip to the US?! Unfortunately, it’s been ten years since I’ve been a regular visitor to NYC so I’m not the best person to ask for restaurant tips. I used to go to Angelica Kitchen, but other than that most of the places I went to are probably closed by now or forgotten (by me).

    Josiane – you’re right: I should suggest adding Asian groceries to Charleston as a way to promote tourism!

    Tiana – often I’m very glad of Mark’s driving skills, but sometimes I just want to make a 8-9 hour trip in 7 hours!

    Trinity – I would like to go on record as saying that Mark’s mom does not badger in any way. If we were happy about where we live, she wouldn’t be suggesting we move there. Actually, Mark’s tried to bribe me to move to Charleston, so if anything she’s just taking my unspoken challenge of convincing me to take him up on it. But I can see how it would be annoying if she were overbearing about it or if we didn’t actually want to move. 🙂

  8. Lou Said,

    February 6, 2010 @ 5:13 am

    Thanks Renae! Yes, it’s my first trip, our first trip, we’re going over to get my engagement ring…long story 🙂 I feel like I have a ticket to some kind of fantasy land, Field Roast, Daiya, marshmallows, chocolate bars, bacon bits, Gardein, Tofurky…all the things I read about and cannot have in Ireland, (we barely have any vegan ‘meats’), will be in my belly soon! I’ll be like Homer in chocolate land, dancing pointy-toed around Wholefoods!

  9. renae Said,

    February 6, 2010 @ 12:30 pm

    Lou, oh wow, that’s so exciting!! And congratulations! You’ll love NYC. I’m so happy for you!

  10. Jes Said,

    February 6, 2010 @ 6:50 pm

    I think the presence of at least one Asian grocery store is more than enough of a reason to move away from this snow. Anywhere warm is starting to sound absolutely amazing to me right now. And ugh for trying to get home ahead of the storm.

    As for the vermicelli–I’m making this as soon as I can get home (the cats went with me out of town this weekend, it’s been fun). And I’m on a mission to find dried cloud ear fungus. I love crazy-new-Asian ingredients!

  11. San Antonio Personal injury lawyer Said,

    February 10, 2010 @ 2:38 pm

    There’s a Vietnamese dish similar to this called Bun Rieu. It’s delicious!

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