Soup for the Sick



Whatever the reason, whether my poor sleep habits or the fickle weather, I woke up the other day with a wicked head cold. So, 80-degree forecasts for the week notwithstanding, I’ve been on the hunt for “sick food” — for something to conjure Mom’s ministrations during childhood bouts with flu: bowls of comfortingly bland congee or Chinese-herb-infused chicken soup, or their Western analogues. Where to go?

One under-the-radar contender is Alameda’s Homeroom Racing Cafe (1305/1307 Park St.), purveyor of homestyle Thai food and old-school slot car racing. One of the best dishes is an off-menu item called, simply, “rice soup” — chef Arista Saengchan’s take on khao tom, a thin rice porridge that’s loaded with fresh cilantro and shreds of tender chicken. Traditionally, this is a breakfast dish in Thailand, but when you’re home in your pajamas all day (or wish you could be), breakfast three times a day sounds about right.

Rice soup at Homeroom Racing Cafe
Staying in the realm of rice porridge, the vegetable juk at Berkeley’s Spoon Korean Bistro (933 Ashby Ave.) is an excellent vegetarian (and dairy- and gluten-free) option, though you can add chicken or beef for a $2 upcharge. Thicker than khao tom (and the dish’s more well-known Cantonese counterpart, jook) but just as wholesome, Spoon’s version of this Korean home-cooking classic is loaded with minced carrots, broccoli, and other assorted vegetables. Served with an assortment of little side dishes, any of the seven variations of juk you can order at Spoon should do what all good “sick food” ought to do: warm a body up without upsetting a sensitive stomach.

What I ended up getting on my under-the-weather day was a bowl of chicken soup at Berkeley’s Gaumenkitzel (2121 San Pablo Ave.). This cozy German restaurant has many virtues, not the least of which is that the soups are consistently excellent: chock full of seasonal vegetables and never over-salted so that you can actually taste those high-quality ingredients. The chicken soup is no exception — the sick and the well alike will appreciate the natural sweetness of long-simmered vegetables and the clean flavor of pasture-raised chicken. Order yours with Gaumenkitzel’s housemade spƤtzle (toothsome egg noodles), and it makes for a whole meal: as good a bowl of chicken noodle soup as you’ll find this side of Grandma’s kitchen.

Call ahead to check for availability — Gaumenkitzel switches soup options periodically; then again, not a single one of them has disappointed me so far.