Noodler: In Praise of Noodle Soup

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In Brooklyn, there is no shortage of restaurants that serve fortifying bowls of ramen. Ganso, Chuko, Samurai Mama, Zuzu Ramen, Okonomi—all offer delicious, perfectly-salty, fulfilling soup experiences.

But Michele Humes—writer, resident of Fort Greene, and Hong Kong native who grew up slurping delicious rice vermicelli—wants us to broaden our soup-loving horizons. She wants them to encompass more than just ramen, more than pho, and she wants us to know how to make all these noodles in broth, too. So like any smart person in 2016, she made an app. Noodler—available on iTunes and, just now on Android (and coded by friend Joshua Sierles)—celebrates the inherent beauty of noodle soups (it features her own gorgeous illustrations of recipes and ingredients) and is an easy-to-use guide for creating, preparing, and cooking up to 3 million versions of life-giving bowls of broth, toppings, and noodles.

Humes’s childhood rice vermicelli staple—chicken broth, topped with poached shrimp, bok choy, and chopped scallions—came to the dinner table courtesy of her mom. “During some tough times in my childhood, noodle soup was the quick but respectable thing my single mother got on the table many nights, and it’s had a sort of holy significance for me ever since,” she says.

But when Humes moved herself to Brooklyn ten years ago, what did she find? “A noodle soup desert.” Even today, says Humes, finding hearty noodle soup bowls isn’t the easiest, even at more ubiquitous Chinese takeout counters. Plus, the noodle scene that has emerged in the past decade, as mentioned, skews ramen- or pho-heavy. A shame! Because noodle soup can be so much more. “I built an app dedicated to the beauty of noodle soup because it really is my favorite food in the world,” says Humes.

So how does it work? Noodler suggests recipes with different noodle types, broths, and ingredients in non-linear models, in order to promote maximum creativity and flexibility. So, for example, after scrolling through many prettily-illustrated bowls, you can tap on one that makes you drool, press “cook,” and a screen like this will emerge:

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You select any ingredient—say the butternut squash—and a brand new list of recipes, variations, and tips for preparing and cooking with that ingredient will populate. Combinations are machine-generated but curated by chefs; Humes imposes rules so no straight-up bad pairings ever result (shrimp would never be added to beef broth, or hoisin sauce to miso). It’s flexible recipe making, ingredient preparation reference, and inspiration, all in one.

Ultimately, bases of soba, egg noodles, glass noodles, instant ramen, rice stick, rice vermicelli, and udon, added to ingredients like bok choy, shallots, collard greens, pork tenderloin, and all plopped into different broth bases really do yield 3 million different bowls of holy noodle soups.

“I really believe in noodle soup as a sort of neutral format or canvas—rather like a sandwich in that way,” says Humes. “In the section of the app titled ’10 Principles of Excellent Noodle Soup,’ principle no. 6 is “Don’t feel restricted to ‘Asian’ toppings and seasonings.’ I then encourage people to remake their Thanksgiving leftovers as noodle soup.”

In the end, Brooklyn, this is just another way for you to go forth and do what you like best: be creative, and eat. So have fun, and never find yourself in a soup desert again.

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