Thursday, December 17, 2015

Not All Sauerkraut Soups Are Created Equal

On J street, in the somewhat busy Boulevard Park area, there's a hipster BBQ house showcasing their grilling expertise outdoors for all eyes to see, a pizza parlor with gigantic TVs and multiple beer taps, and then, oddly, next to those two popular spots stands Cafe Marika, a Hungarian/Polish eatery that doesn't seem to fit in the scene or even have a chance to compete. And yet it has managed to survive, and I'm really grateful for its existence. 

Cafe Marika is a rare gem, owned and run by a couple. The husband is the chef, the wife the waitress, and together they're an almighty team. No one else works there. No one! Yep, it's literally mom-and-pop. Although claustrophobic peeps would probably consider this place horrifying, others with no such phobia might find its tiny size a complement to its quaint charm. Jenny, my Pilates classmate, once fondly praised its homey atmosphere and hospitable owners. Erin, my coworker, was brought to tears of nostalgia after having a bite of their stuffed cabbage; it tasted exactly like what her Polish grandma used to make. And my husband is a die-hard fan of their apple strudel. What keeps me going back there, though, is not their schnitzel and goulash, not their classical music, not their beautiful Hungarian accents. Yes, I love all those things but not as much as I love their sauerkraut soup. 

My obsession with this soup is so severe my husband has been teasing me about it. I tried to make it myself once, using Emeril Lagasse's online recipe. How hard could it be? Just sauerkraut, smoked sausage, potatoes and spices. I had all the ingredients, all the patience and one whole afternoon dedicated to this dish. Well, my sauerkraut soup was nothing like the one at Cafe Marika. It was criminally sour even though I actually used less sauerkraut than the recipe required. Sourness aside, the overall flavor wasn't deep or complex or soul-nourishing like the soup I fell in love with. I haven't attempted it again ever since. My guess is the sauerkraut they use at Cafe Marika must be of much higher quality than mine. It might even be their own house-made sauerkraut. 

No, I will not dare ask for their secret recipe. They both seem nice and kind, but if I did that, they might turn into Soup Nazis and ban me from the restaurant indefinitely. Then what would I do? Bring Erin's Polish grandma back from the dead and beg her to cook this soup for me? Sell my soul to Satan for the recipe? For now, I guess I'll just keep going to Cafe Marika and let the almighty team work their magic. 

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