When I was a first-year, I wasn’t comfortable eating alone in dining halls. It terrified me. I didn’t want to be seen overloading my plate, or appear lonely and friend-less. Often, I just didn’t eat because of it. I kept crackers and granola bars in my room to satiate myself, or planned meals days in advance to ensure I wouldn’t be alone. Thankfully, I grew out of this — slowly. I still avoid dining halls, but only because I no longer want to be in a place where I don’t enjoy food as much. Hence, the restaurant column.
Solo-dining was a big part of this. Through it, I learned to be content with my own company, or the company of a book. When I’m alone, I go to places I want to try and unabashedly order dessert. I slurp obnoxiously and lean back till my chair wobbles precariously, listening to pop music playing on the radio and conversing with my uncensored thoughts. I am so grateful for these moments with myself and for the restaurants that welcome them. This week, in Porter Square, I took the time I didn’t know I needed at a wooden counter inside Soup Shack.
The restaurant is unassumingly found along the parking lot in Porter Square, about a half mile from Davis and a short walk from Porter Square Books — a great bookstore worthy of its own review. The inside is decorated with simple wood and brick with a view right into the kitchen. Better yet, there’s a wooden bar as you walk in, lined with single seats ideal for solo diners wary of eye contact with every person coming through the door. And there were quite a few! From what I could hear, most people were getting take out, but the tables in the back were more or less full. Still, the service didn’t waver. All the workers were so kind and attentive. My water was never halfway full, and they were happy to accept my praise in regards to the food.
The menu has pho, ramen, rice bowls and Thai noodle soups, along with some Japanese-style appetizers. I ordered the Tom Yum soup with roasted pork, ground pork, rice noodles, bean sprouts, peanuts, scallions, cilantro and crispy garlic. For $14, it was massive, so you don’t need much more. The broth was equally spicy and sour, with underlying flavors of coconut milk and lime. The herbs and peanuts floating on top made for a really nice spoonful (see what I did there?), with a hearty balance of curry flavor and sweetness. My only complaint would be the salt level on the broth, but accompanied by my ever-flowing water glass, I certainly made do.
The bountiful rice noodles were especially filling and perfectly cooked, while the bean sprouts tasted fresh and still crunchy. The roasted pork was a little fatty for my taste, but the parts I did eat were tender and flavorful, with a hint of sweetness from the marinade. On another day, I would’ve taken home leftovers, but there’s no better way to celebrate the coming of December than absolutely slamming an entire bowl of soup.
Overall, the dish was surprisingly complex and satisfying. It was definitely on the heavier side, making it an ideal choice for a cold night demanding steamy, spicy comfort food. I’ll be back for the ramen with roasted duck, or the restaurant’s most popular dish, dirty ramen, served in a spicy pork broth with fermented bean curd.
For my fellow introverts with a love for solo dining, I’m happy to have stumbled upon this spot. It’s a rare occurrence to find a place that not only accepts but embraces our happy independence, and something about noodle soup makes the guilty pleasure of a solo night out that much more noisily satisfying.
That being said, the cost of a restaurant meal is not without its own weight. Yet, for me, these outings have always functioned as moments of self-care, wherein I (try to) leave behind monetary concerns in order to wholeheartedly enjoy the act of fueling my body. This can happen anywhere that works for you, whether it be a salad under the trees outside Hodgdon or a sandwich from Dave’s Fresh Pasta. Thanks again to Soup Shack for providing me the much-needed space to breathe, think, and consume noodles.