Well, I’ve already used an old recipe for marinara sauce, which I poured over penne pasta, for my dinner at home the other night. And another night I made my own concoction, which consists of one can of tuna fish, a can of mushroom stems and pieces, and penne pasta mixed together. It’s a bastardized version of the Grisanti family’s “Elfo Special.”
Finally, I reached the point where I wanted somebody else’s cooking for a change. So, I ordered Mosa Asian Bistro’s hot and sour soup, which is my standard for the sweet, savory, delicious soup.
Mosa strictly is doing takeout, so I went by the restaurant and picked up my soup. They’ll also do curbside, by the way, and, for a minimum fee, will deliver. And they cater. The entire Mosa menu still is available for takeout.
I first wrote about owner Eddie Pao when I worked for the Memphis Press-Scimitar. It was a story about Pao, who opened his first restaurant - Formosa - in the late ‘70s on Summer at Holmes. He was a motion picture director in Taipei before he moved to Memphis. I remember one of the movies was titled Everlasting Love.
I asked his daughter, Michelle Pao-Levine, to tell me about the soup. She said it’s been a family recipe since Pao and his brother, Alfred Pao, opened the door to that first Formosa. “It’s a perfect balance of the sweet and the sour and the spicy,” she says.
Which is the way her dad cooks, she says. “To him, that’s what life is all about. Always. You have to be able to balance everything. If something has a really bold flavor, he wants to put a lighter, cleaner taste. Texture and flavor is always big in every dish he does.”
Here’s something I never knew because I think the flavor of their hot and sour soup always is the same. Levine says Pao stopped using meat in the soup after Mosa opened. “The stock of the soup was chicken. And now he’s taken out all the meat and the stock is water-based. There’s no meat. No pork.
“Back in the day, the stock was made with chicken. I remember dad making it every day. And he had little bits of pieces of pork in there. They took it out.”
Why? “More and more people were being health conscious. Stepping away from pork and eating more vegetarian. Eating more tofu.”
Mosa’s hot and sour consists of tofu, bamboo strips, Chinese “Tree Ear” mushrooms, and eggs. “And that’s it.”
Of course, you have your water, pepper flakes, sugar, and vinegar. But, Levine says, “It’s like with any other restaurant. It’s just about the technique. When they’re doing it, how they’re cooking it, boiling it, and how they’re thickening it.”
They make the soup every day, says Pao-Levine, who says it’s quite a sight to see someone add the eggs. “It’s the most beautiful thing to see them put the eggs in it. It really is. You have to know the perfect point as to when to thicken the soup. And know how thick the thickener is supposed to be.”
Pao-Levine knows how to make the soup because she watches her dad make it every morning. “The most beautiful thing in the world is to see fresh hot and sour soup made in the morning. Like a big wok of hot and sour soup. It’s just gorgeous. I like to garnish it with fresh scallions of cilantro. That’s how I grew up eating hot and sour soup.”
She eats a bowl every day. She also adds white rice. “That’s my version of chicken and dumplings. I feel more alive.”