As a Vietnamese girl who grew up in Texas, one wouldn't think that the Yiddish phrase "Oy vey!" was a part of my childhood vernacular, but it was something that I picked up, thanks to my older, then-teenaged cousin Jennifer, whose father was Jewish. She would say "Oy vey!" with a sigh whenever she was exasperated with something.
Anything remotely Jewish was fascinating to me. On the weekends, my aunt would sometimes have a spread of lox, bagels, cream cheese, and caviar laid out on the dining table with plates of thinly sliced onions and tomatoes. This was a departure from our usual eggs/toast/pancakes, or even from our Tex-Mex tacos filled with scrambled eggs, chorizo, and queso fresco. Lox and bagels were a much more exotic combo in my eyes.
It wasn't until I heard "matzo ball soup" on Seinfeld that I started to wonder what a matzo ball was. Believe me, this was not something routinely found on a menu in Texas. When I moved to New York, one of the first things I wanted to do was sit down at a diner, order a bowl of matzo ball soup, and be neurotic about things like airline food with a posse of like-minded pals.
Soup was never a starter course in our household—it was a full meal in and of itself. A Vietnamese broth alone could take up to a day of simmering away before coming into its own. The final result was served with a smattering of ingredients, including noodles, a cacophony of meats, a jungle of fresh herbs and various condiments. The broth is very much like a Jackson Pollock painting—a canvas that holds layers and layers of tangled flavors.
A bowl of matzo ball soup, on the other hand, was more Bauhaus in nature. Restrained. No frills. It starts with a clear, golden chicken consommé into which large fluffy dumplings shaped from matzo meal, eggs, and schmaltz (rendered chicken fat) are plopped. Sometimes you might find a punch of color from blanched carrot and celery in your bowl, but the ultimate is when it's just one giant matzo ball and that delicious broth. It's one of my trusty #singlegirldinner go-tos, a full meal in a single bowl.