By : THE GLUTTON
8 min read
The Glutton is back with an outrageous suggestion: HOT SOUP on a HOT DAY. As if the sunburns I accumulated on a day trip to Salem’s Dead Horse Beach weren’t enough, I decided to burn my tongue at Gene’s Chinese Flatbread Cafe in Downtown Boston. Gene’s has been a familiar name to me as someone who is obsessed with perusing local discussion forums. The restaurant has been recommended as a hidden comfort food gem on Reddit and Facebook a handful of times—to which other locals solemnly nod in agreement without needing much written follow-up. One example? "Gun to my head... I'd say [Gene's] food is the tastiest of any restaurant in Boston," said DerpWilson on Reddit.
Titular Chef Gene Wu opened the first iteration of his enterprise in Chelmsford, MA more than a decade ago, bringing attention to authentic cuisine from Xi’an, the capital of Northwest China’s Shaanxi’s province. Xi’an is not known for rice; instead the locals prefer bread and noodles, hence the establishment’s lamb or pork-stuffed flatbreads and steaming noodle soups. Although the hand-pulled noodles traditional to Xi’an are plain, they are far from simple. In fact, one of the most complex Chinese characters is the one that signifies “biang,” the sound made by hand-pulled noodles smacking the table as they are crafted. “Biang” comprises just one part of the “biang biang” noodles served by Gene’s, yet requires 57 strokes. It’s almost as if the character is testimony to the hearty practice of crafting this dish—and the delicious experience of devouring a spicy bowl of supporting soup.
The subsequent location in Boston, nestled around the corner of the Downtown Crossing T Station, opened in 2013. This spot was small but intimate—a pocket destination with little seating and blowing fans abound. Award plaques dotted the brick walls, punctuated by handwritten “online order or cash only” signs. One guy talked loudly about the year of the tiger, while the girl at the counter took a terse phone call. All of us were tucked away from Boston like the ingredients in noodle soup, and we were all sweaty.
The Glutton Reports: I ordered the lamb hand-pulled noodle soup, conveniently identified by the restaurant’s website as one of the “most sold items in the past seven days.” As an accompaniment, I snatched a pink can of Yeo’s lychee drink out of a sweaty fridge skirting the register. Less than ten minutes after placing my order, the chef called out my name as if she knew me.
Most people crave ice cream in such humid weather, but I resonated deeply with the steaming bowl of soup placed in front of me. Fresh, hand-textured noodles like well-worn belts nestled into a light, savory broth adorned with orange bubbles of oil. Four to five thick noodles were enough to crowd the bowl. Wood ear mushrooms swam in the stew like slippery, slick jellyfish amongst pale yellow lily flowers. The smell—like the kitchen of someone who loves you enough to fatten you up. The noodles had a pleasant “give” to them—solid and plain, yet chewy and infused with all the salty softness that surrounded them. And taking a sip of the sweet Yeo’s provided an insane contrast perfect for a summer’s day—like jumping off of the hot asphalt into a swimming pool.
I’m a glutton at heart, but my tummy is tiny. I admittedly took the rest of the soup to-go and had leftovers for dinner and a midnight snack. Tucked away in my bag was the decorative red placemat I collected as a souvenir from Gene’s, one that displayed all twelve of the Chinese Zodiac. The description for the year of the rabbit was clouded over by that fatty orange oil. As I slurped at my summertime broth, I decided this meant that this mark signified another year of eating.
Originally published in-print in Boston Compass Newspaper #160 August 2023
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