Most Arkansas restaurants have that one dish that they’re known by. It’s the dish that you crave, the one that puts the restaurant on the map. It’s the signature dish. This series tells the stories behind some of Little Rock’s most iconic plates and explores what makes them so memorable.
The signature dish: Noodle Soup Bowl at Three Fold Noodles and Dumpling Co.
Availability: When Three Fold moved into its new digs on Main Street, it expanded its menu, making this seasonal special into an everyday menu item.
The story: Chinese noodles have been in existence since at least 2,000 years before the birth of Christ, and for millennia they’ve been an essential part of cuisine in China and Southeast Asia. When Three Fold first opened, the only noodle entrée was a “dry” noodle, served by itself with a variety of condiments and sauces. However, that’s not what is most common in China.
“In Chinese, if they say just a noodle, 80 percent of the time they mean noodle soup,” said Lisa Zhang, chef and owner of Three Fold. “So we established this noodle business, the reason I chose the dry noodle is that it’s more convenient for the customer to use a fork. With the noodle soup, you need some skill to slurp it.”
Now, Three Fold fans can try their skill at tackling this soup bowl on a daily basis. The broth is complex with plenty of layered flavors. Sesame butter, soy sauce, vinegar, chili sauce and a host of side players all come together into a dish that both challenges your palate and acts as an unforgettable comfort food.
What makes it unique: Simply put, there’s not another dish like this one in Little Rock, and maybe not even in China. Zhang told me that, while noodle soup is common throughout her native country, this particular version is special.
“Each region has a different type of noodle soup,” said Zhang. “This is more home-cooking than any regional style. In the north of China, we cook it with chicken broth or pork broth, even some beef broth. So there are different types of regional soup, but this is really my home cooking.”
For an extra level of flavor, opt for the tea-scented egg. It’s a soft-boiled egg seeped in a blend featuring jasmine tea and spices. Soft-boiling is a western technique; Zhang says a typical boiled egg in China will be cooked for hours. But the delicate yolk is a powerful complement to the myriad of flavors in the soup. If you do get the egg, Zhang says you should eat that first so the soup doesn’t drown out the egg’s flavors.
The price: Three Fold sells its Noodle Soup Bowl for $9.89 at both lunch and dinner. The tea-scented egg is $1 extra. Price-wise, this is a no-brainer.
The verdict: In many ways, this Noodle Soup Bowl is a look into the everyday life of a person in Northern China. It’s undeniably comfort food, even as it presents a host of tastes to unlock. It’s a wonderful dish that we in Little Rock are lucky is ours to enjoy.