There are some places where you take a look inside, go in and take a seat, and, even though you haven’t even decided what to order, you know there is no way you won't love it. Something just grabs you, some nuance that sparks the enthusiasm.
There are people who are captured with a smile, some who succumb to a certain aroma; others are suckers for an all-you-can-eat salad bar. This time, the hot stuff captivated me. To be more precise, the four different types of hot sauce on every table in Giveret Kuaitiao (“Madame Kuaitiao”), in Tel Aviv’s Carmel Market: One, slightly sour, with small rings of greenish yellow chiles; one with red chiles in oil, sweetish but spicier; one with chopped green chiles and garlic; and one with a blend of dried spices.
It is not just pretty to look at – a bottle of fish sauce and a dish with fresh sprigs of Thai basil complete the visual attraction – but it also made it instantly clear that whoever was behind the counter (a little Instagram sleuthing yielded the name of Mati Nakash, who is assisted by several colleagues in running the place), knows what he’s doing and also spends considerable effort on each and every detail.
Given the generic vibe that seems to be spreading through the market (just try and count how many stalls now serve up challah with shnitzel, eggplant and matbuha), this establishment immediately piqued our curiosity and desire. All that remained was to eat, and hope our gut feeling would not disappoint. Spoiler: It works just fine.
Exactly one year ago, I lamented in this column the dearth of soup stalls in these parts. So here it is, and with the best possible timing. Giveret Kuaitiao, which at first was only open on Fridays but now serves customers on Wednesday and Thursday as well, joins three other Thai food stands scattered around the market (including the likable and successful Eisan restaurant), and focuses its attentions on just one dish: soup. Kuaitiao, of course.
The entire establishment is based on a single cauldron of steaming hot chicken stock – when it’s empty, the stall closes for the day. It is ladled into a bowl in which, only a moment earlier, rice noodles, bean sprouts, bok choy and three chicken dumplings, cooked separately with pieces of daikon radish, were placed. All that remains is to decide is between the two soup options: thin strips of meat (kuaitiao neua, 52 shekels [$15]) or chicken on the bone (kuaitiao gai, 48 shekels [$14]).
And that is something else we appreciated about this food stand; with most of these ingredients it would have also been possible to offer a salad or stir-fried noodles, say, but here it was decided not to be tempted into extending the menu. It’s soup and nothing but soup.
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When the dish arrives, you start to play. The staff at Giveret Kuaitiao will explain what, and how spicy, each of the various condiments are, and will recommend that you add a different one to each spoonful, to work out the proportions, tear up a few basil leaves into the bowl, add a dash of fish sauce and decide for yourselves what works best for you.
Again, just as with the hot sauces, even before the first gulp, when each element of the soup sparkles with freshness and emits a sublime aroma, you know it will taste great. And indeed, it is superb.
The soup is composed of the dark stock, rich, spicy, with a pleasing acidity and a hint of sweetness, laden with a generous amount of noodles and sprouts. The dumplings are soft and tasty, a sort of Asian matzah ball, and sprinkled over everything are crunchy, addictive dried garlic flakes.
We ordered both types of kuaitiao, and had a hard time deciding which was better.
In the kuaitiao neua, the hot broth itself cooks the thin, meaty, lean slices of beef, which are placed in the bowl in a nearly raw state, preserving their softness and juiciness.
In the kuaitiao gai, we encountered a drumstick full of flavor, which had been slow-roasted separately and was so soft that it fell off the bone, alongside the thick strips of daikon, which were particularly tasty. The fresh basil leaves added a green vitality of their own, as well as a decidedly fennel-like flavor, and the result, in combination with the various spicy condiments, all of which are outstanding as well as fun, is everything you need for the current spate of wintry weather - and then some.
I don’t know what Nakash and his partners are planning for Giveret Kuaitiao. One may hope for it to extend its hours and days of operation now, at a time of the year when an outstanding soup like this is the ultimate comfort. Beyond that, we can begin to fantasize on other dishes that might be added to the menu in the near future. Only one or two per season, no more than that. And four types of hot sauce, no less.
Giveret Kuaitiao, 1 Yom Tov St., Tel Aviv. Wed. and Thurs. from 6 P.M., Fri. from 11 A.M. until the soup runs out.