I have long made it a mission of my life to seek the world’s rarefied culinary experiences. Very few, though, have been as stupefyingly profound as the first time I ate Hot and Sour soup while stoned.

Many years ago, on a balmy spring night, I met up with some dear friends who happened to bear with them a sizable bag and helpful selection of paraphernalia. This event coincided with the end of a period where I had been abstaining from weed, so when presented with the business end of a two-foot Graffix, I decided to bite back into that apple with gusto. It was likely some ditch-grown Texas dirt weed, but to me it was nothing but the kindest of buds. I got extremely high.

Several blocks of classic-rock radio later, our group coalesced at our old reliable, a brightly lit Chinese restaurant nestled in a dingy shopping center. I was high to the point that my friends had to sort of steer me inside and make sure I didn’t cause problems, but once we sat down, I put forth a game attempt at not acting like an insane person.

The moment I tasted that soup, however, that facade was instantly shattered by the fact that I just started laughing and sort-of crying uncontrollably at how good it tasted. 

Every experienced pot smoker has had mundane foodstuffs—Doritos, Peach Snapple, Starburst, etc.—elevated to giddy heights by a few preprandial puffs. But friends, this was not “the munchies.” This was transcendental. I felt my mind dissolve, my sense of self carried away by pungent, umami-rich broth. The soup was like The Blob, a slick and glossy alien consciousness bent on absorbing my thinking brain, and I utterly succumbed. I may have experienced total ego death and become one with the cosmic soup force. 

Or, I may have just been super baked. Either way, it was a deeply pleasurable and humiliating experience.

This formative meal occurred in my mildly wayward youth, when I was very good at smoking pot, fully capable of getting high and performing complex tasks like learning harmonica and graduating from college. I am now a thirty-eight-year-old dad, and I am very, very bad at smoking pot. The best I can hope for with weed, these days, is successfully talking myself down from an anxiety attack during a Primal Scream show (there was no bass in the mix and that was not OK).

But to this day I can conjure that warm, gauzy sensation with even the most cursory bowl of Hot and Sour soup. I smell the first vinegary punch and instantly feel just a little bit altered. Pillow-soft morsels of tofu and mushroom float by in their viscous, otherworldly broth, and I feel young and dumb and disreputable and—most important—sated.



Twenty minutes, including prep. Feeds four blunted heads generously.

Unlike the vast majority of Chinese takeout delicacies, Hot and Sour soup is ridiculously easy to recreate at home. This 4/20, you owe it to yourself to whip up a quick batch of this dead-simple take on the classic American-Chinese version. As always, homemade chicken or vegetable stock is best, but store-bought is (sigh) acceptable … you lazy stoners.


3 Tbsp vegetable oil

10 oz fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced into thin strips

3 Tbsp fresh ginger, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

Kosher salt and pepper

6 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock

8 oz extra-firm tofu, sliced into strips

2 oz canned sliced bamboo shoots, drained

1/3 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup cornstarch, whisked with 1/4 cup water to make a slurry

1/4–1/2 tsp ground white pepper

4 tbsp unseasoned rice vinegar

1 jalapeño pepper sliced into thin rounds

Chopped scallions, and pre-made crispy wonton skins for garnish

Optional, but awesome:

1/4 tsp fuckin’ Monosodium Glutamate

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat the oil over medium. Add mushrooms, ginger, and garlic, and season with salt and pepper. Cook until softened and just beginning to brown, about five minutes.

Add the stock, tofu, bamboo shoots, and soy sauce, and crank up the heat. When the mixture boils, lower the heat to medium-low. Simmer for about five minutes.

Add the cornstarch slurry, vinegar, and white pepper, and stir gently. Continue to simmer for about two minutes.

OPTIONAL: At this point—if you’d like to go on a flavor journey that may forever change you—feel free to add the MSG. Give the soup a taste, and don’t be surprised if your knees buckle and you sink to the kitchen floor in an umami-induced fugue state. Adjust seasoning.

Ladle into bowls, topping each with a few rounds of sliced jalapeño, some chopped scallion, and a handful of the wonton skins. Settle in for some Buckaroo Bonzai or your weed-smoking film of choice. Slurp away. 

This recipe is adapted from one by Kay Chun for The New York Times