There’s nothing quite like a hot bowl of soup on a cold day. When you slurp the warm liquid down, while the steam rising from the bowl obscures your view for a few moments, there’s a feeling of comfort that washes over you. Perhaps we find it comforting because soup has been the traditional offering to help someone feel better when they’re ill. But even if you’re healthy and are enjoying a bowl of soup as a starter, main course, or as a side, it’s definitely a food that provides a great sense of well-being.
There are theories that soup may date back to the Stone Age*. As far as we can accurately verify, soup had it’s humble beginnings as an item created to clear the pantry, or as an inexpensive meal to feed a family. Today, it can be said that soups are, indeed, universal – with many cultures enjoying the flavors of local ingredients in each bowl.
In many countries, soup is often served as a first or third course. In many regions soup is the only course. They can be a traditional item for holy days in Mexico where turtle soup, bean soup and Caldo de Vigilia – a concoction of cactus and smoked fish – are common soups served for Lent.
Soups are traditional meals for the morning and evening in France, where babies and children are fed Panade, a form of bread soup that is provided in place of cereal. Soup may be served for dinner there as well, but typically only to family, not guests.
Borscht is a soup made with beets (usually served with sour cream) in countries such as Russia, Poland, and Ukraine.
Soups are certainly seen as medicinal in places other than the US, where chicken noodle soup is thought to provide a sense of relief from the symptoms of colds. It is also considered one of the “safe” things to eat after a bout of stomach issues. In Japan, women in small villages will describe how certain soups help with various ailments – plantain soup and rock sugar for colds, mugwort or carp soup for fever.
Customs for enjoying soups vary as well. In Japan it is quite customary to slurp soup from the spoon or even to drink it straight from the bowl. In China, letting out a loud belch following a meal is considered to be a compliment. In Portugal, don’t ask for salt and pepper unless it is on the table. Doing so is an insult to the chef’s seasoning abilities.
The staggering variety of soups around the world can leave your head spinning. These meals-in-a-bowl are typically made with local ingredients and often with exotic seasonings and an array of meats and vegetables. It’s somewhat comforting to know that wherever you may travel, you can still get a sense of home when there is soup on the menu. There’s something about putting spoon to mouth and drinking down that warm blend of flavors that is truly a comfort. If you aren’t abroad, you can always try a traditional soup from another land to get a real sense of a far away place.
Soup is good for the soul. But it’s also a wonder for the taste buds.