The art of cooking is something that not a lot of people appreciate. Food, on the other hand, it is loved by all. Have you ever been in a situation where you don’t have enough vegetables and meat to make a whole meal? So, you just throw everything into a big pot, and voila! Soup. The perfectly hot remedy for a cold winter’s day, it is a comfort food that all cultures around the world have their own version of. Whether it is as a medicine, a cheap meal, or just a cosy dinner option, it has the ability to give you that warm and fuzzy feeling that you sometimes just need.
Why was the mighty soup ever created? Was it for medicinal purposes or just an easier cooking option? What is soup for you? Is it a gazpacho, dal, minestrone, borscht, or noodle soup? Hopefully, we will be able to find the answers to all these questions and more by the end of this article.
History of soup
The act of cooking became relevant once humans discovered fire. However, boiling and cooking only came into play with the introduction of pottery. Pottery is one of the oldest inventions in history with evidence of it dating back to the 6,000s BC. It was discovered that these objects made with clay could be used to store things and do well when exposed to fire as well. Soon, this discovery led to the beginning of cooking. Instead of roasting vegetables, grains and meat, cooking them in earthenware pots was found to be an easier technique. Cooking in earthenware pots also gave the food a distinct flavour and became a delicious new way of cooking and consuming food.
Pots also allowed the food to be cooked in different ways and that is where the introduction of soup came into being. It was always easy to digest and easy to cook. Boiling the few ingredients with water, packed the hot liquid full of flavour and made the meat and vegetable soft, flavourful and perfect for consumption. It was seen as the perfect dish to give to the sick and invalids. However, the process of making a simple soup was so convenient that whether one was rich or poor, if there was a lack of ingredients, the soup was the best option.
What did soup taste like in the beginning?
Originally, the earliest soups were probably made with roasted grains that were ground to form a paste and then turned into soup. This today would be considered either a broth or a porridge. Different cultures around the world have different flavour profiles. Hence, they were adapted differently everywhere. Vegetables, legumes, beans, and starchy products like noodles or pasta became common ingredients in soup during the middle ages.
The meat was also a very common ingredient in soups and the new cooking method provided some variety to the food. Mixing in different meats and vegetables along with some herbs soon became a common practice as well. They became a popular dish in most households and the ingredients began changing according to the seasons. In fact, due to the popularity of soup, meat began to be not just cooked but cured for soups. Smoked, roasted and cured meats could be seen as a necessity for most households.
Soup – the birth of the “restaurant”
Soup has always been seen as a dish that is wholesome and almost life-giving. In the 16th Century, the French used to sell it on the streets. The street vendors would market the dish as “restoratif” which translates to restore. It was a dish that restored energy and satiated hunger immediately.
Boulanger, a Parisian Entrepreneur, bought a shop in order to sell soup and eggs to customers. This is where the concept of dining-in became popular and the shop selling the restoratif came to be known as a restaurant.
In 1786, it was France that saw the establishment of the first luxury restaurant. The soup became the showstopper, and the region came to define what we know today as soups. It was the French that coined the terms consommé and bouillons for clear soups, puree and veloute for soups with a thicker consistency, and bisques for soups made primarily with shellfish.
Canned and Dried Soups
While culture has its own version of a soup, the popularity of this dish led to demands for quicker and faster ways of obtaining it. A talented chemist by the name of Dr John T. Dorrance came up with the fine idea for the famous Campbell’s Condensed soup. The concept of ready-to-eat soups and foods, in general, became all the rage. It was easy to cook and delicious when consumed. Just add some water and you have enough of it to feed at least two people.
The ready-to-eat culture grew more and soon dried soups could be seen in the markets. Bouillon cubes were the first to hit the dried soup isles. Japan took a step forward and Nissin Foods developed the famous Noodle soup combining a nest of dried noodles and stock cubes in one pack. These little soup packets were packed with flavours and ingredients that made the perfect quick meal one required when famished.
The inventors of the terms that describe the soups we consume today are bound to have a variety of mouthwatering delights, some of which you may have heard about and some you may not have.
Consomme is a clear soup that is made by adding a type of meat to a mirepoix, which is a mixture of carrots, white onions and celery, tomatoes, and egg whites. I know it sounds weird, but wait till you try it. This French delicacy soothes the palate and is a perfect piping hot meal for a cold day.
Your classic crustacean soup, the bisque, is made with shellfish such as crab, lobster, crayfish, langoustine, or shrimp.
The origin of the word bisque is heavily debated. Some say the word comes from bis cuits, which means twice cooked, which is the method used to make the dish. Others claim that the word originates from the Bay of Biscay, where the food usually includes a lot of spices similar to that of the bisque. History aside, this buttery and creamy fish soup may not sound too appealing, but it will have your mouth doing the happy dance the moment you taste it. If you are planning to make your way to France any time soon, be sure to stop by some of the well-known restaurants in Paris for a good old lobster bisque.
French Onion Soup
There is no way I am talking about soups and not including the incredibly delicious French Onion Soup. The question, however, is whether this recipe was created by the royals or for the royals? Both stories or myths include Louis XV. According to the first one, King Louis XV and his aunt came back from a hunt to find nothing in the cupboards except onions, butter, and champagne. They threw all the ingredients in a pot and created the onion soup. The second theory suggests the soup was created by Nicolas Appert, the mastermind behind food preservation and the inventor of canning, in La Pomme d’Or in Chalons-en-Champagne. Appert was said to be working at the hotel one night when the Duke of Lorrain, ex-King of Poland Stanislas Leszczynski, stopped over on his way to Versailles to visit his daughter Queen Marie. The soup served to the Duke was so delicious that he supposedly ran down in his bathrobe to learn the recipe from the creator and surprise his son-in-law (Loius XV) and daughter (Queen Marie) with his culinary skills.
While we don’t know if this actually happened, what we do know is the soup became a popular dish in the royal court. The aromas and strong flavours of the dish were also seen as the perfect way to hide the smell of alcohol and soon the French onion soup became a hangover cure. The piping hot soup topped with melted Comte cheese and served with bread to soak up all those flavours is something you just have to experience at least once in your life.
Complicated to pronounce, complex flavours but a simple beginning. Originating from the port of Mersailles, this soup uses the ingredients from the sea to absolute perfection. Unlike the bisque, bouillabaisse uses all kinds of fish instead of just shell fish and is combined with vegetables and whole fish to form a rich and creamy soup.
You can find this delightful dish in most Michelin-starred restaurants. It is by far the best way to use the fresh catch of the day. Flavoured with fennel, saffron, and tomatoes, bouillabaisse is a flavour journey you do not want to miss out on.
If we’re talking about soups, China is at the top of the list. These warm delights have delicious endings. Every mouthful feels like a gift. The silky texture of the broth combined with melt-in-the-mouth meat and hand-pulled noodles is something truly precious.
Leaning towards the healthier side of food, the Ban Mian is a simple noodle soup made with clear fish stock and served with handmade noodles, eggs, vegetables, and meat. The name of the dish means “board” or “block” noodles, which refers to the way the noodles are made.
The broth is usually made from anchovies and sometimes ingredients such as garlic, ginger, and onions are added for more flavour. Being one of the more versatile soups, you can put in most vegetables to amp up your Ban Mian. Then just break that runny egg on top and enjoy the amalgamation of these simple flavours.
Beef Noodle Soup
When we are talking about traditional soups, Beef Noodle Soup is a staple in the streets of China.
A wholesome and quite fulfilling meal, it is made from stewed or red braised beef. The clear beef broth, which we know as Lanzhou beef noodle soup, was said to be created by the Hui people during the Tang Dynasty.
The Kuomintang veterans in Taiwan created the red braised beef or Sichuan beef noodle soup. These can be found everywhere in Mainland China. In fact, the Beef Noodle Festival is celebrated in Taiwan every year where chefs from all over the country compete to win the title of “best beef noodles in Taiwan”.
If there was a way to picture the word temptation, this soup should be it. Literally known as Buddha’s Temptation or Buddha Jumps Over The Wall, this soup is a delicacy in Chinese cuisine that is meant to be just too hard to resist. Originating from Fujian cuisine, Fatiao Qiang is a shark fin soup that was created during the Qing Dynasty.
The taste of the soup is supposed to be so alluring that even vegetarian monks are enticed into eating it, hence, the name Buddha Jumps Over The Wall. The name of the dish is to simply show that even the most dedicated of vegetarians (Buddha) would jump over walls to get a taste of this. If that doesn’t get you excited about a soup, I don’t know what will.
Cuba has quite a rich history and when it comes to food there is a huge influence of Spanish and African cultures. Cuban cuisine has always been known for fresh ingredients and making the best use of locally grown ingredients.
White Bean Cuban Soup
Beans have been cultivated in Cuba since the 1500s. So, naturally, its consumption became a part of the Cuban food culture and that gave birth to the White Bean soup. A classic comfort food, the white bean soup is available all over Cuba and has many variations. Every region within Cuba has its own version, so you will never have the same thing over and over again.
When it comes to traditional soups, you cannot ignore the beautiful flavours of Italian cuisine. The herbs, the starch and, more importantly, the flavour. It all comes together to form a kind of nostalgia you didn’t know you needed in your life.
Originating in the 2nd Century, the Minestrone became a popular peasant meal. When Rome conquered Italy, it led to social and economic growth. This resulted in new items flooding the market, especially vegetables. It is at this time that the Minestrone became a popular way of using up leftover vegetables to make a soup.
There are never any exact recipes for this dish because it is impossible to have a recipe for something that doesn’t even have fixed ingredients. All you need to know is that it tastes amazing. However, the one thing you will always find in this dish is pasta. The pasta gives it a nice starchy flavour and adds that thickness that is unique to the minestrone.
Macco di Fave e Cicoria
It may not sound like the most appealing soup, but this fava bean and chicory soup will blow your mind. A cheap and easy option for vegetarians, Fave e Cicoria is the perfect combination of thick and creamy textures mixed with a pungent and bitter flavour.
The beans are soaked and then cooked to a mashable consistency in a clay pot while the chicory is sauteed in olive oil with garlic and chilli, and then placed on top of the creamy soup. It’s simple but extremely delicious.
There is so much more to soups one could learn about. But there is only so much I can write. However, if you decide to take this path, I assure you this is a warm and cosy journey that will leave you wanting more. The world of soups is wide and very delicious. Step into this world and learn about the ways people around the world use their ingredients to make a delicious hot liquid concoction. Moreover, if you have the time and vacation days to travel, wherever you go, whichever country you choose to visit, try their soup!