Hello James, and thank you for an interesting question! I apologize
for taking so long with my answer; there was a tremendous amount of
detail to wade through.
There are few things I enjoy more than talking about food (cooking and
eating would be among them, I guess); and soups are one of my
favourite foods. While I cook a wide variety of dishes at work and at
home, soups (and breads) give me a greater degree of satisfaction than
most. Combining a handful of disparate ingredients into a bowl of
well-flavoured soup is a most gratifying activity.
The ability of soups to warm and nourish our bodies, and to lift our
spirits, is both remarkable and universal. There are few foods which
make more economical use of raw ingredients; a distinction which has
endeared them to anyone whos ever had to feed customers, a large
family, a threshing crew, or even an army (!) on a limited budget.
And yet, while the frugal housewife has been the great innovator in
worldwide soupmaking, soup may also be a sophisticated or even
extravagant item of haute cuisine.
Your question suggests a natural order which I will follow in
constructing this answer. I will briefly address the history of soups
first; followed by a discussion of the classical repertoire. Finally,
we will look at international soups. In that section I will speak
primarily in general terms, but will look at several regional classics
in more detail. Please note that, because of the overlap between
stocks, sauces, soups, porridges and stews, there may be some
*apparent* digressions along the way. These are deliberate, since the
lines between one and the other are frequently blurred.
The History of Soups
Like most of our basic foodstuffs, the beginnings of soupmaking
predate recorded history. Therefore, our understanding of soup's
origins must necessarily be speculative. We do know that many
prehistoric societies demonstrated an understanding of pit boiling;
lining a pit with stones or skins (or using a natural receptacle such
as the shell of a large turtle) and boiling water by dropping hot
rocks into it. The advent of grain gathering likely spurred the
development of this new cooking technique, since grain requires some
form of cooking (roasting or boiling) for digestibility. Adding herbs,
vegetation, and scraps of meat to the pot must surely have been a
natural development; and it was inevitable that someone would look at
the resulting broth and think, "That looks good enough to eat..."
Verifiable traces of pit boiling have been dated to approximately
5000BC, but the practise is thought to have originated well before
this. Egyptian tombs have yielded traces of porridges and pigeon stew
from as far back as the third millennium BC. Classical Greece has
left us no surviving collections of recipes, but we know from literary
references that soups were commonly eaten there. Spartans were
routinely ridiculed for their terrible food, especially their
notorious black broth (it was joked that their bravery in battle
came from the knowledge that dying in battle was better than a
lifetime of that broth). Telecleides, in The Amphictyons (circa
450BC), describes a mythical land of plenty. In one passage, among
the many extravagances he recounts, he speaks of a river of broth,
swirling along hot pieces of meat
In China, the third-century BC
poem The Summons of the Soul mentions a sour and bitter soup, as
well as various stews and braises.
In the Western world soup recipes, in the currently understood sense,
begin with the cookbook of Roman writer Apicius in the first century
AD. His book, De Re Coquinaria, contains some 200 or so recipes, only
a few of which are for soups. This does not indicate that soups were
little-known or little-used in Imperial Rome, only that the focus of
Apicius himself was on luxury and fine dining. Pliny the Elder, for
example, credits Apicius with pioneering the technique of
force-feeding geese to enlarge their livers; making him the father of
foie gras. It is quite likely that to the less-affluent in the
crowded tenements of Romes trans-Tiber district, and in the outlying
agricultural areas, soups were known and well-loved.
After Apicius, it is not until the 14th century that we begin to see
cookbooks appear again in Europe. Two of the better-known are "Le
Viandier de Taillevent," by royal chef Guillaume de Tirel (Taillevent
was his chosen pseudonym); and Le Menagier de Paris (The Goodman of
Paris) written by an anonymous bourgeois husband as a guide for his
young wife. The soups of these and other cookbooks of the same era
are rather rough-and-ready by todays standards. They relied heavily
on spices, wines, and vinegars; and were thickened by various means
including bread and legumes. Many soups, in fact, consisted only of
a broth and a piece of bread to sop up the broth with. This piece of
bread, itself referred to as a sop, is the origin of our word
soup. It survives today in the form of croutons (ie French onion
soup) and the handful of crumbled saltine crackers so loved by North
American soup eaters. By the 19th century, when the classical
repertoire came into being, only the more rustic soups were
The Evolution of Haute Cuisine and the Classic Repertoire
[This section provides some historical context, but does not deal
specifically with soups. You may choose to ignore it, if you wish.]
Modern haute cuisine begins with the French Revolution; the modern
restaurant (in Europe, at any rate) predates the Revolution by just a
The production of prepared foods for public consumption was the
exclusive right of a variety of guilds, dating back to the middle
ages. In France, for example, one went to the boulanger for bread,
the charcutiere for sausage, and the vinaigrier for soups and stews
(youll recall from above that wines and vinegars were important soup
ingredients). Shortly before the Revolution a M. Boulanger broke the
guilds monopoly by preparing and serving a restorative (hence
restaurant) of sheeps feet in white sauce. Establishing his right
to do so took some years of legal action, but Boulanger opened the
door to a new style of public dining. This was to have far-reaching
While the lower classes ate rough food at home and in the citys inns
and taverns, the aristocracy dined in the utmost extravagance. Noble
houses maintained huge kitchen staffs to prepare meals of incredible
excess. Reading even the simplest description of a lavish state
dinner of the 18th century beggars the imagination. For a vivid look
at the cooking methods of the day, and the extravagant details that
attended on such a meal, you may wish to view the movie Vatel,
starring Gerard Depardieu in the title role, which is available at
good-quality video rental outlets.
Vatel on the Internet Movie Database:
When the revolution arrived, the aristocrats (and to a large extent,
their households) were swept away. Many of their cooks were executed
as hangers-on of the aristocracy, and those who survived found
themselves in difficult circumstances without their wealthy patrons.
It was here that M. Boulangers pioneering work bore fruit, as
unemployed chefs increasingly sought to make their fortunes by opening
eating places. In time, as the revolution ebbed, a new power
structure evolved. A newly-affluent middle class emerged to patronize
public establishments, and Napoleons imperial ambitions created a new
aristocracy to patronize individual chefs.
It was at this time that the godfather of haute cuisine emerged.
Marie-Antoine Careme was a poor child of nondescript parentage, who
succeeded in finding a place as an apprentice in one of the new
restaurants in Paris. He proved to have a staggering talent for
cooking and confectionery (which he described as the greatest and
most important branch of architecture). Hired by the famous diplomat
Talleyrand as his personal chef, Careme launched himself into a
legendary career as the king of chefs, the chef of kings.
Careme was to the culinary world of his day what Napoleon was to the
political sphere. Considering that the French of his day were the
pre-eminent cooks of Europe, he set out to prove it to the world.
Drawing on the prestige of his high-profile employers, he wrote
incessantly to promote and define French cuisine; and to bully into
submission anyone who was misguided enough to oppose him.
Careme embodied the French passion for reason, order, and
systematization. It was Careme who first organized soups, stocks, and
sauces into orderly and structured families, just as Linnaeus had
done with the world of biology. It was Careme who established roux
(equal weights of flour and butter, cooked together) as the universal
thickener for soups and sauces. And, most importantly, it was Careme
who managed to rethink the extravagant cuisine of the aristocratic
household; and make it practical for restaurants and the more
pragmatic gentry of the 19th century. Careme died in the 1830s,
having set an indelible stamp on the cooking world. Although many
great chefs came and went in his wake, it was not until Escoffier that
anyone rose to Caremes stature.
Escoffier personified the many advances which took place in the
kitchen during the 19th century. Born in 1846, he served his
apprenticeship under an uncle who owned a popular restaurant (it would
remain open until 1910). He was still a young man when he joined the
army as a chef in the disastrous Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71. The
difficulties he experienced with provisioning during this time sparked
his interest in new technologies, such as the nascent canned food
Over the next decade and a half, Escoffier presided over a number of
increasingly prestigious kitchens. By 1884, he was dividing his time
between the Grand Hotel in Monte Carlo and the Hotel National in
Lucerne, Switzerland. It was in Switzerland that he met the
soon-to-be-legendary hotelier Cesar Ritz, launching a partnership that
would change the culinary world.
In 1890 Ritz and Escoffier came to London, where their respective
talents in the front office and the kitchen made the newly-built Savoy
and Carlton hotels a byword for luxury. Their joint reputation led to
the creation of a chain of prestigious Ritz and Ritz-Carlton
hotels around the world. It was during this time that Escoffier began
to show that he had a genius for more than simply cooking.
In these new hotels, Escoffier brought the kitchen up from the
unventilated basement it had occupied since time immemorial. He
insisted that cooks develop a new attitude of professionalism, and
standardized the now-familiar uniform of white double-breasted tunic
and black-and-white checked trousers. He encouraged his chefs to
educate themselves, dealt harshly with smoking and drinking in the
kitchen, and insisted on an unprecedented standard of cleanliness and
Escoffier completely redesigned the commercial kitchen to take
advantage of 19th century technology. Banks of modern cast-iron
ranges and grilles replaced the open hearths and brick ovens of bygone
years. He gave thought to the flow of ingredients and staff through
the kitchen, and rearranged storage and workspaces to allow for quick
and efficient preparation of meals. Turning his attention to the
often-anarchic staffing of the kitchen, Escoffier drew on his military
experience to create what was known as the brigade system of kitchen
staffing. In the brigade, there was a clear hierarchy of cooks; and a
clear division of labour. In short, he redefined the working kitchen
both physically and operationally. Had he done just that and
nothing more his place in culinary history would have been secure.
However, Escoffier was not to stop there. The grande cuisine
established by Careme, although a simplification and codification of
what had gone before, was still a rather rococo thing. Escoffier,
during the remaining years of his extraordinary career (he died in
1935), devoted himself to redefining haute cuisine. Over a period of
decades, he clarified and simplified the cuisine of Careme to bring it
more in tune with the realities of the late 19th/early 20th centuries.
He simplified elaborate recipes, eliminated redundant and
overly-extravagant ingredients, and redefined the classifications of
many dishes. The result was a more practical but equally elegant
Although it is rare today to see a restaurant which exclusively serves
the cuisine of Escoffier in its traditional form, Escoffier is still
the touchstone of modern cuisine. Star chefs, from Fernand Point in
the 1930s to Charlie Trotter and Thomas Keller today, all owe a
tremendous debt to the work of Escoffier.
The Components of Soups
Within the formal culinary world all soups begin with one thing: a
Stock may be simply defined as a flavoured liquid derived from
bones, meats, vegetables, and/or herbs. Saying that, however,
encompasses a great deal. The vast majority of the soups, stews, and
sauces of the classical repertoire are derived from a small handful of
stocks: white and brown veal stock, chicken stock, vegetable stock,
and fish stock or fumet. In French, stocks are referred to as "fonds
de cuisine", or foundations of cooking, indicating their primary
Stocks of any kind are made by one basic process, which begins with
bones. Bones, and the cartilaginous joints of animals, contain
naturally-occuring gelatine. This is what gives a good soup its rich
"mouth feel," the perception of substance on one's tongue. The bones
of younger animals yield more gelatine than those of older animals,
which is why veal is traditionally used in preference to beef.
Tougher muscles, such as the shank meat, also contain lots of
gelatine; as do oxtails (remember granny's oxtail soup?), hooves, and
chicken wings. Vegetarian soups, which do not have the advantage of
this gelatine, tend to compensate by the heavy use of tomato products
or pureed vegetables to add body and flavour.
The bones are prepared differently, according to which stock is being
prepared. If a white veal stock is desired, the bones will often be
"blanched" (placed in cold water, brought to a simmer, then drained)
ahead of time. This allows some of the proteins to cook away before
the stock is begun, resulting in a clearer stock. Some chefs shun
this practise, however, feeling that it results in lost flavour. They
simply place the bones in the pot and begin.
If a brown veal stock is desired, the bones will commonly be roasted
in an oven for a time, to caramelize (brown) them and intensify the
flavours. The mirepoix (see below) in this instance will also be
browned in the pan. Most chefs add tomato paste at this point for
additional flavour and colour, cooking it in the pan ("pincee") until
it browns up and its acidity mellows. The pan will then be deglazed
with water, and the resultant "fond" (aka "sticky brown bits") is
added to the pot.
Chicken stock is normally made with uncooked bones or carcasses, but
may also be made with roasted bones and carcasses; in which case the
resultant darker stock will have a richer flavour. This is sometimes
called "jus roti," and is the chicken stock used in the restaurant
where I work.
Fish bones are not roasted, but used "as is." Bones and trimmings
from a variety of white-fleshed, non-oily fish are used; though the
gills will normally be removed as they impart a bitter flavour to the
stock. Oily fish such as salmon and mackerel are not used, as the
resulting stock will have rancid and oily flavours. If fish stock is
made with any combination of white wine, lemon juice or slices, and
additional aromatic ingredients, it is termed a "fumet," rather than
simply a "stock."
To resume: bones of the appropriate type, then, are immersed in cold
water, and brought slowly to a simmer (not a boil). As the proteins
and impurities cook out of the bones they float to the top in a
grey-brown foam, which is skimmed assiduously by the chef (or more
likely, by one of his apprentices). When the bulk of the impurities
have been skimmed away, various vegetables and aromatics will be added
to help flavour the liquid.
After adding the aromatic ingredients (see below), the stocks are left
to simmer for a suitable length of time. Veal, beef, or game stock
will typically simmer for a minimum of six to eight hours. Chicken
stock (or duck, goose, or game birds) will cook for two to four hours;
while fish stock or fumet is usually for less than an hour. In some
cases, meats may be added to the stocks partway through the cooking.
Veal stock, for example, is customarily enriched by the addition of
finely-chopped shank meat. Chicken stock may have ground chicken meat
added (thighs for preference) or wings, or wingtips. Classically, the
liquid is termed a "stock" if the flavour comes primarily from bones;
a "broth" if the flavour comes primarily from flesh.
The most important of the aromatic ingredients is a mixture referred
to as "mirepoix", which normally consists of two parts onion to one
part each of celery and carrots. This is a rather universal
preparation, although chefs will vary it according to personal
preference and the desired end result. Legendary chef and educator
Madeleine Kamman, for example, dislikes celery in her mirepoix. If a
stock is intended for a delicate soup, or one with a pristine white
colour, a "white mirepoix" may be used; which would omit the carrots
and instead have mushroom trimmings or perhaps parsnips in it.
Mirepoix will be cut to a size appropriate to the stock; the longer a
stock cooks, the larger the pieces of mirepoix will be. The goal is
for the mirepoix vegetables to release their flavours fully, without
cooking down to mush or developing unpleasant flavours. For example
veal stocks, which cook for a long time, will have coarsely-chopped
mirepoix; while fish stocks, which are cooked quickly, will have
The other nearly universal flavouring devices are the "sachet
d'epices" and "bouquet garni". The sachet consists of a handful of
flavourings tied up in cheesecloth for easy removal. The classic
formulation calls for bay leaves, black peppercorns, a few sprigs of
thyme, and parsley stems; though again there will be variations. A
bouquet garni will consist of a similar bundle of flavourings wrapped
in the green upper leaves of a leek, and again tied with string for
This term, when used in the context of soups, has two meanings. One
is the commonly-understood one: anything which is added to the dish
for decorative effect (a sprinkling of chopped chives, for example).
With soups, however, anything which is added to the broth is also a
garnish; hence, in chicken noodle soup, both the chicken and the
noodles are termed garnish. This will be important as we discuss
the individual soups of the classic repertoire, which are
differentiated in large part by their garnishes. Following is a
short list of garnishes we will meet with in the repertoire:
Profiteroles: Made from choux paste, the same pastry used for cream
puffs. Profiteroles for soup are smaller than cream puffs, and may or
may not be stuffed with savoury ingredients.
Royales: Savoury custards made with various ingredients (herbs,
vegetable purees); baked in a shallow dish in a hot-water bath; and
then diced or cut into fancy shapes with small cutters.
Forcemeats: A very broad category, forcemeats are made with
finely-ground meat; a binding agent (eggs, Béchamel, bread or
breadcrumbs). Specific types of forcemeats may be called for (ie
mousseline), or specific shapes (ie, quenelles). This description
applies primarily to forcemeats in soups; sausages and pates are also
forcemeats but are made in slightly different ways.
Quenelles: Forcemeats (or occasionally vegetable purees) formed into a
sort of boat shape with two spoons.
Mousseline: A very delicate forcemeat lightened with cream or egg
Julienne: Finely-cut strips of meats, vegetables, or other items.
Julienne is 1/8 by 1/8 square, and for general purposes is cut about
2 ˝ long. For soups, however, julienne strips are only half the
normal length, in order to better fit into a soupspoon.
Brunoise: The smallest standard size of dice for meats and vegetables.
Brunoise-cut items are cubes 1/8 on each side.
Chervil: One of the fines herbes of French cuisine, chervil
resembles parsley but is smaller and more delicate in appearance and
Soups of the Classic Repertoire
Escoffiers classification of soups
Escoffier recognized several categories of soups: clear soups, purees,
cullises, bisques, veloutes, cream soups, special soups (those which
do not derive from one of the standard procedures or stocks),
vegetable soups (usually rustic or peasant style), and foreign
Clear soups consisted of a clear broth or consommé, with light use of
Purees, as the name suggests, are thick soups made by pureeing a
starchy vegetable in its cooking stock. Purees, classically, might be
thickened if necessary with an addition of rice, potato, or bread
Cullises were made from fish, meat, or poultry stock; and were
reinforced with starchy ingredients such as lentils, rice, bread, or
Espagnole sauce (brown veal stock with tomato paste and thickened with
Bisques, in the classical sense, are soups made from shellfish and
thickened with rice. Today the term is used loosely for a variety of
soups, which will be discussed later.
Veloute soups are made, as the name would suggest, from a base of
veloute sauce. Veloute is a white stock (veal, chicken, fish)
thickened with a roux.
Cream soups, classically, are based on Béchamel sauce. This is simply
milk or cream, heated with a variety of aromatics which are later
strained out (ie onions, bay leaf, etc), and then thickened with a
roux. Properly speaking a cream soup is based on a Béchamel and then
finished with a liaison of cream and/or egg yolks, but in todays
kitchen most cream soups are actually veloute-based.
Special soups would have been those which fell outside the standard
repertoire. Bouillabaisse, for example, does not really fit into any
of the other categories listed.
Vegetable soups did not form a large part of the classic repertoire.
Escoffier notes that they are typically rustic in nature, and that the
pieces of vegetables and garnish used in them could be cut larger and
less precisely than those in more sophisticated preparations.
Foreign soups was a catch-all phrase for those non-French soups
which had made their way into common use within France. Periodic fads
for all things Eastern European had, for example, made Russian Borscht
and Polish Chlodnik popular at different times in French kitchens.
A word about consommé
The term consommé originally referred to any soup with a clear broth.
Today, however, it is generally understood to refer to a broth which
has been clarified before service.
Clarifying a broth is a time-consuming process, strewn with pitfalls
for the harried chef. The basic ingredient is a good-quality stock,
carefully degreased. Begin by grinding or very finely mincing a
quantity of suitable meat, such as beef shank (for a veal stock), and
cutting a suitable quantity of fine mirepoix. This is necessary to
replace the flavour lost to the clarification process. Then, we
gently whip a quantity of egg whites, in order to break them up and
mix them thoroughly with the meat and mirepoix. Finally, an acidic
ingredient such as tomatoes or lemon juice is added.
The cold (this is important) stock or broth to be clarified is placed
in a thick-bottomed, relatively narrow pot of suitable size; and the
mixture of ingredients listed above (referred to as a clearmeat) is
added. The pot is then brought gently to a simmer, while the cook
stirs occasionally to keep the egg whites from settling to the bottom
of the pot and scorching.
The proteins in the egg whites, which normally are curled up into
tightly-balled chains, are loosened (denatured) by the whisking and
the acidic ingredient. As the pot comes to a simmer, these proteins,
and those in the meat, begin to coagulate; that is, they begin to
contract again and solidify. As they do so they float to the surface,
forming a thin whitish layer which rapidly thickens to a gray-brown.
Once this begins to occur, the cook immediately stops stirring and
allows these proteins to form a thick cap on the surface of the stock.
This cap, referred to as the raft, filters impurities from the
stock or broth in much the same way that a swamp filters groundwater.
After 60-90 minutes, the now-crystalline broth is carefully strained
from the pot. Most chefs favour a pot with a spigot for this purpose,
as the raft sometimes breaks up during the removal of the consommé and
releases particles into the broth.
The Classic Repertoire: Names and Variations
The soups of the classic repertoire derived their names from a variety
of sources. Many preparations derive their name from their primary
ingredient, making a sort of shorthand for those who are familiar with
Potage Crecy, for example, is a soup from the classic repertoire,
made with pureed carrots. Crecy is a small town noted for its carrot
production; therefore anything Crecy in the classic tradition will
be carrot-based. Likewise anything DuBarry will contain
cauliflower; though there is debate whether this is because the famous
courtesan liked cauliflower, or because the ornate wigs of the day
resembled a cauliflower. Anything Florentine will include spinach;
Argenteuil signifies asparagus; Parmentier indicates potatoes;
Nantua denotes the use of crawfish, and so on. The classical
repertoire is rich in further examples.
Other soups may bear the name of a chef; his patron or employer; a
celebrity of the day; or other well-known public figure. Agnes Sorel,
mistress of King Charles VII, gave her name to several dishes,
including a soup garnished with strips of chicken breast and ox
tongue, and cooked button mushrooms. Careme named both a fish soup
and a meat soup after his sometime employer, the Russian Princess
Bagration (veloute-based soups with ground sole and veal,
respectively). Conde soup, after the great 17th century general, is a
puree of kidney beans thinned with chicken stock and red wine and
served (usually) with small croutons.
Here, then, is an alphabetical sampling of soups from the classic
repertoire, listed with their respective garnishes.
Clear Soups (Consommés)
Ailerons: Chicken consommé containing chicken wings which have been
deboned, stuffed with a rice mixture, and braised.
Ambassadeurs: Chicken consommé garnished with royales, chopped
truffles and mushrooms, and diced chicken breast.
Bergere: A thickened oxtail consommé with asparagus tips,
finely-minced mushrooms, tarragon leaves, and shreds of chervil.
Bouquetiere: Chicken consommé with a selection of seasonal vegetables
(usually blanched separately in stock or salted water, then added to
Brunoise: Similar to Bouquetiere, but the vegetables used will be cut
in brunoise (see above).
Carmen: After the operatic heroine, this Spanish-influenced soup adds
tomato puree, tomatoes, julienned bell peppers, rice, and shreds of
chervil to the consomme.
Celestine: Consomme garnished with julienned strips of crepes.
Diane: A game consomme garnished with the julienned game meat, diced
truffles, and Madeira.
Ecossaise: Mutton broth with pearl barley, brunoised vegetables, and
diced boiled mutton.
Flamande: Consomme with diced royales, green peas, chervil shreds, and
pureed Brussels sprouts.
George Sand: After the famous author, this is a fish consomme
garnished with fish quenelles with crayfish butter, and quartered
morel mushrooms. Croutons spread with soft carp roe are served
separately with this soup.
Girondine: Consomme with royales, chopped ham, and julienned carrots.
Hongroise: Consomme with tomatoes and paprika, garnished with rounds
of chicken forcemeat and quenelles of calves liver.
Joinville: Consomme garnished with quenelles of different flavours; in
red, white, and green.
Martiniere: Chicken consomme garnished with peas, chervil shreds, and
rounds of stuffed cabbage.
Medicis: After the noble Italian family; consomme garnished with green
and red royales and shreds of chervil
Nilson: Consomme with quenelles of ham and chicken, green peas,
chervil, and chopped truffles and chives.
Orge Perle: The name is French for pearl barley; and it is simply
pearl barley prepared separetely and placed in the consomme.
Parisienne: Consomme flavoured with leeks; and garnished with
julienned leeks and potatoes.
Princesse: Chicken consomme garnished with diced grean-pea royale;
pearl barley and thin slices of chicken breast.
Quenelles a la Viennoise: Consomme garnished with quenelles of fennel
and calf liver
Rachel: Chicken consomme garnished with julienned artichoke bottoms;
croutons topped with bone marrow will be served separately alongside
Rossini: After the famous composer; chicken consomme flavoured with
truffle essence; garnished with profiteroles stuffed with foie gras
puree, and chopped truffles.
Rubens: Tomato/chicken consomme, served with the shoots of hop vines.
Trevise: Consomme garnished with julienned chicke, tongue, and
Vatel: In honour of the Vatel who is the subject of the Depardieu
movie Id mentioned above. Fish consomme enriched with a sole fumet,
garnished with rounds of royale made with crayfish, and lozenges of
This is only a small sampling of the clear soups in the classic
repertoire. For a more comprehensive list, you may consult one or
more of the reference works listed at the end of this answer.
A Selection of Thick Soups: Purees, Creams, and Veloutes
Andalouse: Pureed rice, tomatoes and onions in a cream base, garnished
with julienned bell peppers and boiled rice. In the classical
repertoire, anything Andalouse or Andalousienne indicates that it
is Spanish-inspired, and will typically include tomatores, peppers,
Boieldieu: Chicken veloute; with a garnish of chicken quenelles
stuffed with foie gras, diced chicken, and diced truffles. Finished
with a liaison of cream and/or egg yolks.
Borely: Fish veloute, garnished with quenelles and mussels, and
finished with a liaison.
Carmelite: Fish veloute, quenelles of whiting, julienned fillet of
sole. Finished with a liaison.
Celeri: Veloute with pureed celery, finished with cream
Clermont: Veloute of celery and chestnut puree. Garnish with rounds
of fried onion and small balls of chestnut puree; finish with cream.
Compiegne: Pureed haricot (green) beans, garnished with sorrel and
chervil shreds, finished with butter.
Conti: Lentil puree with diced fried bacon and chervil. Finish with
Dieppoise: Fish veloute reinforced with mussel juice, leeks, and
mushroom trimmings. Garnished with shrimp and mussels, finished with
Elisa: Chicken veloute, simply garnished with sorrel and chervil.
Finish with cream and butter.
Esau: A biblically inspired potage, this is a lentil puree with
rice. Finished with cream and butter.
Freneuse: Turnip and potato puree, finished with cream and butter.
Germinal: Chicken veloute flavoured with tarragon, garnished with
asparagus tips and chervil, finished with cream and butter.
Gounod: After the composer of the opera Faust. Puree of green peas,
garnished with diced chicken, chervil, and croutons. Finished with
butter and cream.
Indienne: Chicken veloute with coconut milk, garnished with rice and
flavoured with a small amount of curry powder. Finished with cream.
Japonaise: Veloute with Japanese artichokes, garnished with croutons
and finished with cream.
Longchamps: Puree of fresh peas with garnish of vermicelli, chervil,
and shredded sorrel. Finish with butter.
Mais: Veloute of sweet corn, garnished with grains of sweet corn and
finished with cream. The classical version of midwestern corn
Marie-Stuart: Chicken veloute thickened with barley flour, and
garnished with carrot balls. Finished with cream.
Navarin: Puree of fresh green peas with crayfish tails, peas, and
chopped parsley; finished with butter.
Orties: Veloute of stinging nettles, garnished with fried croutons and
finished with cream. Dont try this one without a detailed recipe to
Petit-Duc: Veloute flavoured with woodcock (a small game bird);
garnished with slices of woodcock fillet and diced royales flavoured
with a game essence. Finish with butter and cream, serve with a glass
of good brandy.
Reine-Margot: Chicken puree with almond milk; a garnish of chicken
quenelles coloured with powdered pistachios.
St. Hubert: For the patron saint of huntsmen. Veloute flavoured with
game; garnished with diced game and truffles, finished with cream, red
currant jelly, and brandy.
Viviane: Chicken cream garnished with diced artichoke bottoms,
truffles, and carrots.
Again, this is merely a sampling of the thick soups in the classic
repertoire. More may be seen in the reference works listed below.
Foreign Soups from the classic repertoire
In the section above, Id mentioned the charming French practise of
creating dishes around one or more signature ingredents common to a
country or region, and then naming the dish accordingly. Thus the
Andalouse mentioned above, or dishes a la Indienne with their
sprinkling of curry powder, or a lAlsacienne, which include
These soups, however, are genuinely foreign specialties which were
adopted into the standard repertoire. Admittedly, many of them
received Gallic overtones in the process. I will list only a few,
since this topic will be covered in detail in the section on
Batwinia: A Russian soup made of pureed cooking greens (spinach,
sorrel, beet leaves) with shallots and white wine, garnished with
chervil and tarragon.
Biere: Exactly what the name suggests: beer soup. A veloute simmered
with beer and seasonings (salt, pepper, cinnamon) and garnished with
toast. A German soup, naturally enough.
Hongrois: Literally Hungarian, a beef soup with paprika and onions,
also containing potatoes, garlic, and fried croutons.
Mille-Fanti: Consomme containing dumplings of bread crumbs, parmesan,
eggs, pepper, and nutmeg; poached separately in more consomme and then
added for service. Italian in origin.
Olla Podrida: A Spanish soup, with raw ham, partridges, chicken,
chickpeas, and chorizo sausages simmered together. Lettuce is added
near the end.
The use of soups in modern-day restaurants
In todays restaurants, soups are valued as much as ever for their
ability to improve profits. Lower-priced restaurants tend to sell
popular favourites such as chicken noodle soup, typically made with a
commercially-prepared soup base. Fine dining restaurants are more
adventurous, turning out a variety of clear and thick soups reflecting
seasonality, the skill level of the staff, and (often) what they have
too much of in the refrigerator.
Thick soups are much-used in todays fine dining establishment, as
they offer a variety of advantages to the chef. Almost any vegetable
ingredient may be used up by cooking and pureeing it in a good-quality
stock, and the end result will be quite palatable. Purees and
cream-style soups, because they are filling, will frequently be served
in very small bowls, making them even more cost-effective. Precision
in cutting the ingredients is not necessary, since the end result will
be pureed anyway. This makes them quicker to prepare (as little as
15-20 minutes from start to finish), which means they are efficient in
their use of kitchen equipment and staff time. As a final benefit,
thick soups lend themselves to interesting presentations: it is quite
common to see thick soups of contrasting colours sharing the same
bowl; and infused oils, reductions, and coulis may all be used to
paint the surface of the soup.
Clear soups present more of a challenge to the kitchen. Clear soups
demand uniformly-cut garnishes, so unless one is buying soups
pre-made, they require greater skill in cutting. Clear soups also
require a well-coloured broth with strong flavour, since they will not
have the dominant flavour and colour of a pureed ingredient.
Consommes, in particular, require a higher level of skill in the
kitchen, as they are tedious and somewhat tricky to make; and have
exacting standards of quality (strong flavour and crystalline
For these reasons, clear soups tend to be served in the higher-end
restaurants. They will, generally, be used to showcase expensive
ingredients such as game, wild mushrooms, rare vegetables, and the
higher-price items of seafood.
It should be noted that cold soups are becoming more popular in North
America, particularly in the fine dining realm. One still sees
traditional vichysoisse occasionally (chilled leek & potato soup, a
classic French preparation), but it is more common now to see
fruit-based soups or variations on ethnic favourites such as gazpacho.
We will discuss cold soups at more length.
The soups favoured in North America fall into two very distinct
classes: those served in fine dining establishments, and those served
The soups served in lower-priced restaurants are, almost invariably,
made from a powdered flavour base (heavily salted) or purchased
ready-to-serve. Diners and family restaurants which make their
soups from scratch are rare, and tend to be much-loved local
treasures. An exception to this rule may come in coastal regions,
where some seafood restaurants make their own chowder in the
The soups most popular in the US are, frankly, the canned convenience
products we have all seen at the supermarket. The most popular
flavours are soups like chicken noodle, vegetable beef, tomato, clam
chowder, and best-selling cream of mushroom (used as a sauce or a
casserole ingredient as much as, or more than, as a soup). In the
restaurant business, the same handful of soups will be served;
sometimes as an identical canned product, while other establishments
offer the same soups in varying degrees of homestyle preparation.
Fine dining restaurants tend to follow the pattern outlined above, in
offering a wider variety of soups prepared in the traditional manner
from a stock. Various purees and cream-style soups may be offered, as
well as consommes, clear soups, bisques, and cold soups. Some fine
dining establishments also regularly resurrect old-world or old-time
favourites such as lentil soup or oxtail soup, and dignify them with a
higher level of preparation and presentation. Pureed vegetable soups
finished with cream are frequently termed bisques, an inaccurate but
common use of the word.
One style of soup now common to both fine dining and lower-end
restaurants is the regional classic. The push toward distinctively
native cuisine in North America has led to the adoption of many soups
once considered lowbrow by restaurants of all types. Today, one may
encounter a southwestern soup in New England, or a Californian soup in
Here are a few regional soups which are widely favoured:
Gumbo: A traditional soup of Louisiana and the Caribbean,
demonstrating a strong African influence. Gumbo is made with a wide
variety of ingredients, including (but not limited to) chicken or
fish, especially shellfish; tomatoes, sweet peppers, hot peppers, and
a wide variety of vegetables. The most important ingredient, however,
is okra: a finger shaped green vegetable prized the world over. When
sliced, okra releases a mucilaginous substance which thickens the soup
and gives it body. While some find okra slimy, most appreciate the
soups distinctive character.
Tortilla soup: A southwest soup, using Mexican ingredients.
Tortilla soup has (again) many variations, but will generally be made
with chicken or vegetable stock. A variety of vegetables such as
tomatoes, sweet or hot peppers, celery, onions, or avocadoes are
cooked together; then poured over a bowlful of crisp-fried corn
tortilla fragments (remember the sop?).
Cioppino: A Californian seafood soup. Cioppino, like dry Jack
cheese, is an example of Californias Mediterranean immigrants using
local ingredients to create foods similar to those from home.
Cioppino consists of a wide variety of fish and shellfish (mostly in
their shells) served in a tomato broth with crusty fresh bread.
Chowder: A dish close to my heart, as an Atlantic Canadian. Chowder
is an old-time fishermans dish, named for the cookpot (chaudiere)
used on coals, on the shore, by the early French settlers. Today,
chowder is a thickened, milky soup containing potatoes and onions;
generally made with seafood, though chowder made with sweet corn is
popular throughout the continent. Manhattan Clam Chowder is an
entirely different thing, essentially a tomato-based vegetable soup
with clams added. The clams are its only connection to other forms of
French-Canadian Pea Soup: A North American variation on the
traditional French Potage St. Germain. This soup, originating with
the habitants of Quebec, consists primarily of yellow (or less
often, green) split peas simmered in the cooking water of a ham, or
with a leftover ham bone. When soft, the peas generally will dissolve
on their own, but a cook in a hurry may puree them if desired.
Onions, potatoes, and carrots are frequent additions.
Other Europe (ie, non-French)
France, especially since Careme, has assumed a disproportionate
importance in the culinary world. Other European countries, however,
have deep and broad culinary traditions of their own. Italy, for
example, boasts of being the nation which taught France to cook; since
the birth of modern French cuisine is frequently dated to the 17th
century arrival of Marie de Medici as the new French queen, with a
number of Florentine chefs in her entourage.
As with the classical repertoire, I will restrict myself to a brief
discussion of European soups: on the one hand, each nation really
deserves a full treatment to itself; and on the other hand this answer
would simply be too long. Rest assured that the list of resources at
the end of this page (oh, so far down the screen) will provide you
with ample additional information.
Cock-a-Leekie: A Scottish soup of, as the name suggests, chicken and
Krupnick: A frugal classic; krupnick is a Russian soup of chicken
necks and gizzards with barley and cream. Typically served with small
pies made from another portion of the chicken.
Borscht: This one requires a fuller treatment than most of the other
soups listed. Variations of borscht are spread throughout eastern
Europe, and different regions (even families) have versions which they
are very militant about. In general, borscht is made on a base of
beef stock or broth. It will contain potatoes, and cabbage, and
carrots, and usually has onions, garlic, and dill. The best-known
ingredient, however, is beets (beetroots), which give the soup its
distinctive red colour. The soup is typically served with fresh or
sour cream; while the original piece of beef is often served alonside
as a separate course.
Summer Borscht, made in some regions, is an early-season variant on
the theme. Typically made with chicken or ham stock, it will use new
potatoes, beet tops or juvenile beets thinned from the garden,
fresh-picked dill, and sometimes buttermilk in place of the cream/sour
The borscht made by my wifes family, Mennonites who came to Canada
from what is now the Ukraine, employs tomatoes in place of the beets
as the red ingredient. This version adds a small amount of star anise
as a foil for the fresh dill.
Chlodnik (pronounced Hhhwodneek, with a slight hint of clearing
your throat as you say the h) is a creamy borscht from Poland,
served chilled. It is popular throughout eastern Europe, and is not
uncommon in France.
Shchee: A cabbage soup, which if anything is more distinctively
Russian than even borscht. For Russians, it carries the symbolic
connotation of plain, simple fare (much as we think of meat and
Okha: While borscht and shchee are peasant food, okha is a more
sophisticated Russian soup. This is a clear fish broth containing
white wine, parsley, mushrooms, fennel, leeks, and various
white-fleshed fish (ideally sturgeon).
Gulyas (Goulash): The best-known Hungarian dish, gulyas is a thick
soup or thin stew (depending on ones perspective) of beef browned
with onions, paprika and (generally) caraway seeds, simmered with
tomatoes and bell peppers added later in the process. Like similar
soups in many parts of the world, it is often turned into a heartier
meal by pouring it over a bowl of cooked noodles; unfortunately in
North America it is thought of as a noodle dish, rather than a soup.
Caraway soup: As simple as soup gets: caraway seeds and paprika are
cooked in a roux, which is then thinned with water and simmered to
allow the flavours to develop. May be served with an egg swirled into
Mushroom soup: Essentially mushrooms and onions sauteed in butter,
added to a Béchamel soup, and finished with white wine, sour cream,
paprika, salt, pepper.
Bayrische leberknoedelsuppe: Bavarian dumplings of breadcrumbs and
liver, the size of tennis balls, simmered in, and then served in, beef
Grunkohlsuppe: Soup of potatoes, kale, and smoked garlic sausage.
Sour Cream soup:Bacon, rice, tomatoes, onions, mixed vegetables,
Béchamel, beef stock, caraway seeds, and much much more; simmered and
then finished with sour cream.
Gazpacho: One of the most popular cold soups. There are hundreds of
regional variants, but generally gazpacho contains some combination of
tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, bell peppers, and cilantro.
Caldo Verde: The Portuguese classic, Caldo Verde is a soup made with
kale and chorizo sausages.
Avgolemono Soup: May be made with different stocks and garnishes.
Eggs are whipped until light and fluffy, and then the hot stock is
whisked in gradually. Finished with lemon juice. This is one of the
glories of Greek cuisine, and bears a vague family resemblance to the
flavour of hollandaise sauce.
Fassoulatha: A hearty bean soup, made with stock or just plain water.
If any European country rivals France in the depth and breadth of its
soupmaking tradition, that country is Italy. In general, Italian
soups tend to be simpler and less fussy than the French, with a strong
rustic tradition. As with France, any attempt to deal with Italian
soups in less than a book-length format is simply ridiculous.
However, I will make mention of a few:
Wedding soup: Tiny meatballs in chicken stock, with spinach leaves.
Ribollita: Again, many variations exist. Ribollita contains onions,
chicken stock, one or more kinds of beans, zucchini, and all the fresh
greens you can get your hands on: spinach, kale, sorrel, lettuce,
cabbage, what have you. Its how you use up your gardens surpluses,
in short. This soup is thickened with bread in the age-old way, and
is best on the second day.
Pappa al Pomodoro: Bread and tomatoes cooked together in stock with
garlic and lots of basil. Another recipe hearkening back to the
Zuppa d Aglio: Garlic soup! Garlic is cooked long and slowly to a
mellow nuttiness in wine and stock, then pureed and returned to the
pot with a quantity of herbs. Served with a garlic-buttered crouton
and slivers of garlic as garnish.
Stracciatelle: A clear chicken soup which may be served with a
tremendous variety of garnishes: anything from julienned vegetables to
small pasta shapes to broken vermicelli to
almost anything, as long as
its small and aesthetically pleasing.
The Indian subcontinent, like China, is home to a hugely diverse
population with very distinct culinary specialties. The foods of
largely-Muslim Uttar Pradesh, in the north, are radically different
from those of Kerala, in the south. Bangladesh depends heavily on
fish, while the cuisine of landlocked Punjab is filled with wheat and
dairy products. It is, therefore, dangerous to generalize about
One thing, however, may be said about India: by and large, it is not a
soup-eating country. While stews both meat-based and vegetarian
abound, they are generally thick and are eaten with bread, rice, or
other grains. Westernized Indians, of course, are citizens of the
world, like the rest of us. They eat foreign soups, and soups
Indianized during the French, Portuguese and above all British
colonial eras have become standards.
Most Indian dishes which could be classed as soups are extensions of
their grand tradition of dhal, or legume, cookery. Many who live
on the subcontinent are vegetarians for religious reasons; or fast
regularly for the same reason; or are simply too poor to buy much
meat. Consequently, the cooking of legumes is an important part of
their cuisine. Combined with grains in the form of rice, millet, or
bread, legumes provide an important source of protein.
In the North, dhals are usually thick and stew-y, and are served
with a variety of breads. In the South, dhals are more likely to be
thinner, or soup-y, and are served on rice. It is these that served
as the basis for most of the soups served in India.
Mulligatawny is the best-known of these Indianized soups. There are
a great many variations on this popular soup, which is eaten
throughout India and is common even here in North America. In
essence, Mulligatawny is a thin dhal with added ingredients. Normally
it will be based on split peas or red lentils, will contain potatoes
and chicken for garnish, and will be flavoured with turmeric, ginger,
and any combination of cumin, coriander, fresh coriander (cilantro),
hot peppers, and the juice of lemons or limes. I personally favour
the cumin/chilis/lime/cilantro combination, and this is how I make it
at home. In any case, the ginger and turmeric are all but universal.
Hara shorva, or green soup, is another example of India taking a
foreign notion (refer to Potage St. Germaine, above) and making it
their own. This is a green pea soup made with pureed fresh peas,
rather than dried. Potatoes and onions are simmered in chicken stock
with ginger, cumin, and ground coriander; the fresh peas are added and
cooked; and then the whole thing is pureed and finished (in the finest
French tradition) with heavy cream. Chopped cilantro and hot green
chilis provide the dominant flavours.
A variety of yoghurt-based soups are eaten as a cold dish in India and
Pakistan, dating from the earlier invasions of the Persians and
Moguls. Cold yoghurt is beaten until smooth, sometimes thinned with
cream or cold chicken stock, and served with mint or other herbs.
The African influence underpins much of the cookery of Latin America,
the southern US, and Portugal. Unfortunately the regional cuisines of
Africa are little-known in North America, except for a few enclaves
where Africans have gathered. For example my own father-in-law was
one of a number of oil workers who spent time in Madagascar during the
80s and returned with a Malagasy wife; consequently the oilpatch here
in Alberta has a small but tightly-knit Malagasy community.
As with China or India, different regions vary widely in their
culinary traditions. In general, African food relies heavily on
grains (rice, maize, millet and sorghum) and starchy foods such as
sweet potatoes, taro, and cassava. These would be served with a
strongly-seasoned sauce or condiment, which is typically where the
meats (if any) would be used. In the case of soups and stews, they
are frequently served either with dumplings or over a bed of grain to
make them more filling.
Groundnut (peanut) soup or stew is widely popular throughout the
African continent, with regional variations. A Ghanaian version of
groundnut soup, for example, would be made with the pureed nuts (ie,
peanut butter) with hot peppers, tomatoes, meat and/or fish, onions,
and perhaps mushrooms. This soup would be served with fufu, which
are dumplings made from starchy vegetables such as sweet potatoes,
taro, plantains, or cassava
whatever is available at the time, really.
In landlocked Mali or Zimbabwe the soup would be chicken-based, while
in the coastal areas of East Africa it might lean more to shrimp and
crab. The regional variations are truly endless.
In Cote dIvoire, a popular soup is made with palmnut pulp. Lean lamb
or beef is simmered with pig trotters (a source of gelatine, as
discussed in the section on stocks); rounded out with mushrooms,
tomatoes, hot peppers, onions, crabs, and some form of fresh or cured
fish. This would also traditionally be served with fufu.
Tanzania, with its wealth of fruit, uses green papaya as a vegetable
(as does Vietnam, for example). A popular soup is made by sweating
green papaya with onions in a little butter, then adding stock and
simmering it until tender. The soup is finished by pureeing it and
adding cream; it may be served hot or cold. Soups are also made here
from bananas or plantains, and (less strange to the western eye)
In Nigeria, a popular soup combines okra with tomatoes, onions,
peppers, and various forms of fresh or cured meats and seafood. This
rich chunky soup with its varied flavours is thought to be the origin
of Louisianas famous gumbo.
North Africa and the Middle East
North Africa is a very diverse place, with recognizable culinary
influences ranging from pre-dynastic Egypt to the Roman Empire to the
Spain of the Moorish conquest. Throughout much of this area, soups
are less common than stews, such as the tagines of Morocco. These
are thick stews, seasoned liberally with a variety of spices, and
colored with saffron. Traditionally couscous, a fine-grained starch
made from semolina, would be steamed in a special couscoussiere over
top of the stew, absorbing flavours from the tagine as it cooks.
Ultimately the couscous would be turned out on a platter to provide a
platform for the stew.
Egypt offers a great many soups, some of them boasting of great
antiquity. One of their noteworthy national dishes is Molohia, a
thick green soup made from the spinach-like leaves of a type of
mallow. The soup may be made with chicken or red meat; either way the
meat is simmered until tender and then removed from the broth to be
cut up. The molohia leaves are added to the broth and cooked for a
few minutes until soft, then garlic and cilantro are added. The soup
would be served with flatbreads, rice, chopped onions in vinegar, and
the meat reserved from preparing the soup. Ful nabed (dried broad
beans) are the basis of another popular soup, lightly seasoned with
cumin, salt, pepper, and lemon juice (diners are typically given lemon
wedges to squeeze for themselves, according to individual taste).
Lentils are popular throughout the Middle East, and are used in many
soups. Another ingredient, common to some countries of the region, is
kishk, a variant on burghul wheat which is fermented in milk and
yoghurt and then dried. This is added to many soups to make them
heartier, and may be eaten as a porridge-y soup or gruel for
breakfast. Some soups are based on kibbeh, the ground lamb balls
which are so popular in Syria and Lebanon. Lentils, lamb, and okra
are also popular ingredients in the Gulf States, but here fish is
widely-used as well. A distinctive ingredient of the region is
loomi, or dried limes, which may be added whole to a pot of broth
(and fished out before service) or ground to powder and sprinkled on.
China and Southeast Asia
China is made up of a great many peoples, with a great diversity of
culinary traditions. Again, treating Chinese food at anything other
than book length is a travesty, but writing the book is not my goal
here (many good ones exist already). Likewise, the peoples of
Southeast Asia do not deserve to be lumped together, as they so often
are, but a too-detailed discussion would be outside of our present
scope. I will, therefore, confine my remarks here to some general
observations about the soups of the region.
To generalize broadly, Chinese and Southeast Asian soups tend to be
clear. They are most often chicken or (in coastal regions)
fish-based, but pork is widely used as well. As with Europe in the
sop period, the soup itself is generally considered to be the broth,
while noodles (or less often, cooked rice or millet) provide
substance. Vegetables are usually added late, in order to keep their
textures and colours, while meat is typically used as a flavouring
agent or a garnish. The fundamental flavour combination,
corresponding to the mirepoix of Western chefs, is ginger, garlic, and
scallions (green onions).
In most Asian countries, there is far more emphasis placed on a
balance of flavours and textures than there is in the West. It is
considered fundamental to the cooks art that each meal should touch
on all the basic flavours of the human palate: salt, sweet, sour,
bitter, and hot. Side dishes and garnishes will be prepared with
this, and the necessity of varying colours and textures, in mind.
One interesting approach to soup, which is unique to this region, is
the use of the tabletop chimney or volcano pot. This is
essentially a doughnut-shaped cooking pot with a chimney in the middle
and a small charcoal burner underneath. The heat from the charcoal,
passing through the chimeny, keeps the soup broth at a simmer in the
ring-shaped pot. Various meat and vegetable items are dipped into the
stock, fondue-style, and eaten. Throughout this convivial process
(its usually done in a social group) the broth becomes richer and
richer, and at the end of the meal it is portioned out into bowls for
Noodles in this region vary quite widely, assuming the importance held
by breads elsewhere. Noodles may be made from wheat, buckwheat, rice,
or beans; and range from the finest vermicelli to thick-cut chunks of
dough which blur the line between noodle and dumpling. Dumplings and
filled noodles, of course, are also important here; the best-known in
the West being wontons.
Other garnishes and flavouring agents are widely used in the region.
Here is a partial list:
Rice: Various kinds of long-grain and sticky rice are used in the
region. Any of them may have soup poured over top for a meal;
frequently rice will also be used for cooked cakes or rice balls to
Millet/Sorghum: Used in much the same way as rice, but usually found
in mountainous inland regions where millets drought-resistance is
Shellfish: Shellfish are hugely popular throughout Asia, with shrimp
being the most widely used. Small shrimp (the kind used in Western
shrimp cocktail) are frequently salted and dried, and used as a
Mekong weed: An algae found in the Mekong river is collected in large
quantities and dried for use as a vegetable, primarily in soups. In
North America, it may be found packaged in Oriental groceries.
Chili peppers: Here, as in most of the world, chilies are a hugely
important ingredient. Fundamental to the cuisine of Thailand,
Vietnam, and large parts of China; peppers are a new-world ingredient
which took the old world by storm.
Tofu: Tofu shows up in soups in many forms. It may be fresh, dried,
salted, fermented or smoked; cut into chunks, fried, or even kneaded
Mushrooms and fungi: Fresh and dried mushrooms are used widely in
Asian cooking. The dried mushrooms in particular are a concentrated
source of flavour much appreciated in soupmaking.
Tamarind: The dried pulp of an Asian fruit, tamarind is used
throughout Asia to provide acidity and a sour note to foods.
Galangal: A close relative of ginger, which it closely resembles.
Milder than ginger, and with more of a citrusy note.
Cilantro: The leaves, stems, roots, and seeds (coriander) of this
plant are all important in the cookery of the region. Until the rise
of interest in Mexican cooking brought the term cilantro to
prevalence in North America, this plant was often known as Chinese
Eggs: Eggs will be seen in soups either hard-boiled and sliced, as a
garnish, or beaten and then stirred into the soup to form threads.
Barbecue: Various barbecued meats, such as pork, chicken and duck,
may be used as garnish.
Cured meats: Anywhere pork is popular, sausages and hams will be
found. Although this aspect of Asian food is little known and
appreciated in the West, it is an important part of the local culture.
Aside from Mexico, which because of its proximity is relatively
well-known to us, the foods of Latin America are little seen here in
the north. Even at that, our knowledge of Mexican food is superficial
and generally limited to a few Americanized items. Mexicos most
distinctive national dish, for example, the various types of mole, is
seldom seen or eaten north of the border. The rest of Latin America
fares even worse.
In general, rice, beans, and maize (frequently in the form of hominy)
are the staples of this region. Black beans and red beans are
especially popular here, as are hot peppers and cilantro. Chicken is
a staple meat, as is fish in coastal regions. In Argentina and
portions of Mexico and Brazil, beef is very important; while pork is
the primary ingredient in the Brazilian feijoada.
Here, then, are a few regional specialties of the soup or stew variety
for your consideration:
Posole: A thick soup made with hominy and beef, flavoured much like
Menudo: Menudo literally is tripe, the lining of a cows stomach.
Menudo (the dish) is tripe simmered slowly until tender, and served in
a form similar to posole (the tripe takes the place of the beef).
Albondigas: Hearty tomato-based soup with meatballs, highly-spiced
with chilis, basil, oregano, and cilantro.
Black bean soup: The pronounced flavour of black beans is a favourite
in this region, and they are used in a variety of soups. Generally
you will see hot peppers, onions, garlic, oregano, or cilantro in any
combination, but variations abound. The Aztec/Yucateca version, for
example, finishes with a small addition of vinegar.
Avocado soup: Similar to guacamole, but not as spicy and thinned with
Nopales soup: Nopales are the pads of a cactus; in this soup they are
simmered in chicken stock with onions and tomatillos; and flavoured
with lime juice and cilantro.
Feijoada: The distinctive national dish of Brazil, this is a hearty,
stew-like dish of fresh and/or cured pork with black beans, peppers,
and tomatoes. Originally cooked by African slaves from the parts of
the pig (heads, tails, feet, etc) that their masters didnt want, it
is now a highly-prized dish made with the finest cuts and the most
flavourful of sausages.
Bahian fish stew: The state of Bahia, in Brazil, is renowned for its
use of seafood. There are many popular fish stews there, but
typically they are distinguished by their use of coconut milk, onions,
palm oil, and hot peppers. Bean paste may be eaten with or in the
stew to add substance; balls or patties of fried crabcake are also
This category has been touched on briefly, in our discussion of the
previous categories of soups. Cold soups, though little eaten in
North America until recent years, are popular worldwide, and are
especially preferred in warm climates or during the warmer months.
In general, cold soups fall into two categories: those which are
cooked and then chilled, and those which are uncooked. Examples of
the first category would be vichysoisse and chlodnik; examples of the
second would be the yogurt soups of the Persian/Turkish tradition or
the fruit soups beloved of central and eastern Europe. In either
case, it is important to remember that foods served cold will require
In the past, it was primarily the chilled soups of the classic
repertoire which merited consideration in fine dining restaurants.
Jellied consommes, for example, are a common summertime offering in
Europe. North Americans tend to be appalled by the notion
(Meat-flavoured Jell-o? Ewwww!) but the texture is much more
delicate than we expect. A well-made consomme has a high level of
naturally-occurring gelatine, and when it is chilled it will set
without any intervention from the chef. Indeed, if anything, it might
need to be diluted in order to have the desired light texture. A
jellied consomme should hold together just enough to be easily spooned
up, but should melt immediately on the tongue. Chicken or meat
consommes may be served in this way, with a variety of garnishes.
Today, fine dining restaurants will also serve many variations on
gazpacho (some traditional, some improvised in-house); and fruit soups
are also popular. Traditional European fruit soups are generally
cooked and then chilled (Germany, Hungary, Poland, Ukraine, and Russia
all have strong fruit-soup traditions); but simple purees of uncooked
fruits have become popular in the fine dining world. Watermelon, for
example, may be pureed and then garnished with any number of fresh
fruits for a simple and elegant preparation.
Resources and search strategy
The majority of this answer was culled from print sources, simply
because I have such a wealth of written material available to me. I
turned to Google at various times to seek additional information on
specific subjects, not all of which was used. The single biggest
difficulty, of course, was how to present the wealth of available
material within your 10,000 word limit. This is why Ive varied my
treatment of the different types of soups: going into a number of
specific soups in some instances; furnishing lists of garnishes and
ingredients in others; and confining myself at times to general
remarks. In each case, I was seeking a balance between word count and
a suitable level of information. A disproportionate amount of space
was given to the traditional repertoire because of its central
importance to the culinary world.
There are a few basic works which no-one should be without, if they
are to seriously interested in food and cooking. I will begin with
those, providing the corresponding listing at Amazon:
The ultimate reference to cooking in general, and haute cuisine in
particular. Prosper Montagne, editor.
On Food and Cooking: The science and lore of the kitchen.
An amazing under the hood look at the science of food, by Harold
McGee. Includes excellent treatments of various topics discussed
Escoffiers seminal 1903 masterwork, written at the height of his
career and creativity. Available in several English translations,
this is referred to simply as the Bible by students and faculty at
the Culinary Institute of America. For cooks, its The Book That
Changed The World.
La Repertoire de la Cuisine
A condensation by Louis Saulnier of Escoffiers Guide. Essentially,
Saulnier stripped all the recipes of Escoffiers book down to their
fundamentals. There are no details in this pocket volume, just terse
instruction along the lines of Simmer A in B, add C when tender, and
garnish with D and E. It is the readers business to look up A, B,
C, and so on, if he doesnt already known them. Still, despite its
bare-bones structure, the Repertoire has been valued by chefs since
its 1914 publication.
The textbooks used in cooking schools are a valuable resource for
anyone wanting to learn more about food and its preparation. These
following texts are ones which I personally have used and can vouch
for; and most cooking schools in North America use one or more of
them. They offer a good balance of background information, classic
preparations, and modern techniques and recipes.
On Cooking: A textbook of Culinary Fundamentals
Professional Cooking (a textbook of the Cordon Bleu organization)
The Professional Chef (the standard text of the Culinary Institute of
The Professional Chefs Techniques of Healthy Cooking
The CIAs textbook of modern recipes aimed at better nutrition and
The best single volume I know of on the subject of soups is Larousses
The Soup Bible, which Journalist mentioned in her earlier comment.
Another book which I will recommend sight unseen, is the Culinary
Institutes Book of Soups:
Other cookbooks and reference works
The New Making of a Cook; Madeleine Kamman
A taste of Africa; Dorinda Hafner
The Complete Middle East Cookbook: Tess Mallos (linked from Alibris,
as Amazon doesnt appear to have it):
Madhur Jaffreys Indian Cooking; Madhur Jaffrey
Savouring the Spice Coast of India: Maya Kaimal
Food in History; Reay Tannahill
Online searches and resources
In the course of researching this article, I performed several Google
searches to provide additional details on many points. These were
primarily for additional detail on the historical figures mentioned,
or to verify the commonest varieties of a given soup. These searches
Car*me biography (the asterisk lets Google return sites about
Careme, with or without the circumflex accent over the e.)
early cookbook OR earliest cookbook OR earliest known cookbook
use of boiling
I also used the extensive online database of my professional
association, the CCFCC (Canadian Culinary Federation/Federation
Culinaire Canadienne) to verify details, and to suggest international
soups from specific regions:
Finally, this link at the New York Public Library provides a look at
several of the European cookbooks of the 14-19th centuries. This
material, by and large, did not make it into the final draft of this
answer, but you may find it interesting.
As I have stressed throughout, this is a very superficial treatment of
a very broad subject. I have attempted, throughout, to balance your
word limit with the maximum amount of useful information. In the
process, I have necessarily left out more than Ive put in. If you
require additional details on any point, of if you need further
information on an aspect of the subject that Ive not covered in
depth, please use the request clarification function. Ill be happy
to revisit the topic with you.