Food historians tell us the history of soup is probably as old as the history of cooking. The act of combining various ingredients in a large pot to create a nutritious, filling, easily digested, simple to make/serve food was inevitable. This made it the perfect choice for both sedentary and travelling cultures, rich and poor, healthy people and invalids.
Soup evolved according to local ingredients and tastes.
Russian borscht, Italian minestrone, French onion, Chinese won ton and Campbell’s tomato … are all variations on the same theme.
The long cooking of soup enabled nourishment to be drawn from meagre quantities of fish and meat too bony or tough to be otherwise utilized.
Traditionally, soups are classified into two main groups: clear soups and thick soups.
Soups can be consumed hot or cold and flavors can be sweet or savory.
In the United States, the first colonial cookbook was published by William Parks in Williamsburg, Virginia, in 1742, based on Eliza Smith’s The Compleat Housewife; or Accomplished Gentlewoman’s Companion, and it included several recipes for soups and bisques.
Soup became portable as science advanced. “Pocket soup” was popular with colonial travelers because it could easily be mixed up with a little water. Canned and dehydrated soups came along in the 19th century and kept cowboys and soldiers fed on the trail. Later, soups could be tailored to meet diet restrictions, such as low salt and high fiber.
Soups are similar to stews, and in some cases there may not be a clear distinction between the two; however, soups generally have more liquid (broth) than stews.
The word “soup” comes from French soupe (“soup”, “broth”), which comes through Vulgar Latin suppa (“bread soaked in broth”) from a Germanic source, from which also comes the word “sop”, a piece of bread used to soak up soup or a thick stew.
The word “restaurant” derives from the French verb “restaurer” (“to restore”, “to revive”) was first used in France in the 16th century, to refer to a highly concentrated, inexpensive soup, sold by street vendors, that was advertised as an antidote to physical exhaustion. In 1765, a Parisian entrepreneur opened a shop specializing in such soups. This prompted the use of the modern word restaurant for the eating establishments.
While soup’s defining characteristic is its liquid, etiquette experts say we eat soup – as opposed to drinking it – because it is part of the meal.
In China a thin soup is consumed throughout the meal as a beverage, and elaborate soups such as the celebrated bird’s nest and shark’s fin may be interspersed with other courses or served near the end of the meal.
In the United States, chicken noodle soup is the most popular, followed by tomato soup and Cream of Mushroom.
The most expensive bowl of soup commercially available costs £108 ($190) and is featured on the menu at the Kai Mayfair restaurant, London, UK. The soup is called Buddha Jumps Over the Wall and contains shark’s fin, abalone, Japanese flower mushroom, sea cucumber, dried scallops, chicken, huan ham, pork and ginseng. Due to its unique nature, the dish has to be pre-ordered 5 days in advance.
The world record for the largest bowl of soup, set by DENK Communicatie (Netherlands), which prepared a 26,658 liters (5,863.94 UK gal; 7,042.3 US gal) vegetable soup in Poeldijk, Netherlands.
The largest soup tasting event consists of 350 participants, and was achieved by Oga City, East Japan Railway Company Akita Branch, and Oga Co., Ltd. (all Japan) in Oga, Akita, Japan, on 9 March 2019.
In Xianrendong Cave, Jiangxi Province, China, the first example of a soup bowl was discovered and thought to date back to 20,000 BC. The ancient pottery showed scorch marks, which would suggest the user was making a hot soup of some kind. While this is the earliest example of a soup bowl, ancient soup makers may have simply dug a pit, lined it with animal skin or gut, filled this “pot” with water and dropped in some hot rocks.
“To feel safe and warm on a cold wet night, all you really need is soup.” — Laurie Colwin