Dish

Ladle of Civilization

"Regardless of nationality or culture, everyone has an attachment to soup.... You rarely hear anyone emphatically say, 'I don't like soup,' and the person who does cannot be trusted." Indeed. Those are words from the recently published, wonderfully irreverent culinary bible called The Daily Soup Cookbook, stemming from a restaurant in New York's East Village. It is a book I worship, because I too believe most profoundly in soup. I take all those clichéd mottoes -- "Soup is good food," "Eats like a meal," blah, blah, blah -- pretty much to heart. I agree with Pat Willard, author of a cookbook on invalid recipes, that "humble wisdom resides in the balm of a soothing broth."

I'm not alone. Soup is an ancient tradition. Archaeologists claim lentil soup was discovered around 8000 B.C., an invention that immediately necessitated another one: the soup spoon (a.k.a., a chip of wood). But our predecessors certainly didn't call this stuff soup, which probably didn't hit, well, the books until A.D. The word itself is derived from sop, a piece of bread soaked in liquid and eaten, a process that explains how modern soup came to be composed and thickened (think French onion soup, with its disintegrating crouton in it, for the connection). Perhaps the Daily Soup authors (there are five of them) provide the most compelling argument that soup always has been a part of human life: "Even Fred Flintstone ate soup."

And though I'm not alone, I sometimes feel it down here in Miami, where soup isn't such a way of life. We don't need to be warmed -- our climate prevents us from ever getting chilled -- and hey, no one in paradise comes down with the flu, at least not every month like our Northern brethren. So soup, especially in American restaurant kitchens, can be a rare commodity. You just can't count on finding "the balm of a soothing broth" when you need it.

Jeremy Eaton
Jeremy Eaton

Contrary to popular belief, we do require those soothing broths, if only because soup, as Margaret Visser, author of The Rituals of Dinner,points out, "is a basic foodstuff to our way of thinking; a symbol of love." Plus, there are those occasional cold snaps, even occasional chills and fevers, like the ones everyone has now.

So where to get dependable soup?

Consider that The New Food Lover's Companion lists the following in its definition of soup: "See also avgolemono; billy bi; bird's nest; borscht, bourride; caldo verde; callaloo; caudière; chlodnik; cock-a-leekie; cotriade; coulis; cush; dashi; dubarry; fruit soup; garbure; gazpacho; menudo; minestra; mock turtle; mulligatawny; ozoni; panada; pepper pot; pistou; posole; ribollita; Scotch broth; she-crab soup; sizzling rice soup; won ton soup." In other words, very few cross-references display American roots. The simplest solution for the soup-seeker: Go ethnic.

I guess the most obvious ethnic soup is the one with which the Food Lover's Companion concludes: won ton soup. Unfortunately many of our local Chinese restaurants fall below par, and the only thing more distressing to the soup lover, aside from no soup, is bad soup. Enter Yeung's (954 41st St., Miami Beach; 305-672-1144) where the selection of soups can only be described as authentically exotic: dried scallops with pork and chicken; watercress with pork and tofu; dongpo spinach-beef; shark's fin with crabmeat. Yet with all those (and more) choices, my favorite remains the savory won ton broth, rife with bok choy and afloat with shrimp-stuffed dumplings. Frankly I find nothing more soothing.

Sometimes, more like usually, I don't want to be soothed; I want to be stimulated. That's when I head up to Paquito's (16265 Biscayne Blvd., North Miami; 305-947-5027) for some spicy meatballs -- albondiguitas -- in vegetable stock. Paquito's, a thoroughly comprehensive Mexican restaurant, also features some rich, savory blends including a noteworthy tortilla soup, the tomato broth spiked with cheese and sour cream, or the sopa de frijol, pinto bean purée flavored with sautéed onion, bacon, and fresh-snipped cilantro.

In this town, of course, black bean soup is a given, and you can get a decent version at just about any neighborhood bodega. It's more difficult to unearth well-seasoned white bean soup. I favor the blend at Cafe Papillon (513 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach; 305-673-1139), where the enormous chunks of carrots and potatoes practically melt among the white beans. The soup is served in a clear glass bowl, and it's extremely pleasant to sit outside on a below-70-degree day with a steaming portion of it. "We make it every day, and it's always available," says manager Jesus Sumano. "The only time we don't have it is when we run out."

In general you can pretty much expect a French restaurant like Les Halles (2415 Ponce de Leon Blvd., Coral Gables; 305-461-1099) to serve classic, caramelized onion soup gratinée; delicatessens like The Original Lots of Lox Deli (14995 S. Dixie Hwy.; 305-252-2010) to feature downright fluffy matzo balls in chicken stock; Indian eateries such as Kebab (514 NE 167th St., North Miami Beach; 305-940-6309) to offer aromatic mulligatawny; and Thai restaurants such as Siam Palace(9999 Sunset Dr.; 305-279-6906) to invigorate customers with a zesty tom kha gai.

But if none of these suggestions works out for you, you can always do what The Daily Soup Cookbooksuggests and take out a soup personal: "AKC (Alaskan King Crab), 6 months, 3" (but long legs), red, has seen Jaws 5 times, loves poetry, sincere and not crabby, likes to swim and dive, seeks successful, dirty, hairy, fibrous leek who isn't scared of a bear, for making bisque all night long. Party!! Yeah!! Please include a recent photo with your note or just bring brandy."

Then you'll be sure to find the soup of your dreams.

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