Soups to sip around the globe
Pho is the national dish of Vietnam, but is mainly associated with Hanoi, where the first pho restaurant opened in the 1920s. (Peter Stuckings/LPI)
Soup is a warming staple the world over – but who knew there were so many fine flavours? The ten below are our picks for the best soups around the globe:
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Beef noodle soup for breakfast? Once you have tasted a good pho, you will crave it for lunch and dinner, too. Pho is practically the national dish of Vietnam, though its genesis is relatively recent. In the early 20th Century the colonising French introduced beef stock to local cooks, who then threw in some chillies, fish sauce, spices and rice noodles to give it a local twist. The dish originates from the country’s north and is now widespread, though Hanoi is still the focal point. Every morning, street-side stands and no-frills restaurants go into beef-slicing, broth-boiling overdrive, producing bowl after bowl of Asian ambrosia for the passing crowds.
Locro de Papas, Ecuador
You need something to warm your cockles in the Ecuadorian Andes: villages teeter at breath-stealing altitudes and nights can be extremely cold. Given this land is the home of the potato, it is no surprise the traditional hot belly-filler in these parts is hearty locro de papas – potato soup. The Spanish conquistadores first came across it in the 1560s, and its popularity has not waned since. Variants exist (there are always garlic and hot peppers, often cheese and avocado, and sometimes beef or guinea pig), but after a day hiking up volcanoes, a generous dollop of any kind is more than welcome.
The first rule of botany states that the country with the most variants of a particular species is probably where that species originated. Translate this to cuisine and Ukraine is the top contender for the homeland of borscht. Although the eye-poppingly purple beetroot soup is slurped across Eastern Europe – filling tummies in Poland, Russia, Lithuania and beyond – it is in Ukraine that you will find the greatest glut of recipes, which differ from Kiev to Lviv to Odessa. It always looks utterly fabulous, though the girlie colouring is offset by a manly accompaniment of pampushky (fried doughnuts), which turn this shrinking violet into a real meal.
Obe Ata, Nigeria
Locals call it a pick-me-up — a medicinal dish to reinvigorate those who are feeling under the weather. The uninitiated might call it hell-in-a-ladle. It does not necessarily taste bad; it is just like eating Satan’s pitchfork, fresh from the furnace. Essentially Nigeria’s national dish, obe ata (pepper soup) is a fiery beast, especially if Scotch Bonnet chillies are in the mix. It can also have some unusual ingredients, including tripe, dried fish and the whole head of a goat. But if you can brave a bowl on the streets of Lagos, know that you are experiencing the real taste of West Africa.
There is something fishy going on in Ghent. Inventor of the Flemish seafood soup, waterzooi, this river-port city now seems to be using chicken in the dish. This preference for poultry allegedly occurred when Ghent’s waterways became polluted, killing off the recipe’s main ingredient. Thankfully, today you can still find the original fish version (often made with pike, carp or bass) in the narrow medieval streets of the Patershol quarter. Here restaurants cook up the soup with various vegetables and thicken it with egg yolks and cream. Hunks of bread are provided for dunking, and a Belgian beer is near-obligatory for washing it down.
Cullen Skink, Scotland
First cooked up in Morayshire on Scotland’s northeast coast, in the comely village of Cullen, this irresistibly-named soup used to sustain the sailors of the Moray Firth – back when fish were both abundant and a fair bit cheaper than the traditional beef base. Its ingredients are simple yet simply superb: the finest locally-smoked Finnan haddock, the best Buchan potatoes, plus onions and cream. And although the dish has spread beyond Cullen’s harbour, for a taste of skink at its most authentic, try it at the 18th-century Seafield Hotel.