Soup culture

Soup is one of the most versatile dishes in any cuisine. From nouveau starters to hearty, traditional main courses of broth and stew-like soups, every culture has their traditional favourites.

07 Nov 2009


History of soup is about as old as the history of cooking. From ancient times, the act of combining various ingredients in a large pot to create a wholesome, nutritious, easy-to-digest food was bound to happen. This made it the perfect choice for rich and poor, nomadic or settled cultures and both healthy people and invalids. Soups (and stews, broths, gruels, etc.) evolved according to locally available ingredients and tastes. New England Chowder, Spanish Gazpacho, Russian Borscht, Italian Minestrone, French Onion ...and not forgetting local favourites like Cape seafood soup, evolved from the foodstuffs avaialable.

The word "Soup", in fact, derives from sop or sup, meaning the slice of bread on which broth was poured. Before the invention of bread which soon became the traditional accompaniment to a bowl of soup, the only kind of thick soup was a concoction of grains, or of plants and meat cooked in a pot. A thick porridge of some kind is still the staple food of many peoples, and it is not always made of cereals, but may consist of other starch foods: legumes, chestnuts or root vegetables.

"Soups were easily digested and were prescribed for the sick and incapacitated since ancient times. The modern restaurant industry is said to be based on soup. Restoratifs (wheron the word 'restaurant' comes) were the first items served in public restaurants in 18th century Paris. Broth [Pot-au-feu], bouillion, and consomme entered here. Classic French cuisine generated many of the soups we know today." [From "Food in History, Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat, translated by Anthea Bell, 1992]

Soup 101

Borscht, Chowder, Bouillabaisse, Consomme and Gazpacho are all traditional and cultural variations on basic soups.


Borscht is soup made mostly from beets. It is/was a specialty of eastern European/Russian cuisine, primarily of the poorer people (beets were cheap). The range of choice of soups in Russian cuisine is explained by the folk habit to have a soup meal at least once a day. Schi, borsch, rassolnik, botvinia, ukha, okroshka, solianka and many others has been a peculiarity of Russia since Medieval times. These soups are usually made on meat, fish, mushroom, vegetables or milk stocks.


The word chowder and its application to fisherman's stew comes from France. Versions of la chaudree, (cauldron) are common along the coast from just north of Bordeaux well up to Brittany. Clam chowders are becoming accepted as a suitable substitute for fish chowders, but it will be another fifty years before they become widely popular in most cuisine circles.


A consommé is a clear soup has been in the French cuisine lexicon since the 16th century, but has been eaten by the English since the early part of the 19th century. In French it is the past participle of the verb consommer, meaning to consume or accomplish or finish, and indicating in this context a finished soup as opposed to a simple stock or broth.

A consomme may be served hot or cold, usually at the beginning of the meal. The simplest consomme of all, in France, is the broth (bouillon).


Gazpacho is actually a Spanish dish. The word evolved from Arabic roots. Spain (Andalusia, more specifically) was invaded by the Moors in the Middle Ages. As a result, much of that region's gastronomy was greatly affected by Middle Eastern recipes and ingredients.

This tomato-based soup was introduced to Europe and the world by Spanish missionaries. Having gained popularity in Engalnd and France, English colonists and French settlers took this chilled soup to eth rest of eth world. In the old world "In the Spanish style" often simply meant with tomatoes.

The earliest gazpacho type recipes go as far back as the middle ages, long before tomatoes were known in the Old World. When the Spanish came to the New World they brought with them hundreds of years of culinary traditions. Many of these recipes, including those for soups and stews, readily embraced new ingredients, including tomatoes.

Soup Favourites


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