Slurp On Wonderful Asian Soups | Foolproof
If I found a restaurant menu without soup on it, I would feel quite odd about the place. We’re now seeing that each cuisine, especially Asian ones, have at least one particular kind of soup, stew, or broth they fancy, typically from ingredients local to the region the cuisine is from.
It’s easy to see why soups work – as a warm serving of flavour and nutrition, they are common representations of South East Asian cuisines around the world. Since Chinese immigration began in the 19th century, it lead to Chinatowns all over the world. Koreans and Vietnamese started flowing into America after the end of their respective wars.
At this time, Chinatowns served traditional Hakka and Sichuan cuisine, with tweaks for the local palate. Roast Duck and Pork got very popular. Subsequently, the global culinary spotlight shifted from New York City to Japan and almost overnight, Ramen and Sushi were tempting tastebuds the world over, setting the stage for the explosion of Pho shops.
Chefs like Ivan Orkin travelled to Japan to imbibe the culture and learn more about the art of serving raw fish and intensely-flavoured broths. It wasn’t long before Ramen became a term everyone knew and other Asian soups started cashing in on the show. Pho followed Ramen, as dashi <link> started being used more often.
Other Asian soups like Laksa, Khao Suey, and Tom Yum have been on Mumbai’s restaurant menus for over a decade, but how many of us have actually considered knowing more about them? With the rising global trend of soups, noodle shops and gastropubs serving trendy Asian food, it’s time to know the basics. Let’s begin!
The Chinese have a very different choice of ingredients compared to us. Take for example Bird’s Nest Soup. The name says it all. The bird in the edible nest is a swiftlet – encased by a nest made from its own saliva, is among the most prized ingredients in Chinese culture today. Foreigners visiting China often try their best to get their hands on this, because it’s just so popular and apparently really delicious too.
To more familiar waters, the Egg Drop Soup is a recipe that has made its way to India. We’ve all eaten one of these, a murky liquid with a whole lot of white bits floating in it. Beaten egg is dropped into the soup as soon as the broth is deemed ready. I’ve eaten these soups completely oblivious to the fact that those bits could be egg. It’s not peculiar, but really delicious.
Bun Bo Hue, is a traditional Vietnamese broth made from beef bones and shank slowly simmered with lemongrass. Like most Vietnamese food, the seasoning is finished off with fish sauce and sugar. The spicy, sour, sweet and salty flavours balance each other out beautifully, making this soup a wonder to eat. It’s unlikely you’ll find this in Mumbai, considering our beef ban.
Pho has officially arrived on global culinary shores, though a little later to India. I’ve been eating Pho since a year now. Pho Ga (chicken) and Pho Bo (beef) are the most popular among other varieties. The broth in them is not as murky or fatty as other Asian soups. The flavours of a pho are cleaner, and based on whether you’re in the south (Saigon) or the north of Vietnam, like in Hanoi, the flavour profiles could differ. Regardless, pho is a comforting soup, accompanied with fresh herbs like basil, coriander, spring onions and two mandatory sauces – Hoisin and Sriracha.
Just like Udon or Soba, Ramen is the name of the noodle itself. Thick or thin, these alkaline noodles are unique. The fat and broth actually stick to the noodles in a bowl of Ramen. So when you slurp, each mouthful is the perfect amalgamation of fat, broth and noodle. Since you’re slurping, you also incorporate air to cool down each bite entering your mouth. Since it’s alkaline, you can distinctly taste the noodles. My favourites remain Tonkotsu or Miso Ramen, all of which must be slurped to show respect to the chef.
Thukpa is considered Tibetan, but a closer look at this soup’s presence also points to Nepal and Ladakh among other Himalayan states. It’s such a flavourful soup, I was truly astounded. To begin with, it’s really spicy. The combination of noodles, ground up pork or chicken and a broth flavoured with typical Tibetan spices make it ideal for a cold winter day with a side of dumplings.
If you haven’t had Tom Yum yet, you definitely need to try it! The Thai and Lao favourite is available all over Mumbai. The secret behind a wholesome Tom Yum is the balance between sweet, spicy and sour. It’s one of those soups you could mess up the balance of, and it will still taste great. I personally like mine a little sour.
Jjigae is an underrated Koren preparation. Pronounced as ‘jigaayyyy’, I’ve had this as stew off a hot pot. It’s more like a soup people in South Korea consume as a hangover cure or late at night to cure post-drinking munchies. There are many varieties of jjigae – Kimchi based, Sundubu jjigae, and Gochujang based. More varieties are possible by simply changing the base you want to flavor the soup with.
Laksa is a good old favourite. Probably the first of the Asian soups beyond China in our restaurants, it now has a dying legacy. Along with Khao Suey, Laksa is a wholesome dish, but its popularity has run its course.
As conscious Indian food aficionados we need to look to our eastern neighbours and their rich cultural heritage. There are a few peculiarities like cockroaches and insects, but we embraced raw fish from Japan happily, didn’t we?
We’re not too different from our regional neighbours. Their food is as spicy as ours. All of us consume rice, although they also consume noodles. We have curries, they have broths. Once we embrace more of the Asian world than we already do, it will allow our palate the idea that something as simple as a bowl of hot soup is a complete, wholesome, and delicious meal.