The Story of soup

Soup goes back to the invention of fire

Soup is said to be as old as cooking itself. The first evidence of soup we know of, dates back to 20,000 BC! Ancient pottery in the Xianrendong Cave in China had scortch marks suggesting that the pot was used to make hot soup.

After the discovery of fire, man started to cook. All sorts of foods such as meat, vegetables and grains were boiled in clay pots. By cooking the foods in hot water they became more palatable and more flavourful.


Earlier versions of soup with grains were more like porridge but more watery. Remember the scene in the Musical “Oliver Twist”: Food Glorious food?

In many cultures, the soup was slightly more refined with more vegetables, different types of beans and pulses, and something like pasta.

The word restaurant

Soup has always been given to the sick and the poor to restore their energy. The origin of the word “Restaurant” has to do with soup. The French described soup as being “restorative” – restoring, and Restaurant was soup as streetfood.

The gourmet kitchen found its feet in the 18th century in France and the first luxury restaurant opened. They started to refine soups we know today like the consommé or bouillon.  

Soups of all countries

Soup changes its character from region to region depending on what is on offer and what it needs to do. The Russian Borscht needs to be very nourishing and warming. The Spanish Gazpacho is more the opposite – light and cooling. We have the Italian Minestrone which features all the vegetables you can find in Italy. Japanese Miso is light and fermented not salty. The New England Chowder features an abundance of clams. The Bouillabaisse showcases the endless variety of fish on the Southern French coast. Cock-a-leekie  a wellknown Scottish soup originates back to the 17th Century. Then it would have been a two course meal, as the meat would have been served seperately. Like most soups it tastes even better on the second day.

Here we are back to the food cultural identity. Food and Identity

The book:

An Exaltation of Soups: The Soul-Satisfying Story of Soup, as Told in More Than 100 Recipes

by Patricia Solley is not so much a recipe book but a kind of scrap book about soup  that takes you on a journey. There are stories, proverbs, and much wisdom about soup in it.

Weinrebe Berlin soup to feed many (German)

by Veronika Kühn

The Story of Beef and Dumpling soup

A Staple recipe

The audio description above is in German.

Vreni is the mother of the children I looked after as an Au-Pair girl in 1981-82. Now we are all very good friends. Vreni was born and raised in Berlin, but moved to Southern Germany, Swabia, after her studies in Rome. Her former husband is a Swabian. And her multicultural affinity didn´t stop there. (Germany has 16 federal states, and you could say that each one has it´s own culture and traditions.) They had two rooms to let in their house, and they were always let out to foreign immigrants. Each Au-Pair girl was also of a different nationality and Vreni stayed in contact with nearly all of them. This lifestyle led to an array of culinary influences on both her and myself. Like most of us, she had a few stable recipes she would pull out of the draw for certain occasions. 

The family soup for Christenings and Birthdays

This soup was made by her mother when all the family members came together. In Germany it is quite traditional for families to celebrate such occasions as Christenings, birthdays, engagements at home rather then going out to a restaurant. It is by no means a festive recipe but a get-together recipe, one that says “We belong, it´s comfy here!”

She has just mastered the texture of the dumplings

This beef and dumpling soup improves with the time it stands on the stove and can easily be stretched by adding more liquid and rustling up a few more dumplings. The only problem for Vreni was that you don´t get the same cuts of meat in Berlin as you do in Swabia. In her interview Vreni told me that she has now, at seventy, just about mastered the texture of her mum´s dumplings. Sometimes we never manage to do that.


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