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AN APOLOGIA FOR SOUP by William Lehman

I will say soup over eighty times in this essay. For some words, when you repeat them enough, they cease to hold their meaning, although soup always means the same thing to me. There is an ancient gene in my body that loves soup, and a phenomenon about myself of which I am certain. My eyes were widened to soup when I was young: to boil bones, to flavor water, seems alchemic, like building an elixir. I find some primal brilliance in the first human creature to bubble up a cauldron and stir it all night. When I am sick, I want soup; when I am trying to eat well, I eat soup; when it is cold, I prefer soup; and when it’s hot, you’ll find me sweating over a bowl of soup. The word itself in English sounds like you sipped broth from a spoon: soup.

Soupe de Poissons. Bourride. Stracciatella. Pavia. Avgolemono, Passatelli. Potage Bonne Femme! Listen to these magnificent yet mysterious words. There is something fantastical about boiling soup, like science; experiments take place in my kitchen as I fortify layer after layer of ingredients and strain a broth five times.

Caldo de Queso. Caldo de Mariscos. When I was being born, my dad was so nervous the doctors asked him to leave. He sat at the bar at Rosita’s Place eating Sopa de Pollo while watching the Phoenix Suns, and it is the only thing I order from there anymore. In college, I use to study at a restaurant that always kept a Birria de Chivo hot just for me. In Tucson at El Indio, you can order a Chicken Albondigas soup we call Blonde Albondigas. When I’m hungover, Menudo is the only cure. On Sundays at Benny’s in Tucson, after Mercedes, the waitress, says “Hola, cómo estás?”, and I say, “Bien, y tú?”, she smiles knowingly and asks, “Menudo blanco con pan?” At the Guadalajara Grill in downtown Phoenix, they start the meal with a complementary fideo soup; then I usually order the thirty-two-ounce Cocido de Res. I sweated in the summer heat with my dad in Guerrero Negro over a bowl of bright red birria at a food truck that immediately made me shit for the first time in five days – I used the women’s restroom in the rush. I have wondered what it would be like to swim in an ocean of Sopa de Siete Mares. When I lick my lips after swimming in the ocean, I think of broth. When I think of oceans on other planets like ours, I think of cosmic broth.

Soaking in a hot tub reminds me of how much I love soup.

Vichyssoise. Summer Avocado. Senegalese. Gazpacho. I will not eat cold soup.

When I was a kid, my dad had half a cow’s hipbone in the yard. He told me it was a dinosaur bone. He asked that I retrieve it one day so he could make Dinosaur Bone soup. I do not know how he hid that bone from me because he could not have used if for the soup, as it was covered in dirt and not even my childhood brain would allow me to believe he was going to use it. But, for supper, he served me my first cream of potato and dino bone soup.

Cock-a-leekie. Pistou. Chicken Liver. Chicken and Kneidlach. Matzo Ball. Gifelte Fish. My mother once made a chicken soup that I famously called Swamp Soup. My first soup when I was a child was Campbell’s Chicken and Stars – it was then that I learned how to slurp. At Stage Deli in Detroit, you can order Chicken-in-a-pot: a whole soup pot comes to your table with an entire boiled chicken inside.

I feel responsible when I make a seven-hour stock, like it is a defenseless newborn. If you do not want your soup, or some emergency leads to your premature death while you are making a soup, I will adopt your broth.

Occasionally, I’ll go to a dinner party hosted by really rich folks who serve two turkeys to four people. At the end of every meal, they pack up the turkey carcass specifically for me. It has crossed my mind that they are giving their scraps away: for what would these people need with their discarded bones but to give them to poor Billy; yet, I come home and boil away the cartilage and the ligaments into a stock so thick you could slice it at room temperature, and I feel like the richest person in the world.

There is something original of soup, something essential, like a catch-all for scraps, the link between the fridge and the trash. I have always been intrigued by the term “soup kitchen” and secretly valued the concept because I still naively think they serve soup.

Celery and Stilton. Fennel and Walnut. Tomato and Rice. I never turn down a soup. If you have soup, I want to try it.

I like a soup that requires your hands to pick at bones or dip a French baguette in or fill a corn tortilla. Soup should be eaten without a spoon.

When I am worn and thin and no longer able to leave a bed or hold a spoon, bring me soup to sip.

A commandment I just made up: you shall pick up your bowls and sip the remainder of your soup.

Give me a soup where the people gather around and drop fresh ingredients into hot broth as everyone eats from the same bowl: now that’s a religious soup experience!

If roast beef was a religion, I would idolize the au jus. I think of au jus as soup. Gravy is a soup.

Have you ever heard of Shrimp Ball soup? Sam Wo’s in San Francisco was shut down due to health reasons; you used to enter through the kitchen, and, like cats in a sweatshop, the chefs were madly filling wontons for wonton soup. I made friends with a stranger for forty-five minutes over a bowl of BBQ pork noodle soup in Chinatown, NYC. I’ve been so overcome with nerves in a restaurant in London’s Chinatown, paralyzed by all the great choices on the menu, that I fumbled upon my all-time favorite soup: BBQ pork, roast duck, and wonton noodle soup. BBQ pork, duck, and wonton noodle soup might as well be my final meal before the electric chair.

When I’m executed, my last word will be “Soup.”

I consider it a crime to throw out any shellfish liquor and not use it for a stock. It is a crime to pour any soup down the drain.

Country Mushroom. White Bean soup. Harvest Barley.

Duerte’s in Pescadero south of Frisco sells Cream of Artichoke soup and Cream of Green Chili soup. You can ask them nicely to pour half and half in the same bowl. A Slumgullion at Moe’s on the pacific coast is a bread bowl of clam chowder smothered in a hot scoop of tiny steamed bay shrimp. I have not been to Disneyland in thirty years, although, through my photographic memory alone, I could probably direct you to where my brother and I ordered bread bowls of clam chowder. At the Ocean Odyssey in Virginia, you can order quarts of she-crab soup to go. In New Jersey, they pour sherry into their snapping turtle soup as garnish.

Is there anything more elegant and sexier than a bisque? For a nominal fee, you can add foie gras to your mushroom bisque at Christopher’s in Phoenix.

Minorcan Vegetable. Curried Parsnip. Minestrone. Beer Cheese. Soup Georgette.

It used to bother me that oxtails were the closest thing to the cow’s asshole until I had oxtail soup at Tapas, Papas, Fritas. At Zam Zam in Phoenix, on the Sunday brunch buffet is a goat soup that’s only a gelatinous and silky broth with tiny knucklebones of melted goat hooves floating around.

I’ve eaten fresh green pea soup at a Bobby Flay restaurant in Vegas. In Gallop, New Mexico, you can get mutton stew made of sheep raised on the Navajo reservation. Warm green chili salsa from Nopalito’s in Las Cruces could be considered soup.

Please don’t make me choose between you and soup.

I cry when I eat soup. I’m not being silly: ever since I had Bell’s Palsy as a kid, my right eye waters when I eat, tears especially roll down my cheek when I eat soup – I customarily dab my chin and wipe my misty eyes with a napkin.

Something I do not like to admit: I’ve found moths in my soup while camping yet still finished the bowl. As long as we are divulging secrets here: the secret ingredient in my French Onion soup is dry vermouth. I put chopped hot dogs in my split pea soup. Crushed saltine crackers will double the satisfaction of any soup.

A wadded-up paper receipt is the strangest thing I have ever discovered in a cup of soup; it was Tomato Florentine while on a date with Lauren Quidort from a restaurant that does not exist anymore. I had a severe cold at the time, too.

When I go to a Japanese restaurant, I order ramen with a side of miso soup. I want to work in a Vietnamese restaurant so I can learn to make pho. I ate a bowl of pho in the Czech Republic: the chef smoked cigarettes in the kitchen and the waitress brought me a complementary slivovitz – fermented and distilled plum soup; again, I don’t like cold soup, unless it’s beer. Beer is made from fermented malt soup. In South Korea, after I watched the sun rise over the Sea of Japan with Moon Kyung, and I was the coldest I have ever been in my life, we sat in a restaurant and warmed our bones with Galbi-tang, a beef short rib and turnip soup.

I’ve never had a soup at a McDonald’s.

Alpujarreño sounds like a dance: you dance the Alpujarreño after you get done dancing the Chipi Chipi. It is a soup, however, of chopped potatoes and diced sausage from the Andalusian area of Spain.

Borscht. Mulligatawny. Deviled Turkey. Harira.

Na Parkánu pub in Plzeň, Czech Republic serves one of the best garlic soups in the world; it contains whole soft cloves of garlic, diced ham, shredded white cheese, heaps of fresh marjoram, and crisp croutons. I gave a gypsy a hundred-koruna note in a train station in Plzeň; he bought a bowl of goulash soup.

If you do not like soup, then I contend that you have yet to meet the soup for you.

I am cooking soup right now: a turkey soup from one of those carcasses, with zucchini squash, corn, cheese tortellini, and a ton of fresh ground pepper.

I want you to come over here and taste the good soup.

I sometimes find myself in this mood at a restaurant where I become covetous when I get halfway through a large bowl of soup. I think to myself: maybe I can stop now and save this gloriousness for later. I don’t want the experience to end, and I just want to take it home with me. I call that love.

I will finish your soup, although it isn’t because I love you; I just really want your soup.

I have no compelling argument or horrid personal experience to use against cold soup. Melon soup is popular, soup Normande, Cool Cherry, Chilled Plum, these soups exist; although I consider these more of a dessert. If I need a dessert, yup, I often order another cup of hot soup.

I treat people I meet for the first time like I’m passing them a spoon of soup. Gently passing a spoon of soup to another individual should be the international sign of hello.

Okay, with all that has been said here, brace yourself for this: If you were to marinate scallions, sliced juicy tomato, red bell pepper, cucumber, and salt and pepper in a little extra virgin olive oil and cider vinegar, then drained the dressing into a spoon and presented that to me, I would amend my rule about not eating cold soup.

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