Culture and soup– the question of how to really get a taste of a different culture is one that basically every guidebook tries to address. Once you’ve finished seeing all the touristic landmarks (which probably most locals avoid), you start to wonder what life is actually like in the area. To answer this question, many services like couchsurfing are extremely helpful.
But as far as cuisine goes, there is no better suggestion than trying the local soup.
What’s good about soup?
The thing is: soup is cheap. Soup is what happens when all your leftovers get thrown together in a pot to make a meal. Thus, soup exists almost everywhere, and is always a good way to see what kinds of leftovers people have to work with, which in turn tells a good deal about available ingredients and other local dishes.
Americans can’t deny the homey quality of mom’s Chicken Noodle soup, the marvelous cure-all for what ails you.
Nor can they deny the creamy goodness of Campbell’s Tomato soup, captured by no less than Andy Warhol, and only made better with floating goldfish crackers.
No Spaniard can deny the importance of Cocido Montañés, a traditional bean soup from northern Cantabria.
Perhaps once a thing of the country, this stew now sells for high prices in swanky restaurants for tourists.
In Bolivia, the thick pork stew called Fricasé is well known to cure local hangovers.
Often only available on weekend mornings, the purpose of this soup is clear.
During my time Senegal, a friend came to visit me and asked about soup.
My host family didn’t generally eat soup, because soup, they indicated, was for peasants. I asked around a bit more until I finally found a friend who was willing to help get us some soup.
We left the upper class neighborhood where I lived and ventured into the streets of a poorer area. There, we found a makeshift shack in the middle of a street, bustling with people waiting in line for soup at just 10 cents a bowl.
We nudged our way through the crowd and soon found ourselves eating some of the thickest, grisliest stew I’d ever tasted. Despite the food quality, I was pleased to find myself surrounded by smiling, laughing locals who were overjoyed to share their food with us… and despite 5 months spent in Senegal, this remains one of my most treasured cultural experiences.
Whether it’s now been glorified for sale in fancy restaurants, like the Cocido Montañés, or commercialized and idealized like Campbell’s Tomato soup, or simply remains a food of poverty, as in Senegal, soup is certainly a gem for every traveler to watch out for.