Soup is often the most representative dish of a culture—the oldest, the most traditional. Soup is often the first and the last meal human beings can have—the way in which the oldest people in the tribe could be fed, when they were sick or toothless, in order to maintain them and keep their knowledge alive.
While ramen and pho have taken seats on the trend-train with their familiar light broth, noodles, and protein, there’s a lot more tongue-traveling to do. There are so many other soups born in other cultures, with exotic seasonings, spices, bases, and ingredients, some with suspicious names that don’t sound safe at all. But who wants to play it safe? Try something unfamiliar in your favorite place.
From hole-in-the-wall places to fine dining Asian restaurants, give yourself a little winter adventure:
Happy Family Clay Pot
Fortune Chinese, 2869 Olentangy River Rd.
The last time we went to Fortune, we asked for this soup only because we thought the name was so funny. We were curious why everywhere around the world, Chinese people name their restaurants or dishes like this. Golden, lucky, happy…now, I get it. This soup makes you feel all three. The mild ginger/garlic broth swirling around with veggies and large hunks of pork, duck, and tender calamari are comforting, and a great way to accompany other spicy dishes at this Szechuan place. It’s especially good for when you have a cold or a hangover (this must be the Chinese version of Gatorade).
Meat in Wine Soup
Tasi Café, 680 N Pearl St.
This is very personal. I’m Chilean. The cooks from Tasi are of Bolivian descent. So the flavors in this soup—even though Chilean and Bolivian cuisine are very different—brings me home. It’s the kind of South American cuisine not well-known here, one with more balanced spices than Mexican food and all the heritage from the ancient Andean inhabitants, the Incas. Here, potatoes and mixed meats come in a clear and light broth, super tasty, homey.
Tom Ga Khai
Thai Basils, 1577 King Ave.
Thai food is such a damn fine thing. I love the mixture of flavors—the freshness of the ubiquitous basils, fresh chilies, and sprouts. This soup is on the small side, so you can have it as an appetizer or as a side to a main dish if you are really hungry. You’d do well to pair it with a portion of white rice for a lighter meal. There are no starches present—only some chicken and mushrooms. The broth, with coconut milk and a green curry-like flavor, is citric, hot, sour, sweet, spicy—all at once. Intense to be sure, but the cilantro and crunchy scallion greens offer balance.
French Style Cassoulet
Kitchen Little, North Market
The cassoulet is one of those dishes that is extremely hard to replicate at home, mainly because traditionally it is made with a wide variety of high-quality scraps…something we don’t have in our daily kitchen because we don’t live in bucolic villages in southern France. The original recipe contains white beans, sausage, pork, goose ,and duck scraps, but in this poultry store, sausage, duck, and turkey are the most common ingredients, and the recipe changes depending on what they have. It’s always the same and not the same, like Heraclitus’s rivers—no hungry soul sips the same soup twice (and maybe that’s what makes it so addictive). The seasoning is very mild and elegant, on the herbal side, so you can actually taste the meats. It’s rich, thick, and even when it is not so heavy, you can still taste the duck fat. On the side, they offer a slice of glorious Eleni Cristina bread with lots of butter to make the experience perfect. Just wait until the first real big snow day, and go there to celebrate, as if hedonism was your faith. Say amen with the duck fat fries. The good thing: it’s made to be eaten at home, so you can enjoy it with a glass of the powerful, tasty red wine that this cassoulet deserves.
Tensuke Market Express, 1159 Old Henderson Rd.
A perfect tempura patty of fried veggies and shrimp meat floats in a mild, oceanic, umami-ish broth, so try to eat it before it gets soggy. The buckwheat soba noodles—darker in color and coarser in texture than the classic udon noodles—are full of delicious, earthy notes. The soup is not spicy at all, so it is perfect for trying the big and crazy assortment of seasonings and condiments. Some drops of spicy oil were perfect in it. It was a great lunch after shopping at the wonderful Tensuke Market. They have such a great high-quality selection of all things Asian, and possibly the best seafood and fish in town.