Soup Like a Local in Asia: A Guide to Popular Soup Traditions
Soup is a primarily liquid food, generally served warm (but may be cool or cold), that’s made by combining ingredients such as meat and vegetables with stock, juice, water, or another liquid.
Soup is a great way to warm up on a cold day, and Asia has some of the best soups in the world.
The way soup is eaten varies from country to country in Asia, and it’s a cultural experience. Some soups are eaten with a spoon, some are drunk straight from the bowl, and some are eaten with chopsticks.
In this article, I’ll explore the different ways soup is eaten in Asia and some of the cultural differences.
In this post we'll cover:
- 1 The Art of Eating Soup in Asia
- 2 Chinese Soups: A Journey Through the Land of Flavorful Broths
- 3 Slurping Up the Best: Popular Japanese Soups
- 4 Discovering the Flavorful and Nourishing Korean Soups
- 5 Exploring the Hearty and Savory World of Popular Filipino Soups
- 6 Conclusion
The Art of Eating Soup in Asia
Eating soup in Asia is not just about satisfying hunger, but it is also a cultural experience. The way soup is eaten varies from country to country, and it is an ancient practice that has been passed down from generation to generation. In this section, we will explore how soup is eaten in different Asian countries.
In China, soup is served in a bowl and is a regular item on the table. The bowl is held with one hand, and a spoon is used to eat the solid parts of the soup. The broth is then drunk straight from the bowl. It is common to pick up the bowl and drink the remaining broth at the end of the meal. In some traditional Chinese dishes, rice or noodles are added to the soup, and chopsticks are used to eat them.
In Korea, soup is served as a side dish and is known as “guk.” The soup is served in a small bowl and is eaten with a spoon. It is common to pass the soup around the table and let everyone have a taste. In some traditional Korean dishes, rice or noodles are added to the soup, and chopsticks are used to eat them.
Other Asian Countries
In other Asian countries, such as the Philippines and Thailand, soup is also a common dish. The way soup is eaten varies from country to country, but generally, a spoon is used to eat the soup, and the broth is drunk straight from the bowl. In some countries, such as Vietnam, the soup is served with fresh herbs and vegetables, and it is common to add them to the soup while eating.
The Difference in Eating Soup
The way soup is eaten in Asia is completely different from how it is eaten in the Western world. In Asia, soup is a dish that is meant to be enjoyed slowly and savored. The process of eating soup is just as important as the taste of the soup itself. In the Western world, soup is often eaten as a quick and easy meal, and it is common to use a fork or spoon to eat it.
Chinese Soups: A Journey Through the Land of Flavorful Broths
Chinese cuisine is known for its diverse and flavorful soups. Here are some of the most popular ones:
- Egg drop soup: A simple soup made with beaten eggs and boiled in chicken or pork broth. It’s a staple in Chinese-American cuisine.
- Hot and sour soup: A spicy and tangy soup made with ingredients like tofu, mushrooms, and bamboo shoots.
- Bak kut teh: A pork rib soup that’s popular in Malaysia and Singapore. It’s seasoned with herbs and spices like garlic, star anise, and cinnamon.
- Hulatang: A soup made with walnut, sesame, and rice flour. It’s a popular breakfast dish in China.
- Banmian: A noodle soup made with vermicelli noodles and a variety of ingredients like pork, chicken, or seafood.
Specific Ingredients: What Makes Chinese Soups Unique
Chinese soups are known for their use of specific ingredients that add flavor and health benefits. Here are some examples:
- Black chicken: A type of chicken with black feathers and skin. It’s believed to have medicinal properties and is often used in soups.
- Herbal remedies: Chinese soups often contain herbs and adaptogens that are believed to heal and promote health. Examples include ginseng, lotus seed, and corn silk.
- Blood and tripe: These ingredients may not be for everyone, but they’re commonly used in Chinese soups. Blood is often used in soups like nam ngiao, while tripe is used in soups like hup tul woo.
- Edible bird’s nest: A delicacy in Chinese cuisine, bird’s nest soup is made with the nests of swiftlets. It’s believed to have health benefits and is often served at special occasions.
- Seafood: With China’s large coastline, seafood is a common ingredient in Chinese soups. Crab, fish, and turtle are all popular choices.
Regional Variations: Chinese Soups Across Different Countries and Languages
Chinese soups vary across different regions and countries. Here are some examples:
- Tong sui: A sweet soup that’s popular in Hong Kong and other Cantonese-speaking regions. It’s made with ingredients like sago, bean, and lotus seed.
- Mustard green soup: A soup that’s popular in Taiwan and made with mustard greens and pork.
- Oxtail soup: A soup that’s popular in Hong Kong and made with oxtail and Chinese herbs.
- Fung tsoi gai: A soup that’s popular in China’s Guangdong province and made with chicken, lettuce, and sesame oil.
- Nangchang soup: A soup that’s popular in China’s Jiangxi province and made with mutton, corn, and rice noodles.
No matter where you go in China, you’re sure to find a soup that will tantalize your taste buds and warm your soul.
Slurping Up the Best: Popular Japanese Soups
Miso soup is a staple in Japanese cuisine and is often served as a side dish with meals. It’s made by cooking miso paste in a dashi stock, which is a cooking stock made from dried fish and seaweed. The soup is usually served with tofu, seaweed, and green onions, and sometimes with vegetables or meat. It’s a clear soup that’s light and refreshing, perfect for starting a meal.
Ramen: A Noodle Soup with Flair
Ramen is a popular Japanese soup that has become a global sensation. It’s a noodle soup that’s made with a meat or fish-based broth, flavored with soy sauce or miso, and topped with meat, vegetables, and sometimes an egg. There are many regional variations of ramen, but the most famous is tonkotsu ramen, which is made with a thick, creamy pork bone broth. Ramen is a hearty and filling soup that’s perfect for a cold day.
Udon: A Thick and Chewy Noodle Soup
Udon is a thick and chewy noodle soup that’s made with a dashi stock and topped with meat, vegetables, and sometimes tempura. It’s a popular dish in Japanese cuisine and is often served in restaurants and at home. Udon can be served hot or cold, and there are many regional variations of the soup. One popular variation is kitsune udon, which is topped with sweetened aburaage, a type of fried tofu.
Sukiyaki: A Meaty Stew
Sukiyaki is a Japanese hot pot dish that’s made with thinly sliced beef, vegetables, and tofu. The ingredients are cooked in a sweet and savory sauce made with soy sauce, sugar, and sake. The dish is often served with raw eggs, which are used as a dipping sauce for the meat and vegetables. Sukiyaki is a hearty and filling dish that’s perfect for a cold day.
Butajiru: A Pork and Vegetable Soup
Butajiru is a pork and vegetable soup that’s popular in the Kanto region of Japan. It’s made with pork, potatoes, and vegetables, and is flavored with miso paste. The soup is thick and creamy, and is often served with rice. Butajiru is a comforting and satisfying soup that’s perfect for a cold day.
Zenzai: A Sweet Red Bean Soup
Zenzai is a sweet red bean soup that’s often served as a dessert in Japan. It’s made with azuki beans, which are boiled and sweetened with sugar. The soup is often served with mochi, a type of rice cake, and sometimes shaved ice. Zenzai is a refreshing and sweet soup that’s perfect for a hot day.
Nikujaga: A Meat and Potato Stew
Nikujaga is a meat and potato stew that’s popular in Japan. It’s made with beef or pork, potatoes, onions, and carrots, and is flavored with soy sauce and sugar. The stew is often served with rice and is a hearty and filling meal.
Nabe: A Hot Pot Dish
Nabe is a Japanese hot pot dish that’s made with a variety of ingredients, including meat, vegetables, and noodles. The ingredients are cooked in a pot at the table, and diners can add their own ingredients as they eat. Nabe is a popular dish in Japan, especially during the winter months. One popular variation of nabe is chankonabe, which is a stewing pot dish that’s often eaten by sumo wrestlers.
In Japan, soups and stews are an essential part of the cuisine, and there are many regional variations of these dishes. Whether you’re in Tokyo or a small town, you’re sure to find a delicious soup or stew to warm you up on a cold day or refresh you on a hot day.
Discovering the Flavorful and Nourishing Korean Soups
Korean cuisine is known for its healthy and delicious soups that are perfect for any occasion. Here are some of the most popular Korean soups:
- A clear soup made with beef, chicken, or seafood stock and vegetables like radish, sprouts, and leeks. It’s usually served as a communal dish and shared among family and friends.
- A stew-like soup that uses a variety of ingredients like tofu, kimchi, beef, pork, or seafood. It’s deeply satisfying and comforting, especially during cold weather.
- A seaweed soup that’s often served as a breakfast soup or a hangover cure. It’s light and nourishing, and it’s believed to help with postpartum recovery for new mothers.
- A chicken soup that’s stuffed with glutinous rice, ginseng, and other herbs. It’s a popular summer soup that’s believed to boost energy and stamina.
- A beef soup that uses short ribs, ox tail, or bone marrow as the main ingredient. It’s simmered for a long time to extract the rich flavor and served with rice and other side dishes.
The Secret to Making Authentic Korean Soups
Korean soups are simple and quick to prepare, but they require some handy tips to achieve the authentic flavor and texture. Here are some tips to help you make great Korean soups at home:
- Use plenty of water or stock to create a flavorful broth.
- Cut the vegetables and meat into bite-sized pieces for easy eating.
- Add some soybean paste or chili paste for a spicy kick.
- Use ground beef or shrimp to make dumplings or meatballs.
- Use dried pollock or tuna to add a seafood flavor to the soup.
- Use potato or sweet potato starch to create a drop egg effect.
- Use bean sprouts or cucumber for a bright and refreshing flavor.
- Use corn or rice cake for a chewy texture.
The Benefits of Korean Soups
Korean soups are not only delicious but also healthy and nourishing. Here are some benefits of Korean soups:
- They are low in calories and high in nutrients, making them a great option for weight loss.
- They are rich in protein, fiber, and vitamins, which help to boost immunity and digestion.
- They are comforting and satisfying, which helps to reduce stress and anxiety.
- They are versatile and can be adapted to different dietary needs and preferences.
- They are a great way to use up leftover ingredients and reduce food waste.
Exploring the Hearty and Savory World of Popular Filipino Soups
Nilaga is a popular Filipino soup that is made with beef, vegetables, and water. It is a hearty dish that is perfect for a cold day. Some of the vegetables that are commonly used in this soup include radish, kangkong (spinach), and corn. The broth is made by simmering the beef bones for hours, which gives it a rich and flavorful taste.
Sinigang: A Tamarind-Based Soup
Sinigang is a sour soup that is made with tamarind as its base. It can be made with various kinds of meat, such as pork, beef, or fish, and is usually served with rice. The souring agent can also come from other fruits, such as guava or calamansi. Vegetables like kangkong, okra, and tomatoes are added to the soup to make it more nutritious.
Tinola: A Chicken Soup with a Twist
Tinola is a chicken soup that is flavored with ginger and onion. It is a simple dish that is easy to prepare, but what sets it apart is the addition of green papaya or chayote. The inclusion of these vegetables gives the soup a unique taste and texture. Some people also add malunggay leaves to make it more nutritious.
Binacol: A Coconut-Based Soup with Shrimps
Binacol is a soup that is made with coconut water and shrimps. It is a popular dish in the Visayas region of the Philippines. The soup is flavored with ginger and lemongrass, which gives it a refreshing taste. It is usually served with rice and is perfect for a light meal.
Batchoy: A Noodle Soup with Pork and Innards
Batchoy is a noodle soup that originated in the city of Iloilo in the Philippines. It is made with pork, innards, and noodles. The soup is flavored with garlic, onion, and soy sauce, which gives it a savory taste. Some people also add chicharon (pork cracklings) to make it more flavorful.
Sinigang vs. Nilaga: The Creative Use of Ingredients
While sinigang and nilaga are both popular Filipino soups, they differ in the way they are prepared and the ingredients used. Sinigang is characterized by its sour taste, while nilaga is known for its hearty flavor. However, some people have gotten creative with these soups and have combined the ingredients to make a unique dish. For example, some people add tamarind to their nilaga to give it a sour taste, while others add beef to their sinigang to make it more filling.
So there you have it- the history, culture, and differences of soups in Asia. As you can see, there’s a lot to learn about this delicious dish, and it’s a great way to learn about the culture.
So, don’t be afraid to try something new and explore the many flavors of Asia!
Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.