Can soup unite?

Whenever my friend Adele mentions that she is making soup, her husband, Ivan, gets a worried look on his face. You see, Ivan is one of those people who think that soup is not real food.

The world can be divided into two types of soup people. Those who love soup and those who hate soup. Those who do not like soup, like Ivan, say that soup is unsatisfying, it leaves them wanting more.

They say if you have soup for lunch, two hours later, you’re looking for something to satisfy your hunger. I have a friend who dismisses soup as simply flavoured tea. On the other hand, soup lovers scoff at such remarks and say that soup not only feeds their hunger but also their soul. Now that’s some seriously deep soup.

However, there is a type of soup that can unite the soup lovers and the soup haters. It might not sway the die-hards like Ivan, but for some soup centrists, it’s a soup that can reach across the aisle. It’s the type of soup one Bajan calypsonian described as “blup blup soup”.

Staunch Caribbean-soup lovers revolt at the idea of “that thin, watery thing that some people call soup”. Some of them are even a little fanatic about what constitutes a good soup and that ranges from the texture of the soup, meaning thickness, to the kind of dumplings, to the choice of meat. So let me break it down for you and explain what good blup-blup soup is.

First of all, it’s got to be thick, how do we get it thick — split peas, black-eyed peas or eddoes. When cooked, all of these melt or can be mashed easily to thicken the soup.

Dumplings! You’ve got to have some dumplings and the right kind of dumplings. Some people make theirs with baking powder and others don’t, some like their dumplings small and perfectly round while others want theirs hard, without a leavening agent and rolled lengthways. Throw in some sugar and ground cinnamon in the dumpling mixture and you’re in sweet dumpling heaven! So you’ve got to ensure you make the right kind of dumplings for the persons eating the soup.

The meats — bone-in beef, oxtail, cow-heel, chicken backs, neck and feet and in some cases, a piece of salt meat. Because this kind of thick soup is cooked low and slow, it allows for these long-cooking ingredients to completely break down and provide that sought-after fall-of-the-bone goodness.

Gosh, I’m getting hungry for soup but let’s continue.

Ground provisions such as sweet potatoes, yams, cassava, eddoes and plantains add body to the soup. They are cut into large chunks and added to the soup in time to be cooked completely but not too early that it all melts into the soup. The important thing in this kind of soup is that mouth-feel, that you’re eating something, you’re biting down and chewing.

Vegetables are a nice addition and impart freshness to the soup. Drop in a handful of spinach leaves, a few okra or some large chunks of pumpkin and you’re good to go. Carrots too.

And then, the absolutely important ingredient to any Caribbean soup is fresh thyme. You’ve got to have a few sprigs of fresh thyme in that soup. It adds a distinct flavour to the soup, it’s woodsy, hearty and comforting. The fresh variety quickly infuses the soup. And that my friends is the sum of a good Caribbean soup known fondly in Barbados as blup blup soup.

For many households particularly in Guyana, this hearty soup is a traditional Sunday meal while in Jamaica Saturday is soup day. For some, soup on Saturday and Sunday is as important as pudding and souse or cou-cou on Saturday. For other countries in the region, this kind of soup is enjoyed any day of the week.

When I made the cow-heel soup for this column, I hesitated before calling my friend Adele over to get some. While I knew she would be content with the soup, I wasn’t sure Ivan would be. Anyway, she came by and I gave her some to take home. The next day I saw her and Ivan and she was telling me he enjoyed the soup, I looked up at him and there on his face was that polite little smile that said: “The soup was okay but it was not food.”

So what about you? Are you a soup person?

Cynthia Nelson is a journalist, tutor, food photographer and author of the award-winning book: Tastes Like Home – My Caribbean Cookbook (IRP 2010). She writes regularly about food in various Caribbean publications.





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