It improves your point of view the moment you dig in.
It can be thick or thin, hot or cold, fancy or plain.
Soups in France are a gift, the perfect example of diverse regional cooking.
As with most French cuisine, what goes in the pot is fresh, local and delicious.
And unmistakeably French.
The character of a region's soup specialty goes a long way
to identify that particular community's cooking.
When you think of Paris, onion soup immediately comes to mind.
Here's a short list of soups that go hand in hand with the unique regions of France:
Garlic Soup from Languedoc -- No worries about who you kiss, the garlic
mellows when enhanced by long cooking with duck fat and a heady bouquet garni.
Soup au Pistou from sunny Provence -- The taste of Provence in a bowl,
garlic, fresh basil, olive oil, the expressive pistou stirred in at the finishing line.
Bouillabaisse from Marseilles -- unbelievable assortment of just caught
Mediterranean fish (rascasse, rockfish, eel, mullet, monkfish, sea urchins,
mussels, langoustine or whatever the fishermen just brought to market)
and full-flavored vegetables like fennel and leeks along with
a dose of Pernod, an exhilarating licorice aperitif wine.
The tasty broth is usually served separately along with a rouille (saffron & red
pepper mayonnaise) and served on grilled bread -- worth every last euro.
Garbure from Gascony -- traditional, hot, and heavy -- brimming with
cabbage and either goose confit or smoked ham, usually with beans
and a variety of root vegetables. Perfect peasant fare.
Chestnut Soup from Aquitaine - creamy pulverized chestnuts combine
with decadent creme fraiche to make a memorable soup.
Vichyssoise from Paris or New York City? -- crazy as it sounds,
Julia Child insisted it was an American invention -- but down home fare
in France always included a leek and potato soup, served hot -- its status
later elevated by a Ritz Carlton chef who chose to serve it elegantly chilled.
Beef Bourguignon from Burgundy -- a stew like no other, full of heavy
long-simmered beef, exquisite red wine, cognac, carrots, mushrooms & pearl onions.
Pumpkin soup from the Auvergne -- straight from the farmhouse,
this soup is simple, savory and satisfying.
Melon soup from Cavaillon in Provence -- naturally, the town that celebrates
the best melon in France is known for their icy soup of the same name.
A dose of the local muscat gives rise to sweet perfection.
Bourride from the South (Occitan roots) -- almost scary looking,
the dark and mysterious soup is a witches' cauldron brimming with the day's
fresh catch (often monkfish and shrimp), flavored with aioli, a garlicy,
lemony concoction that boasts the consistency of mayonnaise
but the sophisticated flavors of the world.
Cotriade from Brittany -- completely different from the seafood soups of the Mediterranean, this fish stew shows off the Atlantic white fish
of the region in typical simple Breton manner.
Potage Crécy from the Somme -- simple creamy soup made with allegedly
the best carrots in all of France, grown in the cold & hallowed ground of the north.
Soupe au Choux from the Auvergne -- Mom's cooking, straight-forward and warming.
is an American way of saying "everything from beginning to end".
Quite often, the soup course defines a meal.
If it's good, we expect the best from all that follows from start to finish.
Napoleon once said,
"Our army travels on its stomach. Soup makes the soldier."
You could the same about we hungry travelers.
As we hunt and peck our way through new cities searching for
unfamiliar sights and experiences, wonderful restaurants and cozy
accommodation, we tend to seek out food that comforts.
When it comes to our plate, we're not satisfied
with just adequate or passable.
We explorers expect something glorious, a taste to remember for all time.
That doesn't necessarily translate to gourmet restaurants or
multiple courses, of course, but with soup, at least,
our desires and expectations are usually fulfilled.
While it would be fun to anticipate black truffle soup each time we sit down
in a French restaurant, we can be made deliriously happy
with a simple cream of cauliflower potage or a seafood bisque.
Or, for that matter, whatever bowl of France that is set in front of us.
So often it's the first course & the last course that we remember most fondly.
Time and again, that sacred memory includes soup.
It was a complete mystery to me, tasting - and smelling -
of the green garden just outside the back door.
My mother and I swear we once saw him put sticks into the soup pot!
Having eaten our "big" meal of the day at lunch,
soup and bread defined dinner -- but oh what fine dining that was.
I wouldn't trade that memory for a Michelin 5-star taste anywhere in Paris.
Soup is celebrated for its warming and nourishing qualities.
It's celebrated around the world, by rich and by poor, in soup kitchens and
in 5-star restaurants, by globetrotting gourmets and famished children.
Its vital essence makes you think of tradition, mom, and home.
Even for daredevil travelers who want a taste of innovation,
soup provides inspiration as well as energy.
Every recipe in France is clearly a snapshot of its own community.
Pot au Feu, Poule au Pot -- all names we've grown to love.
Carcasses and bones, fish heads and bread crusts, every last
vegetable and herb from the garden around the corner or morels
from the forest -- whatever the ingredients -- you can be sure it's fresh,
it's local and it will bring down the house.
With one exception.
Onion soup, though connected with Paris lights and Paris glitz,
likely came from the conquering Romans.
Rugged yet refined Lyonnaise cuisine elevated the concoction to a
new level, taking pains to caramelize the onions, adding a good measure
of other elegant flavors -- and then the world gives rival Paris all the credit.
Hmm, perhaps that's what Hemingway meant when he spoke of a "moveable feast."
but that's a whole other story.....
As famous French playwright Molière once said,
"I live in good soup, not on fine words."