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Flavor Atlas: Noodle Soup

Flavor Atlas, our new monthly column explores worldly flavors and global cuisines through common ingredients or food preparation, and we're back! We kicked off the year with an exploration of stews in January and in honor of Black History Month we looked at rice from the African Diaspora. This March, it's not only Women's History Month and National Nutrition Month, but also National Noodle Month, so why not explore the world of noodle soups? 

The History of Soup 

Whether you've spent the morning shoveling snow, you're battling a cold, or you just feel a little homesick, there's nothing more comforting than a bowl of piping hot soup

For the purposes of today's soup exploration, let's define what exactly makes up this delicious dish. Soup is a primarily liquid food, most notably characterized by a broth that has been flavored with vegetables and/or meat in stock or water. According to archeologists, humans have been making a version of soup for at least 20,000 years. Our ancient ancestors would fill clay pots with local vegetables, herbs, seeds, and nuts and heat the content over hot rocks.

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The World of Ramen

Noodle soups, in particular, date back to the 1200s in Asia, and that is where we start today's culinary adventure. 

Ramen is a noodle soup dish, with origins imported from China, but perfected in Japan. Ramen shops began to appear in Japan after World War II and the world of Ramen is complex, vast, and varied -- and often a little intimidating to order if your only experience is via a microwavable cup of bland noodles. 

These flavorful bowls of soup and noodles start with their soup broth base. A few of the most common types of ramen broth are: 

  • Shoyu: A clear to brown colored broth, flavored with soy sauce. The broth can be made from chicken or pork; this is the most common type of ramen you see on a menu that doesn't specify the type of ramen you'd like to order.  
  • Shio: A light, clear broth flavored with salt. 
  • Miso: A thicker, brown soup flavored with soybean paste or miso. 
  • Tonkotsu: A thick, creamy soup, that has been flavored with chicken broth and pork fat -- talk about decadent. 

Once you'd identified the type of broth you'd like, the signature ramen noodles are added. These long, elastic noodles are characterized by their wavy texture. And then you add all your favorite toppings -- pork belly, a soft-boiled egg, seaweed, and other vegetables are common (and popular) toppings. 

A Trip South 

For our next noodle soup, we remain in Asia, but head South East to Vietnam. In Vietnam, one noodle dish reigns supreme: Pho. Pronounced "fuh", this soupy, slurpy, noodle dish is delicious street food and the national dish of Vietnam. 

Unlike ramen's wheat noodles, pho is made with rice noodles and the light, clear broth is flavored with herbs, unlike ramen's cloudier, heartier broth. Pho is traditionally prepared with beef or chicken broth and flavored with numerous herbs and spices like ginger, star anise, coriander seeds, fish sauce, cilantro, Thai basil, chilies, bean sprouts -- and always a squeeze of fresh lime. 

Pho's origins came about during the late 19th century when French colonists occupied Vietnam. The French influence resulted in an increase in beef consumption; leftover bone and cuts of meat were sold to street vendors who used the beef parts to flavor their broth. 

Tortellini Soup

Over to Italy 

Our final noodle soup isn't rooted in Asian culture but instead brings us to Italy. A Northern Italian classic, tortellini en brodo is a light chicken broth-based soup filled with little hat-shaped stuffed pasta. A relative to other dumpling-style soups like Chinese wonton soup, American chicken noodle soup, and Jewish matzo soup, tortellini en brodo is actually locally known as a Christmas dinner course or New Year's Eve starter.  

Similar to pho and ramen, this soup starts with creating a flavorful broth. In Italy, the broth started as a peasant tradition, taking the leftover capon carcass and boiling it down with crumbs of Parmesan cheese and scraps of prosciutto and other cured meats.  

Ready for noodles at home? 

Whether you're craving a noodle soup like ramen, pho, or tortellini en brodo -- it all starts with the broth. Flavor your broth with stock, vegetables, meats, herb and spices to ensure you're building a complex, robust group of flavors.    

If you're ready to celebrate National Noodle Month, try this Soba Noodle, Kimchi, Cucumber Salad or this Thai Inspired Tofu Noodle Bowl.


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