That nip in the air is here to stay, in much of the world, right through March. And it’s a fine excuse—like you needed one—for soup.
Summer was lovely for chilled gazpachos and sweet corn chowders, sure, but now it’s time to dig in, break out the scarves and boots, and hunt down the best bowls of soup—wherever you are on the globe. Here’s an entirely opinionated list of nine of the best.
A perfect phở broth can be as difficult to construct as any famed French soup base, and when it’s done right, it’s a hangover-slayer, winter warmer, and cold-killer, all in one. Whether your preference tilts to beef or chicken, be sure to ladle on the fresh herbs, citrus, and bean sprouts for the best, freshest, most snow-defeating effect.
Khao Soi, Thailand
Forget, for a moment, the hot-and-sour Thai shrimp soup you get for takeout. Northern Thailand’s khao soi is probably better. It’s finally having a moment in the sun stateside (at New York City’s Uncle Boons, among other spots). If you’ve not tried it, imagine your favorite coconut curry mingling with a handful of toothsome egg noodles, plus a falling-off-the-bone tender chicken leg. Imagine that the broth has been leavened with lime juice, cilantro, and pickled Chinese mustard root. Now you can guess at the charms of a great khao soi.
New England Chowder, United States
Some classics are classics for a reason. A creamy, super-fresh clam chowder—we prefer the creamy New England style to the tomato-based Manhattan chowder—is tough to beat during the winter’s darkest days.
Is there anything better than the ramen boom that has swept the States? Whether shio (salt), shoyu (soy), tonkotsu (pork bone-based), or miso—broad classifications, although rameniacs can do a deeper dive—ramen’s combination of bright, fresh toppings, super-umami broth, and satisfying hunks of meat puts it at the top of our list.
You don’t need to get heavy on cream or meat to have a great broth in the winter, which is part of what makes bouillabaisse, that French wondrous medley of shellfish, saffron, fennel, tomatoes, and garlic, so fantastic. (Traveling in California? Seek out bouillabaisse’s sibling, the equally excellent and slightly less complicated cioppino.)
Peanut Stew, West Africa
Peanut stews—variations on the groundnut stews made before peanuts’ arrival in Africa in the 16th century—made their way to the U.S. in the late 18th century, and can still be found in many Western parts of the continent. Some peanut stews come thick and ladled over couscous or rice, some or thin and soupy, and most are a touch spicy thanks to a bit of chili. All are satisfyingly peanutty.
Mexico has cornered the market on a few excellent soups: It’s got pozole, tortilla soup, and a vast variety of saucy molés and salsas, if we’re not being technical. In the Mexican state of Jalisco, however, birria—a soup traditionally made with goat, although you might see variations with pork and beef—is king. Dark, rich, and cooked low-and-slow, its broth might use bright green tomatillos or red tomatoes, but regardless, you won’t leave the table hungry.
Gumbo, United States
America should take as much pride in its gumbo as it does in its chowder and cioppino. The rich Southern stew has a complicated history, but typically employs a thickening roux (a mix of flour and butter) plus some mix of sausage, chicken, okra, or shrimp. Most Southern cooks agree that it must be served with rice, all the better to sop up its delicious gravy.
French Onion Soup, France
Cheese, onions that—if you’re lucky—have been slightly caramelized, a meaty broth, and a hunk of bread, all in one bowl? French onion soup, you’re the dreamiest.