Healing Soups From Around The World — And Where To Find Them In LA

Bosnian chefs attempt to make the world's largest batch of chicken soup in Sarajevo on April 17, 2015. (Photo by ELVIS BARUKCIC/AFP/Getty Images)

However they prepare it, people the world over put a lot of stock in the curative powers of soup. See what we did there?

The concept of a hot meal of liquid nutrients dates back thousands of years. Maimonides, a 12th century Jewish physician and philosopher, wrote that the broth of hens (or other fowl) could "neutralize body constitution." More than 800 years later, his teachings were backed up by a study from the University of Nebraska.

Medieval doctors who followed Hippocrates' practice of balancing the four humors — blood, yellow bile, black bile and phlegm — prescribed the drinking of yellow lentil soup for balancing a body's "natural heat." He also recommended leeches and purging. Some treatments modernize better than others.

"Historically, our mothers and grandmothers and witches and healers and everybody was trying to create the soup that would heal," says Elina Fuhrman, chef, author and founder of the local soup delivery service Soupelina. "There's so many stories of healers putting together different potions to heal what ails us."

Fuhrman explains that nutritious, blended soups are both hydrating (thanks to the water from all the vegetables) and "predigested," which she says makes it easier to "saturate the body with lots of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and enzymes in a way that is totally easy to absorb." Chewing, she argues, is a time-waster because "when your body starts digesting food, it takes the energy away from healing and toward digestion." Her claims are backed up by food historian Ken Albala, who argued to the BBC that soups parallel purees for babies or foods served to convalescents, all of which are "nutritious without giving off any digestive 'heat.'"

There are also cultures that put their faith in soup's cousin, the hot drink. Many Russian and Ukrainian school children have spent sick days drinking gogol mogol, a mixture of raw egg, sugar, hot milk, cocoa and maybe rum.

In China, sickies are advised to drink hot ginger tea, sometimes sweetened with brown sugar, before wrapping themselves in warm blankets until their fever breaks.

Belief in the healing powers of soup seems universal. Fortunately, you can find many of these liquid "miracle cures" around Southern California.

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60° in Silverlake calls for Abuelas Sopa de Pollo (Chicken Soup). 🍲

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Sopa del Pollo and Caldo de Pollo
"Chicken soup" can mean countless things. In Colombia, it's often a potato-and-corn stew with the chicken eventually removed from the broth and served on the side. Cuban versions may contain plantains, although El Cochinito in Silver Lake uses noodles, corn and potatoes.

In some parts of Mexico, people use an herb that's sometimes spelled "culantro," which has a stronger flavor than the cilantro we recognize as a traditional garnish for soups, tacos, etc. Bricia Lopez, co-owner of Oaxacan restaurant Guelaguetza, says the caldo de pollo on her menu is served with the leafy, tangy-sweet herb hoja santa (or "sacred leaf"), which they grow at the restaurant.
El Cochinito — 3508 W. Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake. 323-668-0737.
Guelaguetza 3014 W. Olympic Blvd., Koreatown. 213-427-0608.

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Jamaican Chicken Foot and/or Neck Soup
The snout-to-tail philosophy favored by Jamaicans and other Caribbean islanders means you'll often find a chicken foot or neck in the soothing broth. Like all at-home cures, recipes differ by family tradition. One recipe we found called for coconut milk; another for squash and yams. Chicken feet and necks are rich in collagen, perfect if you've hopped on the bone broth bandwagon.
Natraliart Jamaican Restaurant has been known to use varying amounts of chicken neck in its soup. 3426 W. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles. 323-732-8865.

Rasam. (Charles Haynes/Flickr Creative Commons)

Rasam
Sometimes known as King Soup, this South Indian tomato soup has a hearty dose of dried chilies, garlic and tamarind that will help get mucus flowing out of your nose. Although the consistency can be smooth and thin — perfect for sore throats that can't handle textures — this vegan dish has, on occasion, been punctuated with chicken.
Mayura Indian Restaurant — 10406 Venice Blvd., Palms. 310-559-9644.
Paru's — 5140 Sunset Blvd., East Hollywood. 323-661-7600.

Borscht with sour cream. (Liz West/Flickr Creative Commons)

Borscht
Although the idea of liquified beets may not sound appealing to some people (well, me), a bowl of this Eastern European staple is like a fistful of Airborne capsules in a meal. It's loaded with vitamin C and betaine, which fights cardiovascular inflammation. The winter version is heavier, with more potatoes and meat. The summer version, often served cold, is handy if you're too delirious or impatient to operate a microwave. People often make borscht with beef broth and liven it up with a dollop of sour cream but you can be find plenty of vegan versions.
Soupelina — available for delivery or pick up in certain Los Angeles regions.
Traktir — 8151 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood. 323-654-3030.

Bun bo Hue. (Ẩm Thực Đam Mê/Flickr Creative Commons)

Bún Bò Huế
One of the many ways Vietnamese people sweat out the chills of a cold (aside from everyone's favorite, pho) is bún bò huế, a spicy, salty, sour beef broth with rice noodles that has Reddit threads dedicated to its healing powers. Saveur went so far as to call this umami-laden soup — a specialty of Huế, the Nguyen Dynasty's capital city — the most underrated dish in Vietnamese cooking. Lucky for us, Southern California has a wealth of Vietnamese restaurants and it's on the menu of many of them, so you can judge for yourself.
Nong La Café — 145 N. La Brea Ave., Fairfax. 323-938-1188.
2055 Sawtelle Blvd., West L.A. 310-268-1881.
The District — 8722 W. Third St., Beverly Grove. 310-278-2345.
Saigon Dish — 15725 Hawthorne Blvd., Lawndale. 310-676-8778.

Matzo ball soup is served during a Shabbat dinner hosted by Martha Stewart on October 12, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for NYCWFF)

Matzo Ball Soup
So ubiquitous that you can find it at almost every delicatessen, a cup of this schmaltzy liquid gold has been the Jewish grandmother's longtime cure for colds, fevers, headaches, broken hearts and just about everything else. It sometimes features carrots and onions as well as rice, noodles or kreplach (dumplings filled with meat or potatoes) but the crucial element is the matzo ball. These fluffy, golf ball-sized spheres, made from matzo meal and egg, ensure you don't lose precious body weight during your krankayt.
Freedman's — 2619 Sunset Blvd., Los Feliz. 213-568-3754.
Nate 'n Al's — 414 N. Beverly Dr., Beverly Hills. 310-274-0101.

Pastina
Aldo Lanzillotta, an Italian-Canadian chef and TV personality, says this tiny star-like pasta has found its way into many households' broths, although how it's served differs. He says, "My mom would make pastina with a chicken brodetto" (as opposed to a fish broth) and "pastina with a vegetable brodetto, which had a touch of tomato." Lanzillotta likes light broths like brodetto col riso (chicken broth with rice) and pasta e piselle, which he describes as "pastina with lightly colored white onions and peas" served with pasta water and a touch of mint. For a final pick-me-up, he passes along a recommendation for uovo s'battute, a nonna's favorite: an egg that's vigorously beaten with sugar and finished with a drop of espresso.
Buy it in the store: Giuliano's Delicatessen — 1138 W. Gardena Blvd., Gardena. 310-323-6990.
Make it from scratch: Sorrento Italian Market — 5518 Sepulveda Blvd., Culver City. 310-391-7654.

Samgyetang (chicken soup with ginseng), served in Seoul, Korea on July 22, 2013. (Jeon Han/Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism/Flickr Creative Commons)

Samgyetang
In addition to teas and elixirs that can help relieve the common cold, this Korean chicken soup, spiced with ginseng, is said to have restorative properties. A whole chicken is cooked in a broth that includes red dates and chestnuts. It's traditionally eaten to regulate your body temperature, particularly on warm summer nights or when you have the chills. If that doesn't sound intense enough, seek out kimchi jjigae, the volcanic Korean stew that's famous for killing colds.
Buil Samgye Tang — 4204 W. Third St., Koreatown. 213-739-0001.