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SOUPER OB­SES­SION

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There are mo­ments when you feel an in­tense con­nec­tion with peo­ple. So of­ten it’s about a shared love or ha­tred of a food. “What? You mean you also drive across Aus­tralia to Koo Wee Rup to get the first as­para­gus of the sea­son? I love you. Let’s get mar­ried!”

“What? You also think furry-skinned fruit are the devil? I love you. Let’s get mar­ried!”

It can, of course, work the other way: “What? You think mash should be made with olive oil rather than but­ter?!? You … Me … Carpark … Now!”

Frankly, I’d strug­gle to be friends with some­one who didn’t un­der­stand the beauty of the pizza, although I do get on with sugar-free Sarah Wil­son, which is ei­ther a com­ment on her or that I’m a bit “what evs” about sugar.

How­ever, this is a story about another con­nec­tion and the way it felt when a col­league sug­gested that a bowl of chicken noo­dle soup was the epit­ome of win­ter com­fort and we needed a col­umn on it. I knew he was pas­sion­ate about the sub­ject be­cause the email only had three words: “CHICKEN … NOO­DLE … SOUP”.

The im­pact was mas­sive. You see, I feel the same way.

For those 17 or so years I lived at home, Sun­day night supper was chicken noo­dle soup. It has a misty place in my heart as the very spirit of my mother’s ta­ble. It wasn’t a fancy ver­sion; it came from a packet, yet I loved it. I’d drink the broth first leav­ing the skinny short noo­dles mounded on one side of the bowl. The mem­ory is so vivid I can per­fectly cap­ture their squig­gly tex­ture as I spooned them into my mouth, chas­ing the last few around my bowl like a stressed kelpie af­ter a cou­ple of rogue ewes.

I have made it part of my life’s work to find other ver­sions of this won­der soup that is praised for its restora­tive prop­er­ties, whether it’s be­ing poured at In­dian road­side dhaba, in a Brazil­ian favela, or served dur­ing the Philip­pines’ rainy sea­son as a sopa with mac­a­roni or a chicken mami with noo­dles. So here are my seven favourite chicken noo­dle soups from around the world:

1. The tra­di­tional clear chicken soup, so of­ten re­ferred to as “Jewish peni­cillin”, is regularly lifted by the ad­di­tion of flat egg noo­dles called lok­shen, or even noodly spat­zle dumplings, as is the tra­di­tion in south­ern Ger­many and Hungary. While there’s no proof that this soup pro­tects or re­pairs against colds, it is easy to di­gest, can con­tain good cal­cium lev­els, and ac­cord­ing to UCLA’s chicken soup ex­pert Dr Ir­win Zi­ment, “con­tains a nat­u­ral amino acid called cys­teine that … bears a re­mark­able chem­i­cal sim­i­lar­ity to a drug called acetyl­cys­teine, which doc­tors pre­scribe for bron­chi­tis and res­pi­ra­tory in­fec­tions”.

2. The Chi­nese ver­sion of chicken noo­dle soup is their beau­ti­fully named “swal­low clouds soup”. We know it bet­ter as won­ton soup. Chicken broth, some­times thick­ened a lit­tle with corn starch and bright­ened with ginger, is used to cook pasta-wrapped nuggets of chicken, pork and/or prawn. Try this us­ing your favourite dumpling fill­ing recipe and add some Chi­nese greens to add tex­ture and colour. Fin­ish at the ta­ble with a mar­bling of roast chilli oil.

3. The Ital­ians have their own ver­sion of cloud swal­low­ing, and that’s tortellini in brodo. You can make this the tra­di­tional way or just cook some good, shop-bought tortellini in chicken stock with a lit­tle gar­lic. I like to re­move the cooked tortellini from the broth to toss them in but­ter and serve them with pars­ley and parme­san. I then pour the broth at the ta­ble.

4. Greece’s egg and le­mon soup, av­gole­mono, is called into ser­vice to al­le­vi­ate both stom­ach aches and hang­overs. While rice is the more usual carb to bulk this out, it is also made with small pasta grains. The se­cret of this soup is mod­er­at­ing the tem­per­a­ture when you beat the egg and le­mon juice into the chicken broth. It needs to make the broth silky rather than cur­dle. The se­cret is to slowly whisk a lit­tle hot broth into the egg and le­mon mix­ture and keep do­ing so un­til it is warm. Only then whisk it into the rest of the broth. And never boil it!

5. Other Asian coun­tries have their own spin on com­bin­ing chicken and noo­dles, whether it’s a Malaysian soto ayam, tamarind-sour asam laksa, or a Per­anakan curry laksa. I think these soups work par­tic­u­larly well when the tang of lemon­grass and lime con­trasts against the creami­ness of co­conut milk for a richer soup.

6. In Seoul, the Kore­ans are mad for the health-giv­ing im­por­tance of chicken soup. They will pay top dol­lar for soup cooked with very spe­cial chooks and very ex­pen­sive gin­seng roots, but the peo­ple’s ver­sion is dak han­mari. Un­like the posh ver­sion, this soup usu­ally con­tains chewy, gnoc­chi-like rice cakes rather than rice. It is served with a de­li­cious dip­ping sauce made from gochu­jang chilli paste, minced gar­lic, vine­gar and soy, into which you dip the rice cake and chook be­fore eat­ing.

7. Which brings us back to the packet ver­sions of chicken noo­dle soup, which ap­pear to be based on chicken broth and ver­mi­celli noo­dle soups like Pol­ish rosol or Ro­ma­nian ciorba de pui. While I still have a rosy mem­ory of these pack­ets, if peo­ple are com­ing over, I’ll go to the trou­ble of mak­ing my own. This is re­ally as sim­ple as mak­ing the best chicken stock and then let­ting 35g rice ver­mi­celli soften for 3 min­utes in each bowl of pip­ing-hot stock. Gar­nish with chopped pars­ley and, ob­vi­ously, drink the broth first.

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