If a steaming bowl of soup strikes you as the ultimate in old-fashioned comfort, you’ve got plenty of company. Soup is one of the world’s oldest and most universal foods, said Janet Clarkson, author of the book “Soup: A Global History.”
“Every culture has some kind of soup,” she said. “It’s got very ancient roots.” Early people simmered everything from turtle shells to lengths of bamboo in soup, she writes in the book, turning out metal soup pots starting in the Bronze Age.
While Clarkson dove into centuries of etymology to trace the history of soup, potage and broth, she settled on a generously broad take. “Just some stuff cooked in water,” she wrote, “with the flavored water becoming a crucial part of the dish.”
It’s a definition that leaves room for the world’s tremendous culinary diversity. These are CNN’s nominations for 20 of the best soups around the world:
Banga | Nigeria
Fruits from the oil palm tree lend both fat and flavor to this soup from the Niger Delta, which also features fresh catfish, beef and dried seafood.
It’s so popular that packets of ready-mixed banga spice are sold in shops. Most blends include African nutmeg, castor seed, orima, jansa and beletete leaves.
The spices infuse a rich, red sauce that’s the soup’s main draw: Soak it up with eba or a ball of starch, two Nigerian staples both made from cassava prepared with different methods.
Beef pho (phở bò) | Vietnam
Broth is simmered for hours with cinnamon, star anise and other warm spices to create a wonderfully aromatic base for this rice noodle soup.
Pho is among Vietnam’s most recognized culinary exports, but the soup is a relatively new food, wrote Andrea Nguyen, author of “The Pho Cookbook.” And while today’s pho restaurants serve a wide range of flavors, beef is the original. By 1930, Nguyen explained, the soup was served with slices of raw beef cooked gently in the broth.
Today, beef pho remains the most beloved version in Vietnam, with options that include the original raw beef, a mix of raw and cooked beef, brisket and tendon.
Borscht | Ukraine
Chunks of tender beets swim in brilliant red broth for a soup that’s beloved in Ukraine and across Eastern Europe. Often topped with a rich dollop of sour cream, borscht is anything but basic beet soup. It gets a tangy kick from kvass, a lacto-fermented beet juice that’s another regional specialty.
And while the soup is sometimes attributed to Russian cuisine, that claim is hotly contested. Now, Ukrainian chefs are behind a campaign to get their version on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
Bouillabaisse | France
A fisherman’s stew turned culinary icon, bouillabaisse distills classic Mediterranean flavors into a dish synonymous with the coastal city of Marseille. Saffron, olive oil, fennel, garlic and tomatoes blend with fish fresh from the sea.
At one time, that fish would reflect each day’s catch, but things have gotten a bit stricter.
According to signatories of the 1980 Bouillabaisse Charter — a collective attempt by local chefs to ensure the quality of the French soup — the most authentic recipe must include at least four kinds of seafood chosen from a list that includes monkfish and crab.