Trend Spotlight: Medicinal Soups

9 January, 2015

A good broth is the essence of culinary convalescence. They’re the stock of wellness we turn to when feeling run-down, cold, tired or simply sorry for ourselves. It’s no coincidence that the ultimate medicinal soup, chicken noodle soup, that simmering stew of schmaltz and matzo-balls, is fondly known as “Jewish Penicillin.”

Jumping Firecracker Shrimp Jambalaya with coriander and extra chilli: a cleansing medicinal soup of Creole origin

These liquid tonics – feasts of meat, bone, vegetable, herbs and spice, boiled or brewed until their ingredients diffuse and disperse – are the quickest form of nourishment. How telling is it that our word “restaurant” (drawn from Latin and meaning “something restoring”) was first used in France, in the 16th century, to refer to a highly concentrated, inexpensive soup, sold by street vendors as a cure for physical exhaustion?

Bone-based stocks and soups are said to contain mood-enhancing minerals, digestion-boosting and inflammation-reducing amino acids, as well as collagen for brilliant skin and hair. Depending on their ingredients, the fibre and protein broths provide are a souped-up nutritional alternative to sugar-saturated fruit juices.

Nusa staff adding toppings to a selection of eight weekly-changing cleansing medicinal soups at Nusa Kitchen

In Asia, soups are commonly consumed as restoratives and are intimately entwined with theories from traditional Chinese medicine. There are countless varieties for every ailment and complaint, ranging from pungent to light in flavour, and from savoury to sweet. The most commonly used herbs believed to be gently invigorating or immune-system stimulating include wild yam, wolfberry and jujube.

On London’s streets you’re likely to find cleansing soups from every corner of the world: spicy Malaysian laksa, sour and piquant Thai tom yum, herb-infused Vietnamese pho and uber on-trend Japanese udon and ramen broths. London’s appetite for Japanese noodle soups was first whet by Soho’s Koya restaurant in early 2011, and within just a few years ramen king-pin Bone Daddies moved in, joined by ramen chains Tonkotsu, Kanada-Ya and Shoryu.

Hot pots of cleansing medicinal soups at the Cannon Street branch of Nusa Kitchen

Japanese broth has even stoked up interest in home kitchens with the UK’s first miso brand Miso Tasty launching last year.  Authentically Japanese, Miso Tasty’s two varieties of miso paste – classic and spicy – are the outcome of a three-year labour of love by Bonnie Chung to produce top-notch off-the-shelf Miso. Naturally high in protein, vitamins K and B2, and copper and manganese, the wonder-paste is a nutritious base for all manner of Japanese-inflected soups.

Nusa Kitchen, a popular Citylunch stop with three branches across the Square Mile, specialises in cleansing soups from all over Asia. Founded by Singaporean mother-and-son team Patou and Mark Cox just over a decade ago, Nusa uses seasonally changing ingredients to keep their weekly evolving menu fresh.              

In Indonesian, Nusa means “peace and tranquility”, yet the menu’s restive geographical journeys reflect the multicultural culinary melting pot of Singapore where Patou was raised. Wanderlust options include peppery South Indian Rasam, to turbo-boost blood circulation, and Sri Lankan Aviyal, an on-trend blend of coconut and the once un-loved cruciferous vegetable, cauliflower.

Representing European tradition in London, Soup du Jour on Soho’s Lexington Street produces five classics (tomato, carrot, mixed vegetable, chicken and chilli) along with a daily changing “Soup du Jour”, made with fresh seasonal ingredients, and served with homemade butters and filling German breads.

Nusa Kitchen’s around the world tour in eight cleansing medicinal soups

The medicinal potential of diet and eating for pleasure is finally receiving academic and gastronomic attention in the West, with the launch of the New Orleans Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine at Tulane University, the first teaching kitchen affiliated with a medical school.

The Wall Street Journal reports that participating chefs are keen to show how eating for body and soul needn’t mean dull “health food.” One such chef, David Bouley, grew up in a French family ‘where the pantry and medicine cabinet always seemed to overlap.’ Bouley has recently opened Bouley Botanical, an event space and “living pantry” growing 400 plant varieties, to serve his three New York restaurants.

Chilli Tofu Broth, a Chinese-inspired cleansing medicinal soup from Nusa

While you might expect West Coast health-conscious Californians to lead the medicinal-soup renaissance, instead, New Yorkers with their frozen winters and fast-paced urban lifestyles have taken the vanguard.

Particularly, soups in the form of bone broth are receiving major hype as the latest, and presumably hottest, New York food trend. Brodo is New York’s first takeout window devoted to bone broth, meanwhile in London, sister health-food duo Hemsley + Hemsely have been spotted sporting totes imploring, “Boil your bones”. As a slogan for a health-food trend, it’s one our chill-zapped bodies are ready to listen to.

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