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A Journey Around the World, as Told Through Chicken Soup

In her latest book, Portland-based chef Jenn Louis catalogs more than 100 recipes from 64 countries

The Chicken Soup Manifesto features delightful dishes from Ethiopia, Vietnam, Greece and other countries across the globe. (Matthias Lipinski via Pixabay)
smithsonianmag.com

On harsh winter days or in times of illness, few remedies soothe the soul quite like a bowl of savory soup with flavorful broth and tiny slices of meat. For culinary whiz Jenn Louis, this popular comfort food is particularly meaningful: As Neha Kale reports for SBS News, the Portland-based chef cherishes her memories of the dish so much that she recently decided to create a cookbook of chicken soup recipes from around the world.

Published in September, The Chicken Soup Manifesto features 131 culinary concoctions from 64 countries, per Leslie Brenner of the Dallas Morning News. Selections include a peanut chicken soup from Ethiopia, a Filipino soup made with unripe papaya and Korean soups packed with rice porridge.

Different recipes cater to different flavor palates: Ohn-No Khao Swe—a Burmese soup featuring ginger, paprika and garlic—combines chicken stock with sweet flavors like coconut, while Chikhirtma, a traditional Georgian soup said to cure hangovers and heal the sick, uses viscous egg yolks and fresh herbs, according to an excerpt published in the Independent.

“We all have a different idea of what chicken soup is,” Louis tells Atlas Obscura’s Kayla Stewart, “but the commonality is that most people say that it’s what heals them.”

The Manifesto’s slate of soups spans Africa, the Americas, Asia and Europe. Louis outlines geographical, social and political context for each region, explaining why certain dishes are so beloved in their respective communities, notes Atlas Obscura. One Sri Lankan kanjee soup, for instance, is usually eaten after breaking Ramadan fast. Other recipes have important political backstories. Per SBS News, Vietnamese cooks developed chicken pho as an alternative to beef pho during the 1930s, when the Vietnamese government restricted beef sales in order to meet French colonials’ demand for the meat.

One recipe featured in the book played a key role in Louis’ own cultural upbringing: chicken matzo ball soup, a traditional Ashkenazi Jewish dish made by her mother.

“My mum passed away seven years ago and the picture of chicken matzo ball soup in the book was taken [at] her place—we would have it at Passover, Friday night at Shabbat dinner, maybe during High Holidays,” Louis tells SBS News. “My mum had made matzo ball soup, but instead of taking the matzo balls out, she left them [in the broth] and covered them. By the time we got home, it was perfectly cooked.”

Louis decided to write the Manifesto after experiencing flu symptoms while cooking for a fundraiser in San Diego.

“I texted my sister,” Louis says to the Times of Israel’s Jessica Steinberg. “She’s not a huge cook, but three hours later, I walked up to my front door and there was a pot of chicken soup, still warm. It made me feel so much better.”

For centuries, certain cultures believed that chicken soup had medicinal qualities. Eleventh-century Persian physician and philosopher Ibn Sina, for instance, deemed the dish healing, as did 12th-century Jewish doctor and philosopher Moses Maimonides. Today, no conclusive evidence of the comfort food’s healing properties exists, but as Tara Parker-Pope wrote for the New York Times in 2007, a “handful of scientific studies … [suggest] that chicken soup really could have medicinal value.”

Regardless of the veracity of such claims, learning to cook a hearty bowl of soup could certainly be an engaging quarantine hobby.

“It’s interesting that it came out during this time,” Louis tells Atlas Obscura, “because with [Covid-19] keeping us at home, this book allows people to open their mind by trying new things, and to travel by thinking about food.”

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