It’s officially soup season in north India. FMCG companies have heckled duqaandaars into papering their shopfronts over with soup bowls and other autumnal imagery in one coordinated seasonal push of inventory. Women hold steaming tureens aloft on backlit hoardings. They are flanked by little people in bad bowl haircuts, brandishing their cutlery in manic excitement. The ruse is so naked you feel sorry for them. When has soup ever sent a child into a frenzy of happiness? The women wear aprons and/ or jauntily angled toques and both their smiles and the copy have a vaguely desperate quality. Have you had our soup? Please buy some. It’s good. Promise. Just..buy all the flavours, okay? Soup is good for you. Please believe us. We like you. Do you like us? We hope you do. Be soup buddies? Are you listening? BUY OUR SOUP, NOW.
In truth, packaged soups are uniformly terrible. They are the essence of every airline meal you’ve ever had, distilled and desiccated to a damp powder that clumps unappealingly. Flecked with vegetable bits to mimic wholesomeness and loaded with sodium, nature-identical flavours and preservatives, packaged soup is the antithesis of what it means to eat well and eat responsibly. We can, and should do better than pretend soup.
For Indians, soup is not some end-of-year indulgence. It’s far more central to our food than we realise. What is dal if not a spicy lentil soup? Is kadhi not similarly life-affirming, fortified with what one friend calls ‘chickpea wontons’? Does kokum kadhi, pink and beautiful, not qualify? Does rasam not glide down one’s throat and pool in one’s insides, warming them long after it’s over? Culinary pedants will argue that stock is essential to soup, that the soup-ness of soup comes from the complex umami of good old stock. I humbly submit that the tadka is a pretty good stand- in, especially when the onions are done just right.
When I have a hankering for soup I raid the fridge for leftover daal, usually congealed from a night of standing still. I slop it into a kadhai and splash water in to loosen it a little. When it’s warm, I add more water till I have a bowl’s worth in quantity. If I’m feeling especially brave I throw in some shavings of Amul butter. Then I find a quiet corner, a good book, a big spoon and I go land myself in a soup.
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