Here in the US, we’ve made a veritable art form of the egg, basked in the delight of bacon, and fashioned hashes so delicious your mouth may be watering just thinking about them. We’re a breakfast country, able to borrow and adapt nearly any international favorite and make it a staple of brunch. But in the wide world of early morning pick-me-ups, we’ve let one crucial one slide off our radar and into the domain of lunch and dinner. I’m talking, of course, about breakfast soups.
Could it be that a brothy bowl of soup could reinvent the way we think about breakfast? As much as we love breakfast, it’s becoming more and more difficult to fit into our hectic schedules. On the weekends we may be able to sit down to a big plate of french toast and sausage, but during the week most of us rely on grab-and-go, sugary convenience to get us through to lunch.
Enter the breakfast soup. In countries like Vietnam, Colombia, Tunisia, and China, soup is ladled out by the bowlful to early morning crowds. These soups are made with staple ingredients like chickpeas, rice, or lentils. They’re designed to be economical, filling, and quick for the busy worker on the go. They pack in protein to get you through the morning without lagging, and aren’t full of sugar that will make you crash. Although each dish is unique to the country and region in which it’s being served, there are a few commonalities. Most are brothy (Chinese jook, which can tend towards a porridge consistency, is an exception), with starch and protein. Just as soup at lunch or dinner can be a complete meal, so can breakfast soup, with veggies, egg, rich meat, savory herbs—it’s all in there, folks.
The list could go on—like an Anthony Bourdain fever dream—for a long time. But here are a few to serve as inspiration for the culinarily curious.
Caldo de costilla
Sit down in a cafeteria in Bogota and you’ll almost absolutely find a bowl of caldo de castilla on the menu. The name translates to “rib broth” in English, and that’s essentially what it is. Made with beef short ribs, potatoes, and herbs, the dish is warm but not too heavy, packing just enough to be filling without weighing you down. Sometimes celery or carrots are involved, sometimes not — like other breakfast soups, caldo de costilla is very customizable. And in case you weren’t already sold: It’s a popular hangover cure.
Flavorful pho has become a favorite lunch or dinner across the United States, but in Vietnam it is most often served for breakfast out of storefronts and carts. It’s more of a street food than we know it in the US, served hot and fast. The complexity of the broth comes from boiling together beef cuts and bones, including shin and flank, with aromatic spices, onion, and ginger. Thin rice noodles, lime, bean sprouts, green onion, Thai basil, cilantro, and sauces to taste top it off. The end result is a bowl of pure deliciousness, perfect to kickstart your day.
Another popular street food for breakfast is Tunisian lablabi, made with chickpeas and harissa. Like pho, it’s available all day in cities across the country, but it’s best known as a breakfast dish. Along with the chickpeas and harissa, you’ll find olive oil, cumin, capers, almonds, olives, yogurt—even eggs can find their way into the spiced and satisfying dish. It’s served over crusty bread for an extra hit of delicious.
You’ve probably noticed by now that no breakfast soup recipe is hard and fast on the ingredients list. Once you have the foundation, it’s all about building off in your own direction. Jook, or congee, is as versatile as the rest. A rice porridge-based dish, it has been a culinary staple since ancient times, and is eaten across Asia. It can be served with vegetables, meat, seafood, eggs, or any combination of the four.
Menudo isn’t just a boy band of yore. It’s also a delicious Mexican soup made with tripe and hominy. It’s flavorful, made with lime, onions, cilantro, and chili peppers and served with tortillas or bread. Like pho, the foundation is a broth made by boiling throw-away bits of beef, including feet and tendons (and yes, stomach), with onion and garlic. Hominy isn’t added until several hours into the process. Regional variations mean the soup is served and prepared differently just about everywhere, but always based in affordable ingredients in need of a home.
Wake up craving fish? Mohinga has the hookup. This rich and fragrant soup is a street-food staple in Myanmar, with exact ingredients and preparation varying across the country. But the main, staple mohinga is made with garlic, onions, lemongrass, ginger, fish paste and catfish boiled in a broth. When it’s done cooking, garnishes include rice vermicelli, lime, more onions, coriander, chillies, and fritters, depending on how you like it. Egg can also find its way to the top of the bowl, if it strikes your fancy.
Ezogelin is a soup with a story. Also called Turkish Bride Soup, according to legend it was invented by Ezo in the early 1900s to win over the mother of the man she loved. The soup is made by slowly simmering red lentils and bulgur with tomato paste, stock, onions, paprika, and mint. It’s most popular in rural areas, where farmers fill up before heading to the fields. But it’s also a staple in cities, and is even sold as a breakfast food at some Turkish restaurants in the US.
Chances are if you frequent sushi restaurants you already know and love this savory, salty soup. But miso isn’t just a staple dinner side. In Japan, it’s often served as a breakfast food, along with other savory bits and bites. It’s an ideal breakfast food; it’s healthy, warm, light, and versatile. Start with the miso broth (made with fermented bean paste), and add scallions, veggies, chickpeas, eggs, meat, or anything else you have hanging around that looks tasty.
If you like something a little sweeter in the morning, fret not. There’s a soup for that, and it’s name is delightful. Blåbärssoppa is a Swedish fruit soup, made with bilberries or blueberries and served hot or cold. The soup is thickened with potato starch, and can be served as a drink or a traditional soup. It’s sweet, a little tart from the berries, and versatile enough to work year-round. Just warm it up in the winter for a hot cup of berry goodness, or serve it chilled in the summer as a refreshing break from morning heat.