Soups in East Asian culture

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Asian soups
A bowl of miso soup

Soups in East Asian culture are eaten as one of the many main dishes in a meal or in some cases served straight with little adornment, particular attention is paid to the soups' stocks. In the case of some soups, the stock ingredients become part of the soup. They are usually based solely on broths and lacking in dairy products such as milk or cream. If thickened, the thickening usually consists of refined starches from corn or sweet potatoes.

Asian soups are generally categorized as either savoury or sweet. The quality of a savoury soup is determined mainly by its fragrance and umami or "xian" flavour, as well as, to a lesser extent, its mouthfeel. Sweet soups such as tong sui are enjoyed for their aroma, mouthfeel, and aftertaste. Many soups are eaten and drunk as much for their flavour as for their health benefits and touted for their purported revitalizing or invigorating effects.

In Chinese language, noodle soups are generally considered a noodle dish instead of a soup, as evidenced by the fact that they are called "soup noodles" (湯麵), with 'soup' being an adjective, in contrast with "dry noodles" (乾麵).

Cultural significance[edit]

Many soups are consumed as a partial restorative and heavily linked with theories from traditional Chinese medicine. Exotic rarities like tiger penis soup fall in this category. There are many varieties of such tonic soups, ranging from pungent to light in flavour, and from savoury to sweet.[1] Some soups of the same name may consist of different recipes due to regional preferences or differences. Such soups commonly contain one or more meats (typically pork or chicken), vegetables, and medicinal herbs.

Traditional soup bases[edit]


A bowl of wonton noodle soup

There are several basic traditional soup stocks in Chinese cuisine:[2]

  • Jītāng (鸡汤; 雞湯; Jītāng): A basic chicken broth that is used in creating most Chinese soups. This broth is sometimes fortified with liquorice root, red dates, wolfberry, and other Chinese herbs.
  • Shòuròutāng (瘦肉汤; 瘦肉湯; shòu ròu tāng): A lean pork broth, which is often used as the soup base for long-simmered Chinese soups (called 老火湯 in Cantonese). This soup base is often simmered over low heat for several hours with other roots, dried herbs, vegetables, and edible fungi like shiitake mushroom, white fungus, or wood ear.[3] The Cantonese are especially known for their long-simmered Chinese soups, as they often pair ingredients under Chinese Medicine concepts to enhance health benefits of the soup.
  • Báitāng (白汤; 白湯; báitāng): Made from lightly blanched pork bones that have been vigorously boiled for several hours, creating a white milky broth. This broth has a rich mouthfeel and deep flavor.
  • Yútāng (鱼汤; 魚湯; yú tāng ): Made from fish that have been fried and boiled for several hours, creating a white milky broth. This broth has a rich feel, and sweet umami taste.
  • Máotāng (毛汤; 毛湯; máo tāng): A broth made using the bones, meat offcuts, or skin of either pork, duck, or chicken. A commonly broth used for simple flavouring of common dishes.
  • Refined broth/stocks:
    • Shàngtāng (上汤; 上湯; shàng tāng): A dark tan broth made from Jinhua ham, pork, and chicken that has been slowly simmered to finish. This rich and umami broth is used in the creation of many expensive soups such as shark fin soup or wonton soup.
    • Diàotāng (吊汤; 吊湯; diào tāng): A filtered white broth made through vigorous boiling of bones and chicken that has been clarified using pureed or finely minced chicken breast meat. Repeating the clarification and infusion process with more minced chicken produces a double-clarified broth (双吊汤; 雙吊湯; shuāng diào tāng ). The white broth can also be clarified using egg white or blood but the taste will not be optimal.[4] Used in the Sichuan dish kaishui baicai (开水白菜; 開水白菜; kāishuǐ báicài dà jiēmì; 'boiled cabbage').[5]

Ingredients used in making Chinese stocks can be recooked again to produce a thinner broth with less intense flavours, known as ertang (二汤; 二湯; èr tāng; 'second soup').


Collectively known as dashi, most Japanese soup bases are flavoured primarily with kombu (kelp) and shavings from dried skipjack tuna (katsuobushi). They are soaked or simmered to release the umami flavours of the shavings, and the resulting broth is strained. Mirin is occasionally added to the broth to further enhance the taste of the broth.

  • Kombu: Kelp (kombu) is soaked in lukewarm water or simmered to yield a light broth.
  • Niboshi: made by soaking or boiling dried sardines (niboshi) in water. The heads and entrails are usually pinched off prior to soaking, to prevent bitterness.
  • Shiitake dashi: made by soaking dried shiitake mushrooms in water.


Korean broth is collectively known as yuksu(K: 육수 T: 肉水). Although the literal definition is meaty water, yuksu can be used to include broth made by vegetable equivalent. Each kinds of broth will be used for diverse range of Korean soup.

A bowl of seolleongtang
  • Myeolchi Yuksu (멸치 육수) is a clear broth made from boiling dried Korean anchovies. Dashima (kelp) could be boiled together to enhance its flavour. It is most common type of broth that can be used for most of the simple Korean soup and noodle dishes.
  • Gogi Yuksu (고기 육수)means a clear broth from boiling meat, which could be beef, chicken, or pork. It is often used to replace the basic Myeolchi Yuksu to give more flavour.
  • Sagol Yuksu (사골 육수) is a milky broth made from boiling bones for a long period of time. It is often used to make hearthy and meaty Korean soup such as gamja tang (감자탕).
  • Kimichi Yuksu (김치 육수) is a clear broth from Korean traditional kimchi, not boiled. Most of those kimchi broth used are those with less pepper powder. The typical example is from sliced Chinese radish called dongchimi (동치미), which is often used to make cold noodle dishes.


A bowl of sayur asem with tamarind-based soup

In Indonesian cuisine, there are numbers of traditional soup-bases to create kuah (soup or stock); either acquired from vegetables, spices, meat or bones.

  • Santan is a rich and creamy thin white soup made from coconut milk. It is made by squeezing grated coconut flesh to acquire its oily juice. Thick coconut milk is usually used to make thicker sauce, while thin coconut milk are used to create soup. Sometimes turmeric is added to create golden-yellowish colour. Example of Indonesian traditional soups that employs coconut milk as soup-base is sayur lodeh and several variants of sotos.[6]
  • Kuah asam is a light, fresh and sour thin soup made from asam jawa (tamarind) juice. Example of soup employing tamarind is sayur asem, vegetables stew in tamarind soup.
  • Kuah cuka, another variant of sour-tasting soup that simply using vinegar instead of tamarind. Usually employed to create seafood soups.
  • Sayur bening literary means "clear soup", it is lightly seasoned only with small amount of garlic, shallot, and temu kunci. Example of clear vegetable soup is sayur bayam (spinach soup) and sayur oyong (okra soup).
  • Kaldu in Indonesian cuisine refer to broth or stock acquired from boiling meat and/or bones. The broth might be acquired from chicken, beef and mutton. Example of Indonesian soup that employ kaldu (meat broth) is sop buntut and bakso (meatball noodle soup).[7]


The soup bases are used to cook a large variety of soups

American Chinese cuisine[edit]

In American-Chinese restaurants some of the most popular soups are: egg drop soup, hot and sour soup, wonton soup, and chicken with corn soup.


  • Yukgaejang (육개장) is a spicy red soup made with beef strips, red pepper, and assorted vegetables (usually green and white onions, bean sprouts, among others); many variations include egg and rice or cellophane noodles dropped into the soup, and sometimes shrimp and other pieces of seafood. Of the spicy Korean soups, 육개장 is very popular among both Koreans and non-Koreans.
  • Miyeok guk (미역국) is a soup made from boiled sliced beef and miyeok (popularized as wakame in Japanese). It is believed to be good for the blood vessels and heart. Koreans traditionally eat this for birthday celebrations, or when a woman gives birth to a child.
  • Tteok guk (떡국) is a soup made with slices of rice cake. The base is usually beef or anchovy (멸치) stock along with the rice cake slices, and most variations also have sliced green onions, eggs dropped into the soup, and are usually served with strips or pieces of laver (김; many variations will be baked or fried and salted/seasoned). 떡국 is traditionally served on the lunar New Year, but is a favourite during the colder months.
  • Doenjang jjigae (된장 찌개) is a bean paste soup base. Usually served with at least tofu and green onions, many variations include other ingredients (including various meats or fishes but usually not egg, potatoes, and other vegetables). Miso is a less-concentrated, much simpler version of 된장.
  • Sundubu jjigae (순두부 찌개) is a spicy red stew (not so much a soup) very similar in ingredients and preparation to 육개장, but has dropped tofu (i.e. not the firm kind, but uncurdled tofu, called sundubu in Korean) as a primary ingredient in addition to everything else, and will tend to favour seafood ingredients more heavily than meats. Usually served scalding hot and with the balance in favour of ingredients over fluid, 순두부 찌개 is also different from 육개장 in that the egg yolk is often placed in the soup intact (as opposed to the usual dropped egg technique in which the egg white and the egg yolk are broken up within the soup and thus cook within the soup in pieces, not as a single piece).


Soto ayam, Indonesian counterpart of chicken soup.

Indonesian soups are known to be flavoursome with generous amount of bumbu spice mixture. Indonesian cuisine has a diverse variety of soups.[8] Some Indonesian soups may be served as a separate whole meal,[8] while others are lighter.[9]

Generally Indonesian soups and stews are grouped into three major groups with numbers of variants in between.

  1. Soto refer to variety of Indonesian traditionally spiced meat soups, either in clear broth or in rich coconut milk-base soup, example includes soto ayam.
  2. Sayur refer to traditional vegetables stews, such as sayur asem.
  3. Sop or sup usually refer to soups derived from western influences, such as sop buntut.


  • Kwāti is a mixed soup of nine types of sprouted beans—black gram, green gram, chickpea, field bean, soybean, field pea, garden pea, cowpea and rice bean. It is eaten as the special dish on the full moon day of August.[10]


A bowl of canh chua

Vietnamese cuisine features two basic categories of soup: noodle soups and broths (Vietnamese: canh).

Noodle soups are enjoyed for both breakfast and dinner. Popular noodle soups include phở, rice vermicelli (bún bò Huế, bún mọc, bún ốc, Bún riêu cua, bún suông, etc.), (mì Quảng in Quảng Nam Province), bánh canh, bánh đa cua (in Hai Phong province), nui, and hủ tiếu.

Broths are thin and generally made from vegetables and spices. They are typically eaten over steamed rice in ordinary lunches and dinners. Common broths include canh chua rau đay and canh chua cá lóc.

Hot pot (lẩu) is a popular traditional soup in Vietnam. Mushroom hot pot was popularized by the Ashima Restaurant chain in Vietnam.

A thick, sweet, porridge-like soup called chè is eaten as a snack.


The most commonly used herbs, which are believed to be mildly invigorating, restorative, or immune-stimulating in nature, include wild yam (Dioscorea polystachya), Astragalus membranaceus, Codonopsis pilosula, Angelica sinensis, wolfberry, and jujube.[11] Ginseng and lingzhi are used less frequently, due to their comparatively higher price.

Many specific recipes for tonic soups using other herbs exist. Some of the best-known are:


A pot of samgyetang (Korean chicken ginseng soup)
  • Egg drop soup is a light Chinese soup.
  • Ginseng soup is very popular in China and Korea; samgyetang (ginseng-stuffed chicken in broth) is considered a Korean national dish.
  • Steamboat is a communal soup of meat, seafood, and vegetables dipped and cooked in hot broth on the tabletop.
  • Miso soup is a light broth containing miso. It is usually served at breakfast in Japan and sometimes includes tofu, mushrooms, seaweed, or green onions.
  • Shark fin soup is a Chinese soup made with shark's fin, crab meat and egg that is often served in banquets.
  • Dried tofu skin soup With Shiitake mushrooms and dried oysters. Base of soup from pork ribs and/or chicken broth.
  • Soto is a traditional Indonesian soup mainly composed of broth, meat and vegetables with spices. Some soto recipes uses clear broth, while some might uses coconut milk-based soup.

The Asian soup noodle is a large portion of long noodles served in a bowl of broth. In comparison, western noodle soup is more of a soup with small noodle pieces. The former dish is dominated by the carbohydrate while the latter dish is dominated by the soup liquid.

  • Bakso is an Indonesian meatball noodle soup. The beef meatballs are served with rice vermicelli, yellow wheat noodle and vegetables in beef broth.
  • Phở is a Vietnamese staple noodle soup. Its broth is made from boiling beef bones, ginger, and sweet spices (star anise, cinnamon, and cloves) over many hours.
  • Ramen is a Japanese noodle soup that comes in several varieties.
  • Thukpa is Tibetan noodle soup, that is more or less the staple (along with butter tea and tsampa).
  • Udon soup has thick, soft noodles in a light broth. There are many varieties with different noodles and toppings.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "尊生堂中醫診所 中醫常用處方箋". Archived from the original on 2007-01-12. Retrieved 2006-12-14.
  2. ^ 高汤的不同做法, 2012-06-25, archived from the original on 2013-10-23
  3. ^ Sharon Lee. "Common Ingredients - Chinese Soup Pot". Retrieved 1 December 2014.
  4. ^ 吊汤要添加鸡肉蓉、猪肉蓉的原理, 煲汤网, 2012-12-27
  5. ^ Diào tāng yào tiānjiā jīròu róng, zhūròu róng de yuánlǐ 開水白菜 大揭秘 [Hanging soup to add chicken Rong, pork Rong principle], 新華網, 2005-07-20, archived from the original on 2013-10-22
  6. ^ "A Soto Crawl". Eating Asia. Retrieved 15 April 2015.
  7. ^ "40 of Indonesia's best dishes". CNN Travel. August 9, 2011. Retrieved 15 April 2015.
  8. ^ a b Cornell, K.; Anwar, M. (2004). Cooking the Indonesian Way: Culturally Authentic Foods Including Low-fat and Vegetarian Recipes. Easy Menu Ethnic Cookbooks 2nd Edition. Ebsco Publishing. p. 31. ISBN 978-0-8225-2157-0. Retrieved 15 April 2015.
  9. ^ Yuen, D. (2013). Indonesian Cooking: Satays, Sambals and More. Tuttle Publishing. p. 116. ISBN 978-1-4629-0853-0. Retrieved 15 April 2015.
  10. ^ Vaidya, Tulasī Rāma; Mānandhara, Triratna; Joshi, Shankar Lal (1993). Social History of Nepal. Anmol Publications. p. 148. ISBN 9788170417996.
  11. ^ "A List of Chinese Herbs for Herbal Soups". Retrieved 1 December 2014.
  12. ^
  13. ^ "热呼呼的养身汤,冬天了该滋润一下啦 - 圈子文章 - 根本网". Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2006-12-14.
  14. ^ "Recipe_bottom". Archived from the original on 2007-09-29. Retrieved 2006-12-14.
  15. ^ "玉屏风散加味功效的物质基础". Retrieved 1 December 2014.
  16. ^ "蒙医药信息网". Archived from the original on 2007-10-08. Retrieved 2006-12-14.
  17. ^ "歡迎光臨春暉醫星球". Archived from the original on 7 October 2007. Retrieved 13 January 2022.

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