According to archeologists who uncovered the remnants of scorched pots in China’s Jiangxi Province, humans have been making soups for at least 20,000 years—if not longer. As a food category, soup is conceptually elastic, encompassing everything from the most luxurious dishes—marrow-rich tonkotsu simmered for days—to ones made of very literal bare bones. Portable iterations of soups once fueled 18th-century explorers, while “black soup” stained with pig’s blood kept ancient Sparta’s notorious army strong.
Soups are universal comfort foods, the way we comfort our sick and stretch a few scraps into a meal. Unsurprisingly, the diversity of soups slurped around the globe is downright dizzying. From a half-century-old broth in Bangkok to chanko nabe, a hearty stew designed to help sumo wrestlers bulk up, in Tokyo to caldo de piedra, which is heated with red-hot rocks, in Mexico, the options are plenty—and all good for the soul. All of these places will happily ladle out a bowl for travelers, with the exception of the world’s largest soup kettle, which once drew locals from all over Wisconsin for “Community Soup” events. It stands empty now, a timeless testament to the uniting power of a good soup.