Almost exactly four years ago, I was travelling alone in northern India, figuring I’d hit up the extremely New Age city of Rishikesh and maybe learn a couple of yoga poses. Instead, I caught pneumonia, had to be transported by strangers to the local hospital, and just generally had a pretty awful/terrifying few days — which I was very, very careful not to tell my family about until the danger had passed and I was on the mend.
Once I had the right meds, I began to mend fairly quickly, but had to take it very, very easy and prolong my stay in town much longer than I’d originally planned. One of the things I did to make myself better was walk across the street to one of the local German Bakeries (Rishikesh’s food scene is bewilderingly studded with many of these so-called ‘German’ bakeries — in fact, mostly local joints run by local people selling local food, that seem to have nothing German about them except that they bake bread!) and enjoy a steaming bowl of thukpa.
Thukpa is a pretty variable soup; depending on who you ask, it comes from either Nepal or Tibet or even China, mostly contains noodles, and can be made either strictly vegetarian or with chicken. I wasn’t feeling so hot last week, and wanted to re-create the thukpa I remembered having in Rishikesh, which is to say a vegetarian, noodle-free (*gasp!*) version, heavy on the cabbage and carrots, in a thick, rich, and intensely savoury tomato broth. The result is a deeply comforting, vitamin-packed bowl that’ll fill you up and have you back on your feet in no time.
I also recently stumbled across this poem about soup which captures so perfectly why they’re the best food this time of year:
After it all, the events of the holidays,
the dinner tables passing like great ships,
everybody made soups for a while.
Cooked and cooked until the broth kept
the story of the onion, the weeping meat.
It was over, the year was spent, the new one
had yet to make its demands on us,
each day lay in the dark like a folded letter.
Then out of it all we made one final thing
out of the bounty that had not always filled us,
out of the ruined cathedral carcass of the turkey,
the limp celery chopped back into plenty,
the fish head, the spine. Out of the rejected,
the passed over, never the object of love.
It was as if all the pageantry had been for this:
the quiet after, the simmered light,
the soothing shapes our mouths made as we tasted.