Hondurans love soup. It is served at most family gatherings, and at nearly all semi-formal dinners, being the true measure of the cook’s culinary abilities. As a main dish, some restaurants serve nothing else. Most traditional “sopas” have variations throughout Latin America, maintaining their regional distinctiveness by the use of locally obtained flavorings and spices. Most are clear, not thick, and the successful combination of homegrown ingredients, along with the culinary techniques of diverse ethnic cultures is truly an art.
A few of the classics which no visitor should pass up:
SOPA DE MONDONGO: This is the king of Latin American soups. Available throughout the Americas south of Mexico, in hundreds of local variations, it has its roots in the Caribbean island of Dominica in Spanish Colonial days. According to historians it began among African slaves as a means to use animal products not considered fit for the master’s table, along with vegetables and flavorings from their small garden plots and the surrounding jungle.
The Honduran version of Mondongo has as key ingredients either beef or pork tripe and the bones of the feet. Added to this are common vegetables like potatoes, red onions, and elotes cut into sections. Throw in some ayotes and patastes, as well as the ubiquitous platanos and yuca. Season well with celantro and ground cumin, and you have the makings of a meal fit for a royal occasion.
SOPA DE CARACOL: Perhaps the most famous traditional soup due to the very popular song of the same name. Historically, it is again of Spanish Colonial origin, drawing heavily on the culinary traditions of the northern Honduran Garífunas of African descent.
This is soup flavored with the meat of the Conch mollusk, which can be bought in supermarkets in Honduras. Locals say the key to good Sopa de Caracol is the use of grated coconut and coconut milk. Vegetables are added to the stock including white onions with green tops, baby corn, green beans, celery, patastes, and the obligatory platanos. When other seafood is substituted for Conch, it becomes Sopa de Mariscos or Sopa Marinera.
SOPA DE OLLA: Literally “Soup of the Pot,” it has no official history because it has no official recipe. The Honduran variety is made from beef short ribs and broth, with vegetables, usually potatoes, chayote, squash, carrots, onions, corn cut in sections, and yuca, flavored with traditional seasonings. It is easy to make and is a very satisfying beef and vegetable stew.
TOPADO OLANCHANO: This is a traditional soup made with dried beef. It can hardly be called a soup, but is a very hearty meat and vegetable stew, combining the beef with pork ribs, salted pork skins, yuca, potatoes, platanos, and a special sausage called Chorizo Olanchano. Making this dish is an all-day project, and is a fitting meal for the most important guests. This is not for vegetarians or weight watchers, but don’t pass on this one!
SOPA DE CAPIROTADAS: This is a cheese dumpling soup, originating in Spanish Colonial times among those Catholics too poor to afford fish for Lent. The traditional Honduran version combines grated local cheese with fresh ground corn masa, and formed into small round cakes. These are stewed in chicken broth along with carrots, chayote and potatoes, making a wonderfully rich and filling soup for the Holy Week. Anyone in Honduras during Semana Santa should try this, not only because it tastes great, but for its religious and cultural significance.
TOPADO DE PESCADO SECO: This is a very savory soup made with dried fish, and is also traditionally reserved for Holy Week. The secret here is the addition of coconut milk to the fish broth, along with yuca, green bananas, and platanos. It is a clear soup, and very tasty. This soup is of great traditional significance due to its religious connotations, and is a staple during Lent.
Any visitors to Honduras looking for any degree of cultural immersion should start with the local foods, and traditional soups are a great place to begin. Here, one can literally get a taste of cultural, colonial and religious history. Combined with a good cold Honduran beer, it’s an experience never to be forgotten.