Food writer and former New York Times food critic Mimi Sheraton could not have chosen a more apt title for her 1995 cookbook, “The Whole World Loves Chicken Soup.” She’s right. From Mexico’s chili-spiked sopa de Fideos, to China’s gingery QiguoJi, it seems that an affinity for chicken in a pot transcends borders . Still, while no single culture can claim it as exclusively its own, Jews and their goldene yoich (golden broth) maintain a particularly close relationship.
A bowl of hot, fragrant broth ladled over softened carrots and chewy egg noodles or matzah balls is a staple on traditional Shabbat tables. Imagining Passover or Rosh Hashanah without the clink of spoons against the rim of steaming bowls of chicken soup is a bleak thought, indeed. Adding to its mythical appeal, chicken soup is renowned as something of a cure-all. Sometimes dubbed “Jewish Penicillin,” it is administered whenever colds, heartbreaks, or any other physical or emotional ailments strike.
The 12th-century Jewish physician, Maimonides, started the chicken soup-as-medicine trend when, in his book, On the Cause of Symptoms, he recommended the broth of hens and other fowl to “neutralize body constitution.” According to Maimonides, boiled chicken soup also played a role in curing leprosy and asthma, and–as a Jewish grandmother might put it–“putting some meat on your bones.”
In Jewish Food: The World at Table, Matthew Goodman reports on a 1978 study conducted at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach that confirmed at least part of Maimonides’ prescription: “chicken soup proved more effective than simple hot or cold water in clearing congested nasal passages.”
Jews across the world have conjured up their own iterations of the world’s most iconic soup. Iraqi Jews love their creamy rice-filled Shorba Bi Djaj and Indian Jews are partial to turmeric-scented Marag. But the Eastern European version of water simmered with chicken bones is, hands-down, the most recognized of the bunch.
Pronounced: roshe hah-SHAH-nah, also roshe ha-shah-NAH, Origin: Hebrew, the Jewish new year.
Pronounced: shuh-BAHT or shah-BAHT, Origin: Hebrew, the Sabbath, from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.