By Kathleen Horner
As a retired restaurant soup marketer, I am irresistibly drawn to soups on our local menus. Wide in variety and long on flavors, they're not to be missed just because the weather is warm. Discover chilled soups, pureed or blended soups, noodle soups, and soups with condiments offered on the side. Each bowl celebrates traditional Mexican flavors, ancient spice-trade inspiration, and the ingredients of Bahia de Banderas and beyond.
Traditional tortilla soup (sopa de tortilla) is very unlike most chicken-and-broth North American recipes. Instead, this pureed soup includes chicken broth, but adds sun dried guajillo and pasilla chiles and roasted garlic, onion, and tomato. The flavors are not too spicy; the chiles earthy and fruity. At Mina on Punta De Mita's "restaurant row," Tortilla Soup is ladled steaming hot from a clay pot into a bowl of crispy corn tortilla strips, diced avocado and panela cheese, and dried guajillo shreds. Spoon in some crema, served to the side. This is a very satisfying soup. A somewhat milder tasting variety of Tortilla Soup is served at Tail of the Whale Clubhouse, accompanied by small bowls of avocado and panela, tortilla and dried guajillo.
Bicolor (two-color) Soup of Sweet Corn and Poblano is on the menu at Casa Tradicional Cocina, just beyond the turn-off to Higuera Blanca on Route 200. Here two cream soupsfresh corn and roasted poblano chileare ladled from opposite sides of the bowl at the same time, meeting in the middle with a squiggle of crema. The flavors contrast beautifully. Enjoy live music from a resident harpist; on Wednesdays, a lively mariachi band entertains.
Gazpacho originated in Spain, not Mexico, but is a popular chilled soup wherever it's served. At Pacifico Beach Club, Gazpacho de Tomate Tradicional is topped with a generous spoonful of chilled crab, diced bell pepper, and a few drops of avocado oil. A splash of sherry wine vinegar adds a bit of sharpness to the blended soup of fresh tomatoes, celery, mild peppers, cucumber, and onion. But it's the crabmeat that gives the soup its heartiness.
Also, at Pacifico Beach Club (and not to be missed) is an elevation of chicken soup called Caldo Xóchitl (pronounced "so-cheel") very like sopa de lima, a Mayan lime soup. This hot soup is a citrus-seasoned chicken stock (caldo) poured over grilled chicken, rice, and peas and served with bowls of condiments on the side (freshly diced tomatoes, jalapeno or serrano chile, onion, cilantro). "Invite everybody into the pool" or add these mix-ins to the bowl as you like with a squeeze of lime. Chicken noodle soup pales in comparison to this soul-soother.
A caldo of an entirely different kind is served at Asai: Udon with Shrimp Tempura. There's no quiet way to enjoy this bowlful: soft and slightly chewy buckwheat Udon noodles are made to be slurped. The dashi or bonito-flake soup stock is loaded with umami from lubina fish (a type of sea bass), soy, a splash of saki, taro root (dasheen) reduction, and dried shiitake mushrooms. It's a complex but mild broth. San Blas shrimp, sweet potato, and onion fried in light tempura batter top the bowl.
A Mexican idiomatic expression is this: "del año del caldo," meaning: "it's so old, it's from the year that soup was invented." Considering how long ago that was, don't you think it's time you discovered the traditions and inspirations in our local soups?