Is it just me or are people hornier for soup than ever? This pressing question first bubbled up about a month ago, when I texted a friend I was meeting for dinner about where she’d like to go and she responded, “idk but I NEED soup.” We ended up going to a ramen spot in the West Village where I witnessed people alternate between photographing their steaming bowls and inhaling slippery noodles so sensually it made me feel like the whole scene should have been rated R.
A few days later, I was riding the subway when I inadvertently eavesdropped on a conversation between two women:
“So,” said woman #1, eyes glowing conspiratorially. “I finally made the stew.”
“OMG! How was it?” said woman #2, clasping her hands in the universal gesture of love, support, and encouragement.
“Amazinggggg,” said woman #1, smiling knowingly.
The fact that they could refer to a stew as the stew with an implicit understanding of exactly what was being discussed is telling in its own right. The fact that I, a perfect stranger, immediately knew they were talking about Alison Roman’s viral recipe for Spiced Chickpea Stew With Coconut and Turmeric and not talking in code about having sex for the first time is a whole other level of evidence vis-à-vis soup culture’s modern frenzy.
If you type #thestew into Instagram, over 5,000 posts of a creamy yellow concoction will appear on your phone screen. If you type the keyword “soup” into Google, you’ll be treated to a bevy of delightful headlines such as, “Soup. Season.”, “Point/Counterpoint”: Is Soup a Meal?, and “Taco Bell Wants You to Blend Its Tacos Into a Soup for Thanksgiving.” If you walk past the ghost of Dean & Deluca on Broadway in SoHo you’ll likely hear a passerby bemoaning the loss of one of the neighborhood’s most reliable destinations for drinkable workday lunches. If you follow Vera Papisova, Director of Content and Education at Arfa, on social media, you’re likely privy to her #SoupIsTea hashtag. It’s typically accompanied by photos of her drinking soup out of a mug and superseded by multiple screenshots of her followers enthusiastically participating in the movement.
“I’m Russian, so I grew up eating a lot of Russian soups, like borscht, and my mom always gave me broth when I was sick,” Vera told me over email. “I noticed bone broth as a wellness trend in 2015 … and suddenly, bone broth started being served in coffee to-go cups around NYC, which I actually love, but the trend caused a lot of drama—experts argued over the actual health benefits of it.” She went on to explain that the tradition of making broth from animal bones has roots in ancient Chinese medicine, wherein different broths have different medicinal purposes. Since bone broth has started trending in the U.S., she’s noticed that more and more companies are treating soup like a drink—bottling it up so people can consume it the same way they would a juice.
“#SoupIsTea came about a few years ago, when I worked in an office that shall not be named (it was Vogue),” she said when I asked about how her niche-viral hashtag came about. “In one of my first weeks there, we all got an email from the Vogue fashion closet about how someone made popcorn in the kitchen, and it was making the gowns smell because the kitchen and the fashion closet were right next to each other. The email told us to be mindful of food that smelled strongly because it wasn’t professional for cover stars to have to wear gowns that smelled like our lunch, but the joke became that we weren’t allowed to make any food in the kitchen (which was really dramatic but hilarious for obvious reasons). Anyway, I continued to make soup (one of my favorite snacks), and I started saying that soup is tea and not food.”
Such is the richly varied texture of soup culture on the cusp of 2020–to some, it’s tea, to others, it’s prime Instagram content, or a liquid poem, or the culinary equivalent of a steamy love affair. Most recently, thanks to none other than Baby Yoda, it’s also meme fodder:
Baby Yoda and his soup is the new sipping tea meme. I’ve said it. pic.twitter.com/pxPTd8kxEw
— Mando the Bounty Hunter (@AdoptedBabyYoda) November 29, 2019
Needless to say, when a recent episode of The Mandalorian included a short scene of the internet’s favorite fictional infant imbibing soup, a freakout ensued–resulting in the debut of a Baby Yoda soup-drinking doll, not to mention multiple dedicated news stories about the incident.
“All we wanted to do was a zillion takes of how Baby was going to drink his soup,” the episode’s director Bryce Dallas Howard told E! News. “Would he drink it with one hand? With two hands? Sipping it a lot? Sipping it a little bit?”
I could personally discuss the nuances of these questions all day, and I’ve never even watched The Mandalorian. I am merely a speck of human dust upon this earth, no match for the combined allure of both the cutest CGI creation in the history of television and a bowl of what I can only hope is split pea, but in my humble opinion it can’t be a coincidence that the creators behind the show chose soup as Baby Yoda’s scene-stealing meal of choice. They knew exactly what they were doing: formulating the most potent sequence of digital catnip in the history of media.
I’m calmly awaiting the inevitable next phase in soup mania’s trajectory in which a New York City spa starts offering full-body soup dips as a replacement for traditional steam baths and Buzzfeed releases a quiz about what your favorite soup says about you. Until then, I’m off to get a half pint of lentil for lunch.