You’re reading From Scratch, a series deconstructing the food we eat to explore its history, variety and the way we consume it.
When most people think of chicken soup, they think Campbell’s in a can or mom’s home-cooked recipe.
But for many Hispanic students at UTA, chicken soup is called caldo, and it invokes thoughts of a healthy mix of vegetables and meat enjoyed alongside family and friends.
Priscilla Escobedo, UTA Libraries Special Collections archivist, has read multiple books on Mexican cuisine, but she found that unlike tamales and tortillas, caldo doesn’t have distinctly Spanish roots.
The hearty dish has roots in many countries, differing only in the ingredients, not the preparation style.
Caldo de pollo (chicken broth) is native to Mexico and has variants using beef, vegetables, corn and more. Countries from Guatemala and Colombia to Brazil and Paraguay have their own versions of caldo too, some with native ingredients and others served as breakfast.
However, even if caldo isn’t solely from Mexico, it’s basically a staple in Hispanic households, Escobedo said, and its reach is far.
The word “caldo” translates to “broth” in Spanish, which is an apt descriptor of the dish.
Since caldo is broth and broth is a liquid in which something nutritious has been boiled, there are many things that can end up as caldo.
The most popular caldos in Mexico are caldo de pollo and caldo de res, or chicken caldo and beef caldo, Escobedo said.
She grew up eating caldo de pollo and remembers her mom making it with half a chicken and a whole head of cabbage in one specific pot, the biggest they had.
The big portion sizes mean the soup is meant to be shared, Escobedo said, and as a result, she’s never seen it made in a small batch.
“It’s a lot of food. You kind of have to eat it with a lot of people,” Escobedo said.
Her family aren’t even “soup people,” but Escobedo remembers whenever her relatives would visit from Mexico, her mother would make caldo.
She’d come home in the summer and it’d smell like soup, even though outside was blazing hot.
Broth isn’t a dish unique to Mexico, as pretty much every country has roots in a similar soup.
But there are certain things that can be added to make a broth into caldo, both into the dish and alongside it.
The essential ingredients of caldo are the meat and the water, and usually some veggies. Like with Escobedo’s family, cabbage is an option, as well as potatoes, carrots, rice, onions and corn (sometimes still on the cob).
What sets other countries’ broths apart from caldo are the details, like the lemon juice or hot sauce that can be added to enhance the flavor and the guacamole or diced avocados that are sometimes added before serving the dish with tortillas.
In acting senior Mario Bortolini’s family, dishes are always unique because his mother is Italian and puts her own twists on Mexican food.
For caldo his mom makes a vegetable-only variant, a recipe left over from a vegetarian phase that shifted her whole cooking style, Bortolini said.
She includes a green vegetable called chayote, he said, which is a type of squash that resembles a pear in appearance and cucumber in taste.
Together with onions, corn on the cob and spices, Bortolini’s mom makes caldo in a way that might be weird to others, but to him, it tastes like home.
“At the end of the day it still has the Mexican flavor,” Bortolini said.
For communications alumnus Gracie Campos, caldo means family or sharing a meal.
Campos said caldo is just one of those comfort foods you can enjoy with your whole family, and she remembers her mom and aunt making it together a lot during her childhood and still today.
They make it every other month or so, she said, and although she didn’t inherit her mother’s cooking skills, Campos still likes to help out by preparing the vegetables.
Actually sitting down together and eating the caldo is when she feels most connected to her family, Campos said, since life is busy and they aren’t always in the same place.
Sitting and eating while having good conversation is what she associates most with the soup.
“It just kind of brings us all together,” Campos said.