There are cultures in different parts of the world that amaze anyone the first time they see or hear of it. One of these is practised in Mexico – the art of cooking soup by inserting a hot stone into the already prepared stock.
Locally called “caldo de Piedra”, this wonderful pre-Hispanic dish originates from San Felipe Usila, where the Chinantec people have prepared steaming broths in this way for centuries. Foodie outsiders are increasingly heading to Mexico City, Oaxaca to try out its singular specialty.
So, here’s the full story;
History indicates that hundreds of years ago, Chinantec villagers from the remote Oaxacan hamlet of San Felipe Usila would load up canoes with items to sell in Tuxtepec, a market town which is several days journey downriver. On the way, they would camp on the shores of a river known as Papaloapan and make soup. But not just any soup: a soup that would become legendary for a long time coming.
The travelers used whatever was within reach – river water for the broth; fresh-caught fish and shrimp; onions, chilli, tomatoes, and herbs growing nearby as well as orangewood for the bonfire. The gourds picked from nearby calabash trees, which, when hollowed out and dried, made perfect soup bowls. The final ingredient is a special kind of white river stone that is particularly good at conducting heat. When super-heated by the flames and dropped carefully into the gourds with all the other ingredients, the rocks boil the river water in minutes, cooking the fish perfectly and sending the heady aroma wafting downstream.
Well, that is how caldo de piedra (literally translated as stone soup) earned its name. In the present day, the locals do not hunt for fishes like their ancestors, they now drive to the next town to purchase fish or pick from their own fish pond. They also do not just fetch water from the riverbank for fear that the river water is no longer clean enough to cook with.
Today, the stone soup remains a fundamental part of village life, used to bring families together on Sundays and holidays. During the Holy Week, when friends and family come back home to visit, the shores of the river are lined with families who spend hours preparing and consuming the soup.
Travellers and tourists can travel to San Felipe Usila to sample the soup themselves, but getting there requires a mountainous 12-hour drive from Oaxaca City on roads that are only occasionally paved.
When next you take a trip to Mexico, ensure you have a taste of the famous stone soup.
What local dish is specific to your community that you think the world should know about? Do share with us in the comment section.