Asian meals often include soup; however, unlike in the Western custom, soup does not generally open the meal — it is instead brought to the table in the company of a meat or fish entree, with the staple rice.
Soups represent a variety of gestures during the course of a meal in Asia. They can be sipped at intervals, poured in modest spoonfuls over the rice, or downed for a refreshing punctuation to a varied course of delicacies.
Northeast Asians are masters in the making of light, velvety, savory soups that feature ingredients from land and sea. In Korea, one favorite soup is yukgaejang, a one-pot dish consisting of thin slices of beef and young spring onions in a hot stock of chilies seasoned with garlic and ground sesame seeds.
In the Philippines, Thailand, and other Southeast Asian countries, soups are spiked with a souring fruit or plant. Indonesian sotos, which are served to moisten rice, are broth-based dishes featuring seafood, cubes of meat, fine threads of noodle, bean paste, or julienned vegetables. The Vietnamese make soups with rich broths, textured with the meat of chicken and pork and bite size slices of vegetables, and flavored with mint leaves.
The secret of a good Asian soup is a rich stock and a skillful blending of fresh and preserved ingredients.