On the Rocks

Chinatec elders prepare stone soup the traditional way, by the Papaloapan River. PHOTO: SARAH BOREALIS

Chinatec elders prepare stone soup the traditional way, by the Papaloapan River. PHOTO: SARAH BOREALIS

National Geographic’s The Plate explores the “global relationship between what we eat and why, at the intersection of science, technology, history, culture and the environment”. The latest in its daily discussion on food is the preparation of  real stone soup in Oaxaca, Mexico.

The soup originated in a remote ritual site in the Papaloapan River basin, about 12 hours by car from Oaxaca City, in the highlands of the Sierra Madre mountain range. The geography there is very rocky, and in the Pre-Ceramic [period,] Chinantec ancestors developed an elemental way to cook their food using fire and stone. The ritual site features large boulders excavated to serve as large cooking pots, and I guess you might say that the rest is history! The recipe for stone soup features local ingredients and really is a product of this unique environment.

In The Path of Stone Soup, filmmaker Sarah Borealis documents the dish’s unique origins and preparation. Borealis traveled to Oaxaca in 2010 and first tasted stone soup in a roadside restaurant run by the Gachupin family, which has been maintaining the tradition within its indigenous community for generations. With their aid, she and director Arturo Juárez Aguila spent four years documenting the preservation of this traditional soup-making process. National Geographic selected this film for the Short Film Showcase, and I spoke with both Borealis and Aguila about their project.

What does the soup taste like? Is there a particular flavor?

SB: There are currently three methods for preparing stone soup, and each has its own variation of flavors. The soup prepared in the large boulders at the ritual site has a mineral cast to it, and the heat and energy of the stone-on-stone preparation really does infuse the seafood. When the soup is prepared in leaf-lined openings dug in the sand on the banks of the river, the flavor is slightly more “green,” with a fresh aftertaste. The soup prepared individually injicaras—gourds—in the family restaurant brings with it the distinction of being made to order, and each bowl contains one or two individual stones, which are still emitting heat and energy when served, resulting in yet a third stone-soup experience. In all its preparations, the soup is simple and complete. The seafood is perfectly poached, and the vegetables maintain their own integrity, while the dish has an alchemical property that makes the flavor exponentially more than the sum of its ingredients.

AA: It’s really natural. I love the mixed one with fish and shrimp. It has a very light flavor that combines with the taste of fresh tomato and a touch of chile and epazote.

Read more here.

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