Fish soups around the world

Fish. You either love it or you can’t stand it. When it comes to eating it that is.

Even though there have been is recent years never-ending debates regarding the risks and benefits of consuming fish – primarily because fish may contain higher level of contaminants such as methylmercury and dioxins – most people still like to concentrate on the benefits such as high quality proteins and many essential nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids that fish contain.

Among all fish dishes, fish soup is probably the most common and most popular in several parts of the globe. There are so many versions all around the world that we won’t even attempt to list them all. We just hope to highlight some typical features and characteristics.

Simply put, fish soup is made by combining fish or seafood with various vegetables and stock, water or some other liquid. What differentiates fish soup from fish stew is that the soup has more liquid in it. As with all other soups, there is also a distinction here between clear and thick versions. The latter can be thickened with cream, vegetable purees or potatoes.

When it comes to serving, fish soups may come with chunks of fish or vegetables left in the liquid, or sometimes with veggies or some type of bread on the side. In some places – for example in Hungary as you will see later on in more detail – they even put pasta in the soup.

And now to the yummiest part! What fish should go into these heavenly dishes? Sicilian fish soups usually have ling fillets, although many would claim an Italian fish soup is best when there are several types of fish and seafood in it such as shrimp, prawns, cod, haddock, calamari, mussels, clams etc. Some fresh focaccia bread is perfect companion!

Moving further up in Europe, in Finland they make Lohikeitto with salmon, potatoes, cream and dill, while Cullen skink in Scotland is a traditional thick soup made of smoked haddock. In Norway, they usually make it heavy and creamed with white fish (haddock, halibut, cod) and various vegetables. 

            Special mention must be made of the Bouillabaisse, a Provencal fish stew or soup. Originally, it was made by Marseille fishermen, using the bony rockfish they weren’t able to sell to markets. At least three types of fish can be found in a traditional bouillabaisse: red rascasse, sea robin and European conger. It can also include other fish like gilt-head bream, turbot, monkfish, mullet or European hake, and shellfish and other seafood, such as sea urchinsmusselsvelvet crabs, or octopus. Modern, high-end versions may have langoustine.

            Looking at further parts of the world, we see that in the Singaporean fish soup they most commonly use snakeheads. In Japan, it is a fish broth called dashi that they often make since they use it in soups, stews, boiled vegetables and many other dishes. Caribbean fish soup, also known as fish tea, is popular in both Caribbean and Jamaican cuisines. It is made with hearty veggies, potatoes and various types of fish and seafood with a typical mixture being of shrimp and a mild white fish such as tilapia, snapper or halibut.

And now back to Europe, more specifically to’s home country, Hungary. Even though we don’t have a great seafood tradition – Hungary being a landlocked country – we like freshwater fish. We mainly consume carp, catfish and pike. However, if there is one dish that we are truly proud of – besides our goulash – is the traditional Hungarian fish soup called halászlé or fisherman’s soup – literally translated. There are at least two main schools to make it, and it divides Hungarians just as much as which region made bull’s blood wine first!

Fisherman’s soup  (Photo:

            One main version is made in and around Szeged – a city on Hungary’s second largest river, the Tisza, while the other is in Baja – by the banks of the Duna (Danube), the largest river. The Szeged version has several types of fish and is run through a sieve. The Baja type is served with pasta. You can often also find white fluffy bread on the side. All versions use a large dose of paprika – some only sweet but many also hot. Several variations include fish roe, and… well, even milt!

Carp is the most common fish in halászlé, but some recipes also have pike and catfish in them. Carp in Central and Eastern Europe is consumed for good luck at Christmas.

Fishermen and chefs all around the country boast that they make the best and ultimate halászlé, and there are several competitions and festivals to prove just that. Many people are convinced that carp is not their thing. You can then either opt for the catfish version or find yourself surprised and converted!


Sources:, Wikipedia,

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