Connections: Soup’s On

Household menu updates are, of course, most common at New Year’s, when dieting is a ritual

Given the plethora of exotic foodstuffs available these days from the five corners of the world — as well as the continual reports about what foods are good for you (or not) — it is understandable that people are changing what they eat. 

Household menu updates are, of course, most common at New Year’s, when dieting is a ritual. No one is about to diet at our house, but we read about food a lot and try to stay within healthy bounds. Healthy doesn’t mean simple, however, around here. My family has always been interested in unusual foods harvested in the wild, and in daring seafood experiments, but in recent years some new-to-me ingredients with hard-to-pronounce names have begun to appear regularly on our stove, thanks to the cookbooks of Yotam Ottolenghi, of which my husband is enamored. 

Given recent “artisanal” food trends, I shouldn’t have been too surprised when I read about a new restaurant in Greenwich Village called Springbone, with the emphasis on the second syllable. Bones from grass-fed beef and free-range chickens simmer for hours and hours to make a broth that is the basis of almost everything on the menu. 

Maybe, if you are “of a certain age,” like me, you would expect that all meat-based broths could properly just be called, you know, broths — no need to add the explanatory extra word, “bone”: After all, no one ever made a real chicken or beef or mutton broth without a bone, right? My guess is that this new trend in cuisine is so named because younger generations, raised in the factory-processed era, had never had a chance to become acquainted with how broths and soups have traditionally been cooked. (And maybe, I guess, it just sounds cooler that way?)

Springbone is the second “bone broth” eatery in Manhattan, following Brodo, which means broth in Italian. Springbone and Brodo, in turn, have followed the many Vietnamese pho restaurants in the city, which rely on broth, and on Japanese ramen restaurants, like Momi Ramen in East Hampton. 

The bone-centric menus of Springbone and Brode push bone broth into the Paleo-diet realm. You remember the Paleo diet, don’t you? It is based on the alleged mealtime habits of our most ancient ancestors: no grains, no sugars, no processed foods, and little, if any, dairy. Springbone, though, offers gluten-free grains and vegan dishes, too, including a tasty-sounding “house-made avocado mash” with seaweed flakes and za’atar. (Za’atar is one of the now-favorite spice mixtures on our shelves, thanks to Mr. Ottolenghi.) Both Springbone and Brodo boost the novelty factor further by offering broths infused with surprising ingredients, including turmeric, coconut oil, and even Bloody Mary mix. You can sip their broths from a coffee cup, too. 

I may have been fascinated by Springbone because it brings me back to my childhood, when my mother or grandmother would make “beef tea” for me when I was home sick in bed. I would guess that they used little more than an inexpensive cut of meat — bone in, no doubt — and an onion. 

I grew up believing that beef tea was an old-country remedy, because my grandmother had emigrated from Moldova, east of Romania. It turns out, however, that Miss Beeton’s famous “Book of Household Management,” which was published in 1893, recommended it, too. As late as the 1920s and 1930s, beef tea and its cousin, consommé, were popular across America not just at sick beds, but at the start of family meals. (That was the era of bone-based gelatin aspics, and jelled consommés, too, come to think of it.) Well, plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. My grandchildren love a good broth-based noodle soup from Momi Rami, but somehow I doubt they’d be thrilled if I appeared at their sick bed with a cup of beef tea!