If you’re anything like me, you are counting the days until all of your favorite seasonal meals are readily in reach. I’m talking tamales, roasted ham, and, of course, caldos of all types. Caldo is the one dish in Latin American households that can be served all year-round—shout out to moms serving scorching hot soups during the summer!—but deserves a special spotlight during the winter months as it brings people an inexplicable warmth and cozy feeling.
The word “caldo” translates to broth in English, which describes the essence of the dish. Caldos can be chicken, beef, or seafood-based, and always feature a mix of spices and vegetables. The main difference between caldos and other forms of soup is that it uses whole pieces of chicken or beef instead of chopped or shredded bits, as well as bigger cuts of accompanying vegetables. Over decades, the dish has become popular in countries all over North, Central, and South America, as well as Latine populated areas in the US because it is budget-friendly and simply delicious.
As with most dishes, regional variations of caldos exist, as each country adds its own signature touch to the recipe. Variations of the dish can range from hearty to lighter takes. Often viewed as an underdog of Latin American comfort dishes, it is more than just a meal. Caldo de pollo, for example, is also a home remedy for cases of flu, colds, hangovers, homesickness, and is often used in afterbirth care for women. In countries such as Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic, caldo represents the togetherness of family in Latine households—the act of sitting down with your family with the sole purpose of enjoying a bowl of caldo is an unmatched feeling.
Whether you enjoy yours with a side of white rice or handmade corn tortillas, here are a few caldos from different Latin American countries that hit the spot during soupy season.
Caldo de pollo, Mexico
Mexican style caldo de pollo is the mother of all comfort foods—it is regarded as a healthy and nutritious dish with potent soothing abilities. The main ingredient for a Mexican caldo de pollo is, of course, chicken (preferably either the entire chicken, thighs, or breasts). Other primary ingredients are typically carrots, jalapeño, potatoes, green chiles, celery, chayote, and corn, though it varies depending on households and ingredients availability. The dish can be served both hot and cold, although the hot version is most popular, with toppings that vary from tortilla chips to lime to hot sauce. Other toppings that are added to the dish include cilantro, radishes, and maybe even sour cream. Unlike most other Mexican soups, caldo de pollo is dairy and gluten-free as it excludes cheese, creams, and tomato-based sauces.
Mexico is also well-known for other popular variations of the caldo that exist across different regions. Caldo de res is also popular in Mexico and many countries across Latin America; the ingredients for this variation often substitute the chicken for beef shanks with bone while the vegetables primarily remain the same. Seafood-based caldos are also popular in certain regions of Mexico, specifically in areas such as Veracruz and Sinaloa.
Caldo de res, El Salvador
In the US, Salvadoran cuisine is well-known for its selection of delicious pupusas, fried yucca, and panes rellenos. However, one of the most popular meals in El Salvador is caldo de res. The dish is popular throughout the entire country, where people typically enjoy it as a lunch meal. Although caldo de res is often consumed inside the home, it can also be found in local markets, restaurants, and other food establishments. This recipe typically calls for large chunks of beef, corn, plantain, cassava, carrots, cabbage, and chayotes. Similar to other regions, variations of the soup do exist. Some recipes call for other ingredients such as short ribs, yucca, bell peppers, onions, or Mexican squash. The use of the beef bones in this soup is traditional in Salvadoran cooking and helps to create a rich and flavorful base for the meal. Similar to caldo de pollo in Mexico, caldo de res is one of the most consumed soups in El Salvador because it is considered a nutritious meal and an economical meal option made with fresh vegetables and a lot of love.
Caldo de pata, Guatemala
Guatemalan cuisine is known for main dishes such as chiles rellenos, pollo en crema, and arroz con pollo that are based on a combination of Maya cuisine and Spanish influences. Another well-known Guatemalan meal is caldo de pata de res, which is a popular variation of caldo de res seen across different Latin American countries. This version of caldo is especially popular in the region of Guatemala city, typically served during lunch hour as a special during the weekend. Similar to other caldos the recipe calls for beef foot bones, onions, red or green chilis, celery, carrots, corn, yucca, potatoes, and cilantro. Some of the more unique vegetables added to this version of caldo include tomatoes and güisquiles, one of the most common vegetables throughout Mexico and Central America. Güisquil is commonly described as looking like an avocado but tasting like a potato. Caldo de pata is also typically served with a side of corn tortillas, avocado slices, lime, and hot sauces. The combination of such fresh and hearty vegetables alongside the rich beef broth makes for a flavorful meal that is both nutritious and comforting.
Caldo de costilla, Colombia
Colombian cuisine embraces the culinary influences from its six main regions (Pacific, Amazonian, Andean, Orinoco, Caribbean, and Insular), which makes for a diverse selection of dishes. As for popular Colombian soups, the Andean region-originated caldo de costilla shoots to the top of the list. Caldo de costilla, is a rich soup made with beef ribs, potatoes, carrots, onion, garlic, cilantro, and other herbs. The dish features a light-colored broth and simple aesthetic that is due to the incorporation of fresh ingredients. In contrast to some of the other countries or regions on this list, caldo de costilla is eaten mainly during breakfast where it is often served with an arepa or bread. The dish is also enjoyed with other sides and toppings, such as white rice, aji, and avocado. Besides its nutritional value, one of the main reasons behind the dish’s popularity stems from its association as a remedy for hangovers. It is referred to as levantamuertos, or death’s awaker, and can even be found in late-night restaurants near bars and clubs.
Caldo de bola, Ecuador
Although seemingly small in size, Ecuador’s diverse terrain plays a major role in the recipes that make up its cuisine, which vary in ingredients from the coast to the mountain regions. Ecuadorian cuisine is especially known for its selection of savory soups. Caldo de bola, also known as sopa de bolas de verde in some regions, is a stuffed plantain dumpling soup that’s very popular. It is a typical soup from the Coastal region, specifically Guayaquil, and other parts of South America, such as Tumbes, Peru. What differentiates this caldo from other variations is its three main components of beef broth, green plantain dumplings, and the beef and vegetable stuffing for those dumplings. The soup is referred to as plantain ball soup because the plantains are the star of the dish, as they are slow-cooked in a beef broth that includes a touch of peanut butter to bring the flavors together. Caldo de bola also consists of beef bones, corn or choclo, yucca, boiled eggs, and onions, and is seasoned with a combination of spices native to the region. Caldo de bola while creamy and delicious also provides a nutritious meal that is very difficult to pass up.
Caldo de gallina, Peru
Peruvian cuisine is a reflection of the country’s rich agricultural and colonial history that has produced a wide variety of flavorful traditional dishes. In particular, it features four traditional food staples: corn, potatoes, Amaranthaceae (quinoa and kwicha), and legumes. And one of the most traditional dishes inspired by these staples is caldo de gallina. An important distinction between caldo de gallina and caldo de pollo is the protein that is used—as the name alludes, this version of caldo calls for hens specifically for a richer flavor. The popularity of the dish in Peru has created a demand for it that has translated into restaurant and street vending spaces offering to serve 24-hour service. While there is no exact recipe for caldo de gallina, it typically features ingredients such as hen, hen and/or chicken bones, potatoes, carrots, peppercorns, butternut squash, celery, hard-boiled eggs, thin noodles, and more. Caldo de gallina is often consumed after a long night out, to cure colds, or simply to enjoy the delicious flavors of Peru.
Sancocho de siete carnes, Dominican Republic
The cuisine of the Dominican Republic is a reflection of the combination of Indigenous Taino, African, and Spanish influences that have played major roles in the country’s history. Similar to other Latin American countries, nearly all food groups are incorporated into Dominican meals, which has resulted in colorful and flavorful traditional dishes. One of the island’s national dishes is the popular sancocho de siete carnes (seven meat stew), which typically contains a combination of various meats, vegetables, and greens. The meats that are used for this sancocho often vary, but some examples are goat, beef, pork, fish, and chicken, which are then cooked together with root vegetables such as yucca and plantain. The dish is served with a side of rice and avocado, mainly during dinnertime on special occasions or year-round in most areas.
While sancocho is not exclusive to the Dominican Republic, it does have an interesting history as it is said to have originated in the Canary Islands, where immigrants brought the dish to many Latin American countries. Over time, the recipe for sancocho de siete carnes has been adapted to the agriculture of the land, utilizing the native foods of the Dominican Republic to create a beloved and powerful dish in many senses.