cioppino, sopa de mariscos

Yesterday’s lunch special at the Mexican restaurant Reposado was billed as cioppino, though it was recognizably a Mexican-style sopa de mariscos ‘seafood soup’. Meanwhile, cioppino is standardly described as a fish stew (as in the Wikipedia article on the dish), though it too is a seafood soup, essentially a clear tomato soup with a whole lot of seafood (ncluding fish) in it. Exactly what Reposado was serving yesterday, with some significant differences in details: the basic soup at Reposado had no wine in it; the Reposado dish had a lot of vegetables in it (not just the sauteed onions in the basic sauce, but also potatoes, carrots, poblanos, and zucchini); and the Reposado dish had some Mexican ingredients (fresh chiles, cilantro, and lime) rather than the Mediterranean ingredients of classic cioppino (shallots and bay leaves, in particular; the two soups share basil, oregano, and an anise-flavored ingredient, either aniseed or fennel).

Cioppino is a San Francisco dish (so it’s no surprise that sopa de mariscos would be billed as cioppino in a Bay Area restaurant), but its roots lie in Italy; the sopas / estofados / caldos de mariscos of Latin America, Mexico included, have their roots in Spain; so both originate in the fish soups and stews of the maritime Mediterranean, from Greece and Italy to France and Spain, which vary locally but share a family resemblance.

After a celebration of cioppino and sopa de mariscos, I’ll go to a linguistic question, namely the soup vs. stew question.


From Wikipedia:

Cioppino is a fish stew originating in San Francisco, California. It is considered an Italian-American dish, and is related to various regional fish soups and stews of Italian cuisine.

Cioppino is traditionally made from the catch of the day, which in San Francisco is typically a combination of Dungeness crab, clams, shrimp, scallops, squid, mussels, and fish all sourced from the Pacific Ocean. The seafood is then combined with fresh tomatoes in a wine sauce, and served with toasted bread, either local sourdough or French bread.

Cioppino was developed in the late 1800s primarily by Italian fishermen who settled in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco, many from the port city of Genoa. Originally it was made on the boats while out at sea and later became a staple as Italian restaurants proliferated in San Francisco.

The name comes from ciuppin which is the name of a classic soup from the Italian region Liguria, similar in flavor to cioppino but with less tomato and using Mediterranean seafood cooked to the point that it falls apart.

The Reposado dish had mussels, shrimp, scallops, and red snapper. Here’s a similar Mexican sopa de mariscos (but lacking all those Reposado veggies and sporting a sprig of fresh basil):


#1 and #2 are pretty clearly variants of the same dish.

Wikipedia calls cioppino a fish stew, despite all those non-fish ingredients in it (visible in #1), presumably because people think of fish as the principal ingredient in the dish (and there are fish-only variants of the dish, but then there are fishless variants too; so some people would no doubt deny the label cioppino to one or the other of these). And Wikipedia calls cioppino a fish stew, despite the clear broth that makes its base, presumably because of all of those big, visible, and clearly unmelded components in the dish.

That is, the dishes in #1 and #2 look like instances of the category SOUP on one criterion (thinness) but of the category STEW on another (some unmingled components).

(Spanish mariscos, like English seafood, usually covers fish as well as shellfish, though it can have the narrower sense, in which case a dish like #2 will be labeled sopa de pescado y marisco (or a variant of this). Some discussion of seafood and marisco(s) in a 12/29/14 posting.)

Soup, stew, broth, gravy. Wikipedia on soup:

Soup is a primarily liquid food, generally served warm (but may be cool or cold), that is made by combining ingredients such as meat and vegetables with stock, juice, water, or another liquid. Hot soups are additionally characterized by boiling solid ingredients in liquids in a pot until the flavors are extracted, forming a broth.

So soups are based on a (relatively) clear broth. And they are (relatively) liquid in character, though they can be thickened:

Traditionally, soups are classified into two main groups: clear soups and thick soups… Thick soups are classified depending upon the type of thickening agent used: purées are vegetable soups thickened with starch; bisques are made from puréed shellfish or vegetables thickened with cream; cream soups may be thickened with béchamel sauce; and veloutés are thickened with eggs, butter, and cream. Other ingredients commonly used to thicken soups and broths include egg, rice, lentils, flour, and grains; many popular soups also include carrots and potatoes.

Soups are similar to stews, and in some cases there may not be a clear distinction between the two; however, soups generally have more liquid than stews.

And in the clearest instances of the SOUP category, the ingedients are mingled to an extent that their separate identities are no longer significant (or may even be fully obscured, as in puréed soups) — or, more generally, the ingredients are STUFF rather than THINGS: grains of rice, noodles, peas or beans, kernels of corn, bits of vegetable (carrot, celery, potato, etc/), small chunks of meat or fish, etc. A typical soup (chicken noodle): stuff mingled in a relatively liquid food:


Now stew. From Wikipedia:

A stew is a combination of solid food ingredients that have been cooked in liquid and served in the resultant gravy. Ingredients in a stew can include any combination of vegetables (such as carrots, potatoes, onions, beans, peppers and tomatoes), meat, especially tougher meats suitable for slow-cooking, such as beef. Poultry, sausages, and seafood are also used. While water can be used as the stew-cooking liquid, wine, stock, and beer are also common. Seasoning and flavourings may also be added. Stews are typically cooked at a relatively low temperature (simmered, not boiled), allowing flavors to mingle.

In a stew, the base of the dish is the gravy created by slow-cooking in a liquid, rather than a broth or stock added to the dish. The result is that stews are generally thicker than soups (and sometimes can be served on a plate rather than in a bowl). A typical stew, beef stew, on a plate:


Note that the components of the stew are somewhere in the fuzzy area between STUFF and THINGS: some of what’s in the dish are relatively large. identifiable, and easily distinguished chunks, but there are a number of them. Compare the dishes in #1 and #2, where some of what’s in them are relatively large, identifiable, and easily distinguished foodstuffs, but they are numerous.

On the thickness vs. thinness criterion for STEW vs. STUFF, Wikipedia notes in both its stew and its soup articles that in some cases there may not be a clear distinction between the two (though on the whole soups have more liquid than stews). Borderline cases are not hard to find. Here, for instance, is a dish billed as lentil and sausage stew:


versus a dish billed as barley and lentil soup:


I would have had great difficulty predicting that #5 is called stew and #6 soup.

2 Responses to “cioppino, sopa de mariscos”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    Fish vs. seafood: Many years ago, in a restaurant in Venice, I had an appetizer that was labeled antipasto di pesce; it contained nary a fish, but a great (and delicious) array of mollusks and crustaceans.

    Soup vs. stew: I don’t know if it still exists, but one used to find “oyster stew” on menus, referring to a dish that I would definitely call soup (basically a cream soup with oysters).

  2. Alon Lischinsky Says:

    Lynne Murphy has an excellent blog post on trans-Atlantic differences in the conceptual distinction between soup and stew.

    I hadn’t heard of cioppino before, but I immediately recognised it as the etymon of Spanish chupín ‘fish stew’. The term is not covered in any dictionaries that I know of, but is abundantly attested in Rioplatense, Chilean and Paraguayan Spanish. The recipes I know tend to use freshwater fish (especially sorubim and other catfish), though that may simply be an artefact of my growing up a thousand kilometers away from the seashore.

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