All right, audience participation time. When I say "2021," what’s the first word that comes to mind? Finally! OK, good. How about "soup?" Nah! All right, not a word, but I get you. Soup is almost nobody’s favorite thing. Soup is for the sick, or when you can’t think of anything else, or the cans in your doomsday bunker are about to expire. Yes, ramen and chowder have their fans, but that’s because we call them ramen and chowder, not soup.
Is liquid self-care poised for a comeback? The argument: this ought to be soup’s year, perfect as it is for our era of dialed back expectations, modesty over flash, comfort over excitement, brain over liver. But if so, somebody forgot to tell the 10 bangin’ bowls below. Unashamed of their provenance but determined to push the boundaries of broth, each hits you with bold flavors, fresh delights, and a jolt that practically demands you take stock. Ahem. Call them vanguards, dissidents, rebels. Just don’t call them soup.
This specialty of Greek cuisine is found at restaurants all over the Island, and most get the base — lemon and tempered eggs — right. What sets apart the version at Avli (461 Hempstead Tpke, West Hempstead; 2449 Jerusalem Ave., North Bellmore) are the hearty amount of breast meat and contributions of carrots and orzo suspended in a thick and creamy velouté. Its recipe transforms Avli’s avgo into a formidable concoction indeed, and a lowly starter into a whole meal. ($5.25/$7) More info: 516-564-7575; 516-409-4976, avligreek.com
WINTER MELON VERMICELLI MEATBALL
Between its glass noodles and translucent slivers of fruit, this oft-overlooked Cantonese soup might just float away if not for the dozen or so minced pork golf balls tethering it to the bowl at JuYoGe (1310 Middle Country Rd., Selden). It’s been a house favorite ever since the restaurant’s Tao’s Fusion days, and no wonder, given the unusually complex slurp. Credit well-seasoned meat, sweet melon and — especially — life-giving umami broth. ($13) More info: 631-320-0414, juyougelongislandny.com
A Trinidadian take on this popular Caribbean dish comes courtesy of Chef B’s (124 N. Central Ave., Valley Stream). It’s a mesmerizing if hard to describe mélange of coconut milk, okra, onions, and the leaves of a taro plant called dasheen. It’s also soulful and divine as either a soup or over rice, and if you’re lucky, the chef might even throw in a slice of macaroni pie. ($30/quart) More info: 516-881-7722
Calling this Peruvian coastal dish a seafood soup — so popular, it’s advertised in big letters outside both locations of Los Andes (1844 Deer Park Ave., Deer Park ; 275 E. Main St., Patchogue)—is to undersell in the extreme. No, it’s the seafood soup, the standard by which all others are measured, or should be. Finely crafted by a reverent kitchen, this version features shrimp, calamari, mussels and more, all soaking in a spicy fish stock so heavenly, you won’t leave a drop. ($20) More info: 631-392-1555; 631-569-4555
The safe haven it provided thousands of Hurricane Katrina evacuees earned southeast Texas such titles as The Big Heart and New Orleans West, and the seamless blending of flavors at Ken Kaplan’s NY Soup Exchange (945 Franklin Ave., Garden City) makes for both a fitting homage and a legend-in-the-making stew. Expect bountiful portions of pork sausage and chicken to lose themselves in Cajun splendor and heat, assisted mightily by a buttery roux studded with onions and okra. You’ll find no better cure for the winter blues. Or blocked sinuses, for that matter. ($5.25/$12) More info: 516-742-7687, nysoupexchange.com
SANCOCHO COSTILLA DE RES
You can get a different fine sancocho every day of the week at Pollos Mario (75 N. Franklin St. Village, Hempstead), but the beefy bowls at this Colombian eatery on Mondays deserve special mention. That’s when its short ribs — meat, fat, connective tissue — declare surrender to a steady boil of cilantro-flecked broth, whose other happy victims include pieces of green plantain, potato and cobbed corn. The scent of cumin alone is powerful enough to transport you to old town Bogota, Plaza Bolivar and beyond. ($3.25/$6.20/$10.30) More info: 516-505-3200, pollosmario.net
A bisque that’s been souped-up, if only slightly, this much-beloved Portuguese staple is a commendable attraction at Luso (133 W. Main St., Smithtown), where it more than holds its own against a smorgasbord of the all-you-can-eat meats carved tableside. Other restaurants depend on kale for verde-ness, but here they opt for mellower collard greens, which join forces with an exceptionally creamy potato base, kicky vinegar, and a few thin slices of smoky chouriço scattered here and there. The result: a bowl that’s the very definition of rib-sticking. ($5) More info: 631-406-6820, lusorodizio.com
Robust, sweet and certiably life-changing is this dinnertime classic re-imagined by Laffa Bar & Grill (1326 Peninsula Blvd., Hewlett). The kosher Middle Eastern eatery’s meaty bowl features the same humble ingredients found in most recipes (beets, potatoes, cabbage, carrots, red peppers, tomatoes) along with beef stewed in stock. What’s different? The quality beef, the ambrosial flavor, and the kubaneh — spiral Yemenite dinner roll — it comes with. ($10.95/$17.95) More info: 516-341-0400, laffabarandgrill.com
POZOLE DE POLLO
Looking to up your pozole game? Instead of the richly red pork soups found elsewhere, try the fowl version at Azulejo’s (368 Middle Country Rd., Smithtown). Thanks to marble-sized grains of pearly hominy and shreds of paprika-coated chicken, this Mexican bowl somehow manages to be formidable and full-bodied, even as its broth is nearly clear. Don’t miss the soup’s strong maize notes, which for once aren’t overshadowed by a cabinet’s worth of spices. ($6) More info: 631-257-5033, azulejoscuisine.org
The tongue-jogging, tamarind-jangling sinigang is fine enough at Guiradelco (324 Post Ave., Westbury), a Filipino grocery store with a proudly predatory steam table. But it’s their chicken stew that will capture your heart. A golden broth fragrant of ginger ladled generously with bone-in thigh meat is how it starts, but proper tinolang-age requires spinach and nubs of green papaya, at which point Guiradelco’s dish approaches the uncanny. ($7/$14). More info: 516-333-9898