Soup for the soul: traditions bring schools together

Why a hot bowl of soup on a cold winter's day is more than just lunch to a school community in Moldova

Rob Ford

A hot bowl of soup is an important tradition for schools in Moldova, particularly in the coronavirus crisis

This is already turning into a bitterly cold December in our corner of Eastern Europe – it was -10C the other day.

Yet, when I came inside after my break duty right at the tail end of lunch and desperate for something warm to eat, I was greeted by head cook Tatiana and the words “fară supă”. No soup! 

She must have read my face, translatable in all languages, of disappointment because a few minutes later, a wonderful bowl of Moldovan zeama and two slices of warm bread was before me.

The small things

If this year has taught us anything, it is the appreciation of the small but significant moments that constitute our daily routines and lives.

One of the very few aspects of school life that has some semblance of normality still is the ability to take lunch together and see one another, as the masks come off to allow us to eat, talk, share a smile and our day.

These moments are so precious for us as a school community.

The value of soup

Anyone familiar with Eastern Europe knows how important a bowl of soup is with every lunch and dinner.

Most countries have a claim and a version of the beetroot borscht, a soup delicious on a cold day but not so good if your nice white shirt gets an accidental splash.

Ciorba is also one of my favourites: fresh vegetables, white beans and always served with delicious white and rye bread.

Our recent lunch menu for Thanksgiving had a very tasty pumpkin soup and the Christmas lunch menu for the last day will have a creamy cheese cauliflower soup, as we celebrate the end of an extraordinary and long semester.

Students and staff alike adore the homemade, fresh, nutritious soups that our wonderful canteen staff prepare every day to make sure we all have a good lunch to get us through the cold and gloomy winter days.

Canteen at lunchtime

Traditions keep us together

The bowl of soup lies at the heart of family traditions in Eastern Europe – be it neighbours getting together or the way families sit around their tables to share daily life. 

The same principle exists in our school canteen as colleagues and students come together to swap stories, see one another and just spend communal time together that makes us all enjoy our school community and life.

I have found these moments more important than most meetings, to catch up with students and colleagues, eating as equals, all over a delicious bowl of soup and lunch.

School life

We have even found a way to incorporate the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals three, 11 and 15 into the daily soup with organic, local produce and we also cut down on unnecessary food waste through effective menu planning as we practise better sustainable lives.

In tougher times, the resilience of people in this part of the world was always seen in the storing and preserving of food for winter and the sharing of soup to sustain the community.

The writer Isabel Allende once described soup as “…to the body, what peace is to the soul”.

The simple daily bowl of hot soup in our school canteen, like most of our school routines in 2020, takes on a deeper significance for our community soul as we go through this winter.

Rob Ford is director of Heritage International School in Chisinau, Moldova.

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