Literally translated to stone soup in English, the Portuguese soup known as ‘sopa da pedra’ is a traditional dish originating from the village of Almeirim in central Portugal. The name might puzzle you, but it comes with a rich allegory and recipe that has been passed down from generation to generation. Even my great grandmother made this soup. She lived in a rustic village up in the north of Portugal and this dish was very popular since the ingredients were all locally grown in the area. It's also very simple to make, but still, a comforting hearty soup that will warm up your soul much like a good ol’ cup of chicken soup.
The story behind sopa da pedra
The fable starts with a hungry friar arriving in a town carrying only a stone in his hand. He knocks on a farmer's house and asks if he can make a soup with that stone. The farmer, confused and intrigued, asked how he would do it. So the friar washes the stone until it’s very clean, and asks politely for a bit of olive oil to give it some flavor. Then he proceeds to ask for a bit of meat... then a bit of chorizo... then a tiny bit of potatoes... then beans... some parsley and a few more ingredients, which the farmer provides due to his intrigue about the stone dish.
Soon the soup starts looking and smelling delicious, so the friar decides to eat it and share it with the farmer till it's finished. At which point the farmer asks: “So where’s the stone, did you eat it?”
To which the trickster friar replies: “The stone? I wash it and take it with me for my next meal!”
All Portuguese people know about the story behind sopa da pedra, it’s a common fable told to children at the dinner table. It depicts the poverty of the times when most people didn’t have much to eat and the only ingredients around were simple and local. Like most fables, there are small variations on the story, but this is the version my grandmother told me.
Each person can make up their own meaning behind the fable. Perhaps it’s a story about doing a good deed and suggests that helping others in a time of need benefits everyone. Or in my opinion, it’s a story about how it’s important to be smart and savvy. Some Portuguese have even dubbed this as ‘esperteza saloia’ which historically meant a savvy rural worker who felt the need to outsmart big city swindlers as a way to protect themselves.
My grandmother’s sopa da pedra recipe
The soup is easy to make and it's usually done with what you have on hand at the house. And, FYI, you don't need a stone to make the soup 😆
- 2.5 l of water (10 ½ cups)
- 1kg of red beans (35.2 oz)
- 1 chorizo
- 200g of bacon (7 oz)
- 2 onions
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 700g of potatoes (1.5 lbs)
- 1 portion of parsley
- Salt and pepper to taste
Soak the beans one day beforehand if you're using dry beans, these are preferred but canned beans work as well and are more time-friendly.
The next day, bring the beans to a boil, together with chorizo, bacon (you can substitute with whatever meats you have at home), chopped onions, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Add more water if needed.
When the meats are cooked, chop potatoes into cubes and add them to the pan with chopped parsley.
Let it steam slowly until the potatoes are cooked.
Tried making your own version of stone soup at home? Then make sure to share your creation on social media and tag us at @skyhour for a chance to be featured on this article.
In memory of the Portuguese fable, place a very clean stone on the bottom of the bowl, but don't eat it—save it for the next time!