Almost soup: Tonka's comforting dhal is liquid enough for dunking roti or naan.
A CBD search has failed to uncover a single bowl of hippopotamus soup. Historians suggest it was the next big thing in 6000BC … the world's first soup. However, disappointment at its absence in 2014 is dismissed when you consider the variety of liquid lunches this city ladles out.
With the premise that soup is associated with giving to those less fortunate, let's start at Kinfolk (673 Bourke Street, Melbourne) where your purchase of, perhaps, cauliflower soup with truffle oil and chervil ($11) radiates warmth because profits are donated to charities, among them Urban Seed, which, in turn, gives meals to needy people in the CBD.
For spicy Turkish soups, such as mushroom with mint, line up at Goz City. Photo: Mike Baker
In the new Emporium (287 Lonsdale Street), experience Pho-ginity, a delicate expression coined by Pho Nom to introduce any newcomers to the Vietnamese soup, pho. "We gently talk customers through the process of how they can appreciate their pho," says owner Jerry Mai, whose philosophy is to support independent Victorian farms. Once your pho lands, add some home-made lemongrass chilli to a Sher wagyu beef pho ($15) or a Milawa free-range chicken variety ($11).
If you're craving goulash, head to Hofbrauhaus (28 Market Lane) for oompah music and platters of pork knuckle. Pull up a seat around a beer-barrel table under a chandelier made of antlers, and tuck into the hearty beef soup, redolent of beer and paprika ($12.50).
Where is Melbourne's soup Nazi? Well, Sisto Malaspina, co-owner of legendary Pellegrini's (66 Bourke Street), is actually a charming gentleman, but don't mess with his minestrone. The recipe, and its execution, hasn't changed since 1954. "Machinery destroys the soul of food," he declares, insisting that chopping the vegetables and potatoes by hand enhances flavour. As bustling as the iconic restaurant, the soup has at least five vegetables, loads of parmesan and is seasoned just with salt and pepper ($13). No trendy spices here; Malaspina looks aghast at the suggestion.
At a streetside table, at Vietnam Street Eats (353 Little Collins Street), try the chicken laksa ($9.90).
Around the corner, Hopetoun Tea Rooms (Block Arcade, 282 Collins Street) would suit those who appreciate pretty porcelain as a bowl for jerusalem artichoke, leek and mushroom soup ($13) or pumpkin with ginger and coconut cream.
Where's the good old pea and ham soup? It seems out of favour, but if you're at the top end of town, take pavement seating under the heaters, or sit indoors amid the wine cellar atmosphere at City Wine Shop (159 Spring Street), where it's served at least once a week ($12.50). Spiced parsnip and apple soup, with chilli and coriander, is the same price.
If it's a family recipe from Mumbai that you're after, look to Tonka (20 Duckboard Place) for sous chef Ved Navghare's rendition of his mother's dhal with Kashmiri chillies ($8), close enough to soup to perhaps do the trick.
For spicy Turkish soups, such as mushroom with mint, line up at Goz City (502 Little Collins Street) and watch them make gozleme while you wait.
Nearby, Il Solito Posto (113 Collins Street) has a cosy cave atmosphere where all soups are vegan-friendly, such as chickpea with silverbeet and chilli. Beats a bowl of hippo any day.