Sopa de Ajo, the 6am Soup


 What are you usually doing at 6 a.m.? Early morning run? Hitting the snooze button on your alarm clock, dreading your day of work ahead? 

In Spain there are two classes of people awake at this hour, neither of them normal.  On one hand, you have partygoers, stumbling home after a night dancing and drinking and talking at each other. On the other,  in the Basque Country at least, you have a class of laborers that traditionally included fishermen and shepherds obligated to greet the morning before the sunrise.  And for these people, there is sopa de ajo, or garlic soup.

Hearty and warming, this soup gives you the energy you need to face the day. Its warmth (and garlic's curative properties) are also said to be great for hangovers. Hence the double life led by this peasant-style dish. An integral characteristic of the soup, and perhaps the best part, is that it improves with time. Mom, grandma or wife makes soup alongside dinner and leaves it out, either for partygoing offspring, hardworking male companions, or the next day's hamaiketako.

Said to have originated in Castille, each region of Spain has adopted and adapted this soup, while allowing it to remain true to its humble origins. So what makes a sopa de ajo more Basque than Castillian? The Basques have a special bread, devoted to soaking in soup and thickening traditional sauces, which they often use in their garlic soup. 

More than one unsuspecting tourist has bought a loaf of zopako ogia, Basque bread that literally translates of 'bread of the soup'.  However, one bite of this crunchy, overly-toasted bread, pictured above in Galparsoro bakery, and he realizes that something is not quite right. It has almost no crumb, and it is made solely for cooking with, the sopa de ajo being one of its most common uses.

Here you have my recipe for sopa de ajo, the humblest and heartiest of soups. It's a result of combing several old (and new) Basque cookbooks and a round of testing.  Sorry, purists, for the touch of vinegar. It's the cook in me.

sopa de ajo


  • 1/2 c olive oil
  • 10 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 rounded Tbsp Spanish paprika
  • 4 oz bread, sliced (113g, about five slices)
  • 8 c water
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 Tbsp sherry vinegar
  • salt

Warm the olive oil in a saucepan over high heat. Add the garlic and saute until the garlic begins to brown, about one minute. Stir in paprika. Add bread slices to pan, allowing bread to toast slightly and absorb the oil, rotating if necessary.

FInally, add the water, a generous pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10-20 minutes.  Add sherry vinegar and taste for seasoning, adding more salt if necessary.  When ready to serve, reheat the soup and beat eggs in a separate bowl. Pour into soup while stirring. If any large pieces of bread remain, cut with kitchen scissors or dismantle with a spoon. Serve.

Links of interest:

Dan Lepard's Zopako Recipe