At first glance, one might assume Malaysian ABC soup has alphabet letters in it. So why’s it called ABC? There are various explanations, including one endearing dad joke about how the soup’s name could refer to the “anions, botatoes, and carrots.” But I think the most likely explanation is that the ABC here is all about how easy it is to make—almost as easy as opening a can of soup.
This simple chicken and vegetable soup is often the first recipe parents teach their children when they move out as young adults, and it’s what families make when they’re exhausted or unwell and in desperate need of a hearty meal they can almost prepare with their eyes closed. Each cook has their own spin on this comforting dish, but the recipe below is much like many versions made in Malaysian homes. One constant is how simple the soup is, which is what I and many people I’ve talked to love about it. You’d have to try really hard to screw it up, making it a super low-pressure soup for beginner cooks.
What makes this soup so easy and comforting—and a go-to meal for many—is that you don’t need much to make it. It requires the barest minimum of kitchen tools: a cutting board, a knife, and a pot. There’s no deboning and no sautéing of aromatics. The key ingredients—a whole chicken carcass, chicken thighs, onions, potatoes, and carrots—are accessible and affordable. Just place all the ingredients in a pot, cover them with water, and then simmer the whole thing for two hours or so.
But this is no ho-hum chicken soup—a few key ingredients make for a soup that’s deeply flavorful and satisfying, with an ease to deliciousness ratio that’s hard to beat. In Malaysia, the soup is typically made not just with meaty bone-in chicken, but also with a whole raw chicken carcass, which lends rich oomph to the broth. It’s very common to find carcasses for sale at Malaysian markets, but since they’re not as easy to come by in the U.S., this recipe calls for using a variety of bone-in chicken parts depending on what you have available. You could also use a picked carcass from a cooked chicken or add some necks and backs to the mix. At least two thirds of the chicken parts you use should be meaty, while the rest can be mostly bones.
Along with the chicken, the soup contains onions, potatoes, and carrots, along with a whole head of garlic, which gives the soup a deep and savory flavor. Tomatoes add a little tang and sweetness, whole white peppercorns provide an earthy funk, and Chinese celery lends a heady, herbaceous aroma that’s significantly stronger than regular celery.
The most common benchmark for what makes something ABC soup is that all the ingredients go into the pot at the same time and it isn’t fussed with until the very end. There should be no more than four or five main ingredients besides the chicken, and while I’ve opted for onions, potatoes, carrots, and tomatoes here, you could easily make the soup with whatever you have on hand, such as tofu, broccoli, or cauliflower. (I’ve made my recipe extra simple by using equal amounts of the onions, carrots, tomatoes, and potatoes.)