The order by which dishes are served in a meal — appetizer, salad, soup, entrée and dessert — is a Western thing. Although modern-day restaurants all over Asia observe the practice, it is more a product of Westernization than tradition. Traditionally, there is no such order. In authentic Chinese lauriats, for instance, the rice is served last and the diner who eats the rice insults his or her host because eating the rice signifies that the dishes previously served were not enough to satiate the diner. And although sweet dishes abound in Asian cuisines, dessert, as it is known in Western culture, does not exist.
Soup, then, is not necessarily a dish that precedes an entrée. Soup can be the entrée. The best illustration would the the ubiquitous noodle soup which is known by many names in different Asian countries. The noodle soup is a complete meal as it has starch, meat or seafood, broth and vegetables.
There are also soups, sans noodles, that are the equivalent of the Western entrée. In the Philippines, for example, there is sinigang, nilaga and tinola, among others, all brimming with meat or seafood, rich broth and vegetables. Ergo, rice plus a soup dish equals the entire, and complete, meal.
With all such soup dishes, the quality of the broth is just as important as the tenderness and freshness of the meat or seafood and the copious amount of vegetables. To make a rich broth, seafood are cooked whole — heads and bones included — and cuts of meat with chunks of bone are preferred. After all, it is the bones that provide the richness in the broth.
But what if, for convenience, you want to use fillets in making these soup dishes? For instance, bangus belly (the most prized part of the fish for its delicious fat) for sinigang or chicken fillets for tinola? The oldies will probably say it’s not doable. Furthermore, it’s sacrilege. I disagree. It is doable and it is not sacrilege.
The trick is in choosing the correct liquid in which to cook the fillets and the vegetables. Instead of water, use broth. For chicken fillet tinola, for instance, used chicken broth. For bangus belly sinigang, use fish stock. It is easy to make meat-based homemade broth or fish stock — all you need are scraps. And you can freeze them in bulk so that you have the best quality broth whenever you need it.