By Andrew Lin
A review of some of Harvard’s soupy food offerings.
Admission to Harvard certainly grants many desirable perks: a degree from a world-class university, access to Harvard’s massive collections of art and literature, and the opportunity to harness the tremendous intellects of some of the finest minds in the world via lectures and seminars as well as extracurricular activities. All this admissions-blurb-level stuff, however, omits one integral facet of virtually every undergraduate’s time at Harvard – the elemental joys and desperate lows of the food provided by the Harvard Undergraduate Dining Services. To fill this gap, the Independent has thus birthed this column: every so often, we’ll be offering a review of what HUDS has to offer us starving students. And today, soup is on the menu – or at least a sampler of the liquid-suspended food dishes (many of which might stem from various reputable institutional food purveyors) that Harvard brings to the table.
*A note: The Independent has not forgotten the existence of Harvard’s many chilies – they may well receive a separate review. The Indy also recognizes that many other soups exist within HUDS – there might well be a second edition for all you loyal soup fans (if you exist).
Tomato Basil Ravioli: Immortalized by the great joke-turned-legit Undergraduate Council campaign of Sam Clark ‘15 and Gus Mayopolous ’15, Tomato Basil Ravioli is perhaps the highest-profile candidate among the soups under consideration today. Usually served without fail on Thursdays along a rotating cast of lesser-known peers (some of which are featured later below), TomBasRav is idolized by many. And this reviewer certainly understands its appeal: the astringent notes of nutty Parmesan form a sharp, blunt counterpoint to the warm tomato flavor of the soup proper, and the sour and lactic tang of the resulting flavor is a welcome refresher to a mouth dried out by overdone chicken and steamed vegetables. The ravioli, with their bland but agreeable Gouda/Parmesan filling and mass-produced uniform deliciousness, round out what this reviewer considers a fine exemplar for the soups of Harvard.
The soup, digested: The king/president for a reason.
Hearty Goulash Soup: This comparatively-unknown offering is one of the secret gems of the HUDS dining experience, and its relatively infrequent and inconsistent appearance in the dining halls only further adds to the mystique of this exotic soup. To some extent, the goulash is less a soup and more a stew: Wikipedia defines goulash as any of a dozen Hungarian and Eastern European stews of meat and vegetables which feature paprika as a seasoning. The HUDS version is winningly rich, with its dense tomato and paprika flavor lending valuable moisture to the tangy but regrettably tough flap meat cuts of beef (such a cut is better done over high but sparing heat and served medium rare) which liberally pepper its crimson depths. Tender boiled potatoes and a well-considered ensemble of diced onions and roasted peppers all dissolve into the goulash’s all-encompassing depths to generate this foreign prince of Harvard soups.
The soup, digested: Like that long-distance significant other, absence only makes the heart grow fonder.
Chicken Tortilla Soup: This dancing-on-the-politically-controversial-border option promises a lot, what with the jazzy accoutrements that HUDS perennially tricks it out with. But like a last-minute research paper inside one of those fancy plastic folio folders, the décor only partially covers for some of the essential weakness of this soup: crisp tortilla strips and shredded cheese do not shroud the stringy and dry chicken. Luckily, however, the soup base is compensation enough: its dark red color delivers in full on the smoky, tomato-and-chili-rich promise such a hue would imply. Preciously juicy corn and full-bodied black beans make for a well-balanced set of ingredients in what overall is another culturally-diverse contender in the Harvard soup world.
The soup, digested: It’s fiesta time when this is on offer.
New England Clam Chowder: This classic Bostonian option as rendered by Harvard hits many of the right marks: the clams are full-bodied, substantial things and are present in abundance, and the requisite potatoes are suspended within a very rich base. This base, however, is where the soup begins to dry up, and I mean that fairly literally. At times, the base grows so thick that the soup starts separating into layers, with a thin scum of oil forming overtop the almost granular (in some instances, you can actually see the grains of soup base) soup proper. But the flavor is right – that milky and fishy hit of the first spoonful alongside the perennial fried/baked fish option simply defines, like Proust’s old madeleines, the feeling of freedom that Friday (and it it is always a Friday) occasions.
The soup, digested: The patriot’s choice – freedom in a cup.
And so ends the first of what hopefully will become many reviews of the pantheon of foods, drinks, and desserts on offer from the folks over at HUDS. All this, of course, is but scant reflection, however, of one essential component of the HUDS experience that often goes forgotten: the tireless hard work, good cheer, and general awesomeness of the Harvard dining staff. So for all the barbed words (and this was a comparative display of the best of Harvard’s soups), we in HUDS have an institution, warts and all – but we still love it anyway.
Andrew Lin ’17 is more than glad to take food (or soup – there are many soups I left out in this list) suggestions for future reviews – shoot him an email at [email protected] to suggest anything HUDS-related!