By Andrew Lin
A review of some more of Harvard’s soupy offerings.
Spring notionally should offer a respite from the tyranny of the harsh and uniquely Bostonian cold that normally drives so many Harvard students to the soups on offer from Harvard University Dining Services. Cold shocks, however, have proved a boon to the consumption of the various soups on offer at Harvard, a realm into which we shall plunge further in this week’s considered comments on five more of Harvard’s very own soups. Comparisons abound here in this week’s edition across countries and continents: Harvard in its soups offers an embrace of culinary cultures across the world that echoes the diversity it simultaneously enshrines within its educational mission and denigrates within some of its still-exclusive and patriarchal off-campus social spaces. The Indy fully acknowledges that not all soups have seen the light of our acerbic reviews as yet, and possibly a third edition may yet be forthcoming!
Vegan Tom Yum Soup: This soup would at first appear to be a solid offering from the Asiatic world of soups, what with its clearly cornstarch-thickened base. Its namesake, however, offers so much more: while the Vegan (and it is always vegan) Tom Yum Soup does offer a basic imitation of the hot-and-sour mushroom-constituted soups that abound in Chinese-American restaurants the world over, real Tom Yum soup is actually a Thai shrimp-based concoction. Packed with the rich umami tang of the sea, Tom Yum soup in the traditional sense offers a blast of fresh lemongrass, lime, cilantro and rich, tangy fish sauce. The vegan version Harvard offers does its best – nestled within the delightfully-plump slices of shitake mushroom and the passably sour vegetable broth are faint hints of the lime, cilantro, and Sriracha sauce that call back to its distantly exotic cousin.
French Onion Soup with Croutons: With its ever-present baguette-slice-crouton accoutrements, this stalwart of the Harvard soup establishment offers a theatrical (at least for the Harvard soup world) take on the bistro classic that is French onion soup. License, of course, is taken with some ingredients: the traditional Comte cheese featured atop the baguette slices has been replaced in the HUDS rendition with the much easier (and far less stringently-protected) Swiss cheese, and a generic “kitchen bouquet sauce” of caramel and vegetable stock replaces the long-simmering caramelized tang usually gotten by slow-cooking the onions themselves. But this soup hits most of the bases: its hybrid beef-and-chicken based broth and stringy but still-recognizable onions all support the basic savory flavor profile French onion soup should notionally uphold.
Pepper Pot Soup: Despite its seemingly-foreign and unrecognized origins (100% of my blockmates quizzed could not identify its status as “a thing”), Pepper Pot soup is a truly all-American offering dating back to none other than a breakdown in the supply chains feeding George Washington’s beleaguered Revolutionary War army. As the story goes, colonial farmers in the rough winter of 1777-1778 sold their produce to the British instead of for the weak and inflated Continental currency, thus forcing the American forces to combine whatever scraps of tripe and vegetables with copious amounts of pepper to make Pepper Pot soup. Luckily for squeamish diners, this version swaps out the tripe and rotting vegetables for cooked beef strips in a very creamy and heavy soup. Authenticity aside, however, the substitutions do work: the soup’s hearty richness may not quite echo the poverty of the Revolutionary-era American army, but it is the perfect complement to a Sunday brunch (and it is always Sunday brunch for this one) spent recuperating from the rigors of hard partying the night before.
Italian Wedding Soup: The warmth of the Italian peninsula generally and HUDS food offerings (this one always scorches the roof of my mouth) are all encapsulated within this matrimonial soup. A classic of both the Italian-American and canned-soup sets, Italian wedding soup in the traditional sense is a chicken-based broth featuring some form of meatball with a dark leafy-green vegetable and pasta (usually ceci or some other small pasta) accompaniment. Harvard hews very firmly to tradition here too, using chicken broth and beef meatballs with a generous helping of textured vegetable protein filler and breadcrumbs. There is one immediate note I must offer for this particular soup: by virtue of its notable lack of major thickening agents (ex. cream for the pepper pot, cornstarch for the Tom Yum soup), this soup sloshes around on your tray, soaking everything from formerly-crisp French fries to formerly unburnt hands (did I mention this soup is quite hot?). But by and large, it works in the way all classics of the canned-soup pantheon do: by providing a homely hit of salt and savory flavors, it harkens back to a wholesome past within its hot depths.
Andrew Lin ’17 (firstname.lastname@example.org) is taking soup (and other foodstuff) suggestions for review in this column!