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Comparing Apples to Oranges

January 27, 2017

Tomorrow is the Schenectady Soup Stroll, and man am I excited. The whole affair starts at noon, and there will be twenty five different samples of soup to try from restaurants throughout downtown. You can find the map with all the different soups online, but there will be hard copies at participating restaurants tomorrow.

The deal is pretty standard. For every soup you want to try, you pay a buck. They give you a three ounce cup, and then you hoof it to the next stop.

What’s really special about this event is that it’s not just chowder. Hey, I love chowder as much as the next guy. But I love that Schenectady is comfortable mixing it up with all kinds of soup styles. That means you have Taj Mahal presenting an Indian lentil soup, Pho Queen sampling a Tom Yom soup, and More Perreca’s ladling out an Italian Wedding Soup.

One might think that the task of deciding which soup is the very best would be an impossible task given the diversity of the playing field. Luckily, the Soup Stroll has partnered with the Yelp Albany Community Ambassador, and he’s got some strong feelings about how to make this work.

Yep, I’m going to judging the soup stroll for work. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.

If you don’t think mindfully eating 25 soups is tough, you’ve never done it before. It’s grueling. Both physically, and mentally. Thankfully, we get to walk from place to place, instead of being cloistered at a table for hours tasting soup.

The movement and the fresh air do miracles for the digestion.

It’s a fair question to ask how one can compare a New England Clam Chowder to a Turkey Lasagna Soup. Isn’t the judgement of which one is better purely subjective?

To that I give a resounding no.

While all the soups may present widely different flavors and be made in different styles, there are some basic common elements to soup as a whole. There is liquid. There are solids in that liquid. The dish has flavors. And since it’s winter, it better be served hot.

So that’s how we’re going to break it down.

The liquid part of the soup will be examined for its body, appearance, and flavor. These will be measured against the style of soup entered. Which means a brothy chicken soup won’t be dinged for having a thinner broth, but a New England chowder might. Neither should have slicks of fat on the surface of the broth, either from an unskimmed stock or a broken emulsion.

Then we’ll look at the solids, and examine their size, quantity, and texture. Cook seafood too long and it gets tough, or if you don’t cook onions enough they can retain an unpleasant rawness. And if vegetables are chopped up too fine they turn to mush, but too large and they can dominate the experience.

Flavor is another important category. But it’s not about personal preferences. It’s about the the seasoning, balance, and intensity of the soup. So many soups are either under or over seasoned. Getting great depth of flavor from a soup is a real treat. And that’s what we’ll be hoping to find.

Now, it may be hard to keep the soups hot while sampling them on a late January day. But it’s soup. In winter. It has one job to do, and that’s warm you up from the inside out. So if a place can’t produce a sample that’s decidedly hot, it can’t be the winner of the day. It just can’t. Of course, the more you heat soup, the more it evaporates, and the saltier it gets. And the mushier the vegetables become.

Without a doubt, winning this contest is a highwire act of soup mastery.

And of course, there will be an overall score which takes into consideration the experience of eating the soup with all of these elements working at the same time. While it may not seem to make much logical sense, I’ve experienced foods that are greater than the sum of their parts.

Like I mentioned, I’ll be there for Yelp. And that means I’ll have Yelp schwag in the form of fingerless gloves. They are the best things to wear on your hands while eating soup out in the cold. And there is also a social media contest where you can win this super Dragon Bowl.

So check it out, and I hope to see you there.

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