Saturday, February 23, 2008

Souper Trooper

I headed down to Reading Terminal Market today to check out the Souper Bowl and International Comfort Food Festival. Most of the action was centered around the open space in front of Flying Monkey, where Reading Terminal vendors were dispensing their comfort food specialties: Pennsylvania Dutch waffles and ice cream, chicken korma and lassi, Polish sausage and sauerkraut... I got there around 12:45pm, just in time to catch the results of the soup competition: won by Down Home Diner’s New England Clam Chowder.

A tasting station for the plebs was set up in front of the judges’ table (from which I stole an abandoned blank scoring sheet). A jazz band was playing, the aisles were jam-packed, and winter blues-afflicted Philadelphians were out in force. I heard one particularly grumpy gent fighting his way through the tasting queue yell, “Do you have excuse-me deficiency?!”

Anyway, here’s my rundown of the soups:

1. Italian Wedding: too salty, too greasy, and the ingredients were indistinct and overcooked. Meh.

2. Pasta Fagioli: good tomato-ey flavour, but too much cream and salt.

3. Matzoh Ball: wonderful wonderful wonderful. Until today, the only good matzoh ball soups I’ve eaten have come from the kitchens of people I know. But this one was enormously satisfying as a comfort food: sliced carrots cooked to a melt-in-your-mouth consistency, tasty shreds of chicken, a nourishing broth that didn’t rely on sodium for flavor, and a superlative matzoh ball to top it all off.

4. Sweet and Sour Cabbage: chopped cabbage in a spicy broth – excellent! Well-balanced, visually appealing, flavor-packed but not greasy. I’m a fan of intelligently-prepared cabbage (one of my favorite savory comfort foods), so I loved this one.

5. Turkey Chili: salty, heavy, greasy – altogether too rich. On the plus side, the beans were well-cooked and the turkey was nicely tender. Could’ve used a little more spice.

6. Lobster & Crab Bisque: blegh. Too creamy. I couldn’t discern the presence of either lobster or crab – the soup just imparted a generic sense of ‘seafood’. You know what I’m talking about.

7. Golden Potato: yum. Thickly grated potato bits in a slightly peppery, creamy soup with just a hint of sweetness. Like potato rosti in a cup. Mm mmm.

8. New England Clam Chowder: this one wasn’t at all what I was expecting – lighter and paler than other clam chowders I’ve tasted, and it seems to have been made with a different mix of flavors as well.

Final Verdict: Matzoh Ball as the hands-down winner, followed closely by the Sweet and Sour Cabbage in second place, with the Golden Potato a more distant third.


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