Soup-er Bowl Wednesday

Soup may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about the Carnegie Mellon community, but the fifth annual Soup Crawl hosted by Carnegie Mellon Dining Services on Wednesday showcased both the universality of soup and how soup can bridge connections between cultures. The Soup Crawl this year featured specialized soup recipes from Chartwells chefs, as well as classic campus favorites that can be found daily at Au Bon Pain, The Exchange, and the Underground. This event not only incentivized students to try dining locations that they don’t usually frequent, but it also provided a few hours of warm, comforting soup slurping amidst a cold and rainy winter day. Through my experience of the Soup Crawl, I found that it was about more than just tasting soups, but was a chance to bond with friends and sample a variety of different cuisines.

The Soup Crawl was introduced to campus in 2017 by the Program Director of Nutrition and Marketing at Carnegie Mellon Jessica Tones. The idea came from Tones' observation that “We’re a soup-loving campus.” When tasked with creating programs that cast a spotlight on the diverse vendors around campus, Tones noted the unique student interest in soups and saw an opportunity for a low-key event that fit students’ desired participation level. The Soup Crawl also takes place during the SLICE Winter Welcome program, promoting community-building through shared cultural and culinary exploration.

Each year, the Soup Crawl culminates in a vote for the soup that participants deem soup-erior. For the first two years of the Soup Crawl, The Exchange’s soup won the student vote. After that, the winner was a ramen dish from the former dining spot iNoodle. A special highlight of the Soup Crawl is the personalized soups made by Chartwells executive chefs. These chefs compete against each other using recipes of their choice. The next year, Chef Don’s coconut curry chicken soup was pronounced the winner. Last year marked a shocking milestone in Soup Crawl history, as a soup from the Underground and a soup from Au Bon Pain tied for first place. The soup champion for this year has not yet been announced.

Personally, I found the Soup Crawl to be a source of amusement and joy in the course of the stressful school week. In my pursuit to taste all the available soups, I experienced some emotional highs and lows, but overall had an educational and entertaining experience reviewing soups with my friends. Notably, my favorite part of the Soup Crawl was the Chartwells chefs’ soups. In part, these soups were so special because they were unique to the chef who made them. They tasted like something that a family member would make — a culinary quality that a college student craves while away from home. Chef Vic’s tomato bisque was a creamy classic, and Sous Chef Francine’s vegetable soup offered a tasty vegan option. I greatly enjoyed Chef Tessa’s Thai chicken and rice soup. It was soft and flavorful, with the rice and mild spices adding an element of coziness. In sum, I thought it was the perfect comfort soup. If someone offered me this soup while I was sick, I would probably be immediately healed. However, the real soup-erstar of the Soup Crawl for me was Chef Rob’s white turkey chili. This was simply an impeccable soup. The flavor profile was strong, but not overwhelming. Its texture was ideal, with a mix of ground turkey and whole beans that created a unique mouth feel. First-year Eisa Mazrouei proclaimed that it “tasted familiar even though I’d never had it before.” This soup was truly a bowl-scraper.

Beneath the surface of this event as a fun opportunity to try soups was the chance for enriching cultural exchange through food. Soup is a practically ubiquitous food, but is different in every culture. I enjoyed the chefs’ soups so much because they were personal — I was learning about someone’s life experiences by eating their food. Tones emphasized this point, saying that “there’s something really universal about the way we can care for other people through the food that we make and chefs love to do that. This is an opportunity for them to tell their food story through the soups that they make.” Student response to this is clearly positive. “When you’re watching students tasting the food and interacting with the chef, you see the gratitude,” Jessica remarked. Through soup — and through participating in the Soup Crawl — we can exchange cultural traditions, learn stories about other people’s lives, spend quality time with our close friends, and become a more connected community.