The Soup Course
There are soups and then there are hearty soups. It is unlikely that a hearty soup—the type with meat and potatoes, for example—will be served as a second course at a formal dinner of multiple courses. Such soups are meals in and of themselves, and they are wonderful in their own right. The type of soup likely to be served as a first or second course at a formal dinner is a much lighter soup—either a clear, broth-like soup such as a consommé, or perhaps a slightly heavier, pureed soup.
Soups are served either in cups, cup-sized bowls (Oriental style), soup bowls, or soup plates. But regardless, when brought to the table, the dish containing the soup will be placed atop the place plate. Soup spoons in Western-influenced cultures are primarily of two prevailing shapes: those with circular bowls, and those with egg-shaped bowls. The Oriental soup spoon is usually made of porcelain and features a shorter, grooved handle, with a deeper, more angular, oval-shaped bowl.
When served in a cup with one or two handles, the cup may be taken up by the hand(s) and drunk—after having had at least two or three spoonfuls, primarily to eat the garnishes that are oftentimes floating atop such soups and/or to test the temperature of the soup before bringing it to the lips. If the soup cup has one handle, it may be held in the right hand and drunk. If the cup has two handles, both hands should be used to hold the cup, the handles being “pinched” between the thumb and index finger of each hand. In the case of handle-less Oriental soup cups, the cup is taken into both hands, using the thumb and index finger of each hand as the primary support for the cup, with the other fingers allowed to follow the natural contour of the hands as they provide additional—and graceful—support to the cup.
When using the soup spoon, it is permissible to dip soup towards oneself or away from oneself, though the latter method is regarded by many authorities as more elegant in appearance. Likewise, when sipping soup from the spoon, it is acceptable to turn the spoon such that it approaches the lips from its front or from its side, though the latter is preferred by many authorities as the more refined approach. What is not open for discussion, however, are the following:
- When eating soup from a cup or a bowl, the spoon is placed onto the service plate (after—discretely—being wiped sufficiently clean with the lips), to the right side of the cup or bowl, whenever eating is interrupted or at the end of the course. The spoon is never left unattended in the cup or bowl during conversation or if its user has taken temporary leave from the table.
- When soup is being eaten from a soup plate, which is a wide, somewhat-shallow dish—a cross between a plate and a bowl—the spoon is left in the soup plate when eating is interrupted and at the end of the course, the rationale being that the soup plate is almost as wide as the place plate unto which it is placed, rendering the spoon with insufficient space to be placed securely onto the place plate below.
- When the soup cup, bowl, or soup plate must be tilted so as to access the remaining liquid without noisily scraping the spoon against the dish, the dish is to be tilted away from, not towards, the diner, by gently lifting, with the left hand, the portion of the dish closer to the diner, thereby slightly dipping the portion of the dish farther away from the diner, as the soup spoon is used in the right hand to access the remaining liquid.
The wine traditionally served with the soup course is sherry—if the soup is flavored with or would be enhanced by sherry. Otherwise, some other compatible wine is served as the complement to the soup. Sherry is usually poured from a decanter; but on occasion, especially if the vintage is noteworthy or remarkable in some way, it may correctly be poured directly from its bottle. The sherry glass, usually V-shaped and stemmed, is the smallest drinking glass set upon the table at the commencement of the meal. And before its glorious contents is drunk, it is imperative that a gentleman use his napkin to press-wipe his lips clean of any traces of the soup. The little sherry glass should be held by its stem.
At the end of the soup course, the place plate, along with the soup dish and soup spoon, is removed from the table in preparation of the following course, which is usually a fish dish.