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Choosing the best soup bowl is a six-step process that examines soup type, etiquette standards, bowl material, the presence or absence of handles, portion size and peripheral elements such as finish, color and design. A person has to think about not only the functionality of the bowl, but also his health and the way portion sizes will work. In general, leaning toward a smaller soup bowl that is dishwasher, oven and microwave safe is a good idea.
The first thing a person has to do in selecting the best soup bowl is decide what type of soup the bowl will hold. Type refers to the density or creaminess of the soup, not necessarily to the ingredients. For soups that are very thick and hearty, use a wider, shallower bowl, as these allow heat to disperse more readily. Viscous soups need a taller bowl, as this lessens surface area and therefore keeps the soup warm longer. For a clear soup such as a broth, a mug is best because a mug holds heat well.
A person also can pick the best bowl based on bowl categorization and accepted etiquette. Soup plates are large, flat bowls that are only used for formal meals, while the smaller saucer-shaped coupe soup bowl is only used at informal meals. The soup or oatmeal bowl is smaller than the soup plate or coupe and is also an informal dish. Covered soup bowls have a lid that makes transferring the soup from the kitchen to table without temperature loss easier, and lug soup bowls are oven-safe bowls used with broilers for french onion or similar soups. A cream soup bowl is used only with cream soups at "light" meals, while bouillon or broth bowls more closely resemble mugs.
Next, check the material from which the soup bowl is made. Some soup bowls are very fragile, such as those made from glass. They can look amazing but isn't the best choice for kids. Other materials hold or distribute heat better, such as ceramic. Manufacturers also make bowls that can go in the oven, microwave and dishwasher without a problem, which is ideal for getting or keeping the food at the proper serving temperature and cleaning up quickly.
Handles are another element to examine in the hunt for a soup bowl. On a wider dish, the handles might be a simple extension of the lip of the bowl. Other bowls have true circular rods on one or more sides. Although not necessarily a must-have, a handle makes a full soup bowl easier to pass without burning the hands by accident. Some people do not prefer handles because they change the overall shape and aesthetic appeal of the soup bowl and sometimes make storage a little cumbersome. If a person intends the bowl to be tipped to get the last portion, a horizontal handle is appropriate, while vertical handles are used for soups fluid enough to be sipped.
Moving forward, look at the portion size the soup bowl provides. A proper portion of a soup is usually just one ladleful, which means that many soup bowls are grossly oversized. Smaller bowls are ideal for people who want to keep their caloric intake in check for healthier living. It is important to remember that a soup usually is intended to be only a part of a meal, not the entire thing.
Lastly, look at the finish, color and design. Of these elements, the finish is most important. It is designed to offer some protection to the main material of the bowl and make the bowl easier to wash. Finishes that are simply painted on are not as durable; pick one that has been chemically applied if possible. The color and design of the bowl should compliment the overall style of the server and kitchen, as well as the hue of the soups most often served.
@Grivusangel -- Nearly spit my coffee out when I read your post. Funny. I was kind of thinking the same thing. I don't have a need for soup plates, so I just use what came with my everyday china and will occasionally buy a set of cheap plastic ones for $1 for cereal and other cold foods.
As you noted, they're also good for a lot of general cooking tasks, as long as heat is not involved. I really like the bowls that have actual handles. Gives me something to hang on to when I take the bowl out of the microwave. I also want some of those that are broiler safe, for French onion soup.
Since I don't normally host formal dinners at home (I leave that to Wolfgang Puck and his crew; they always do a spectacular job), I usually buy bowls that will serve for soup, oatmeal, cereal, ice cream, to beat an egg in, toss breadcrumbs, coat chicken, or whatever I need it to do at the moment. In general, this means a nice ceramic bowl that has a wider mouth and will stand up to what it has to do.
The Fiestaware people have great bowls. You about have to smack them with sledgehammers to get them to break or chip. Wolfgang liked mine so much he purchased a set! Heh.
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