A friend texted recently: "Do I risk eating soup in public?"
“What kind of soup is it?” I asked, as if the answer hinged on whether it was minestrone or chicken noodle.
“Clam chowder,” he said.
He was calling from a seafood restaurant. Clam chowder was the Friday special and, given the restaurant’s expertise with all things ocean, clam chowder must have stood out on the menu like a lighthouse on a dark night.
While good chowder can hit the spot Saturday through Thursday, clam chowder belongs to Friday like grunion does to wet sand on a warm summer night.
However, soup is tricky. Two people eating soup where there is some kind of harmonic convergence is one thing, but a solo rider, which he was, is at risk in becoming a spectacle. The lone soup-eating wolf might as well be saying "Look at me, I’m eating soup," as if everybody in the restaurant doesn’t know it.
"We know you’re eating soup. We could close our eyes and we’d still know you’re eating soup. We could be down the street and we’d know."
Much of the trouble I have been in at the table can be attributed to soup. I’ve been critiqued, corrected and called on the carpet. I’ve been soup-shamed where my face turned redder than tomato bisque.
The problem is slurping: How do you eat soup without slurping unless you go tight face? Tight face and cement lips. Wear an expression that declares, “I’m going to make it through this bowl of soup if it kills me." The soup eater might as well be eating a bowl of medicine.
Soup tastes better when you slurp. When you work it over with your tongue, the top and bottom of your mouth and the inside of your cheeks.
If the soup is good, you want every taste bud to share in the bounty. You’d gargle if you could and shoot some out your ears.
Slurping is to good soup what groaning is to massage. If a massage feels good, you’re groaning. If soup tastes good, you’re slurping.
Slurping has practical value, too. If you dive into the soup without tongue-testing the temperature like a serpent, slurping is a way for the tongue to run interference between parts of your mouth that are running for their lives and the other parts that, stunned by the heat, have abandoned all hope.
In the case of hot chowder, slurping might save you from being branded by a clam.
Hot or not, I’m not suggesting people overslurp. We’ve seen the overslurpers. They hang out in noodle bars, head down, chopsticks working overtime and their homegrown Dolby soundtrack bouncing off the walls.
Under the circumstances, I didn’t think it was a good idea for my friend to eat soup alone in public and I told him so.
He ordered it anyway. That’s what Friday clam chowder will do to you. Make you take the risk because when the soup is good, the reward is worth it.