Why do Chinese restaurants serve soup for two?
August 7, 2005 8:13 PM   Subscribe

At most Chinese restaurants in the U.S., there are a few soups that only come in servings big enough for two people. Why do they do that? And why is it so common at Chinese restaurants and so rare other places?
posted by nebulawindphone to Food & Drink (14 answers total)
Not sure which soups are specific to Chinese restaurants, but certain Asian noodle soups such as Vietnamese pho are served in extra-large portions because the noodles are cooked quickly by the hot broth as it is served at the table.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 8:43 PM on August 7, 2005

Chinese food is usually served family-style. Pho is a one-dish meal, not meant to be served, at least the way it's served on the street in Vietnam and in pho joints here in the US, but other Vietnamese soups are often served in larger portions to share.

Korean restaurants also serve soups (with the exception of soon dubu, sometimes) family-style, as do Thai and Cambodian restaurants.

Japanese restaurants very rarely serve soup or anything else family-style.

I would assume these all have to do with the anthropology/sociology of communal eating in those countries.
posted by luriete at 9:28 PM on August 7, 2005

Based on my own experience, it seems that often the more "Americanized" soups (hot and sour or egg drop) will be served individually while the more authentic ones are served for two, which goes back to what luriete was saying about Chinese food being traditionally served family style.
posted by gyc at 11:59 PM on August 7, 2005

The big bowls of soup I've seen in Chinese places seemed to me to be intended to be eaten by one person, as a complete meal. And they were wonderful! In NYC Chinatown, I've seen the locals eating such bowls of soup, alone.
posted by Goofyy at 1:13 AM on August 8, 2005

I always assumed it was because they had enormous pots of pre-made wonton, egg drop, and hot and sour soup warming in a pot in the kitchen, but they had to warm up the other stuff, and it wasn't worth it to do for a single serving.
posted by grouse at 1:44 AM on August 8, 2005

Seconding Goofyy, I've often had these 'big bowls' of soup, which might have noodles and vegetables and bits of meat in them, both at restaurants (UK, Hong Kong, Japan) and at home. Unless it's marked on the menu as 'for 2', or you order two portions and it comes in one big bowl, I think it's intended as a full meal for one, rather than a starter portion for two people to share.
posted by chrismear at 3:57 AM on August 8, 2005

Goof's got it. My wife sometimes gets a craving for what she (oddly enough) calls a "big bowl of soup," and we go off to find one. When we do find it, that's her meal. Often it is pho.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:27 AM on August 8, 2005

(In my experience, often it is marked on the menu as 'for 2.')
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:43 AM on August 8, 2005

Family style, and also it's pretty much traditional that there is a healthy amount to satiate. In US standards of measurement, one cup of soup is not enough to satiate.

That being said, I have never been to a Chinese restaurant in the US that serves soup for two in the manner that you've described. Granted, I usually don't go out for Chinese (I am spoiled by the standards of my grandmother's food); the next time I do, I'll have to check.
posted by cajo at 5:38 AM on August 8, 2005

I'm not sure if this is any help, but isn't it considered to be rude to finish your meal in asian society? eg., they give you too much ON PURPOSE?

Not sure if that makes sense...
posted by slater at 5:49 AM on August 8, 2005

I'm from Malaysia, and I find everything in the US enough for two or more people. American portions are just huge.

In Chinese restaurants back home, the soup is enough for a whole table. The servers will serve you your portions and you're always welcome for seconds.

(The rest of the food is served similarly - enough for the table - but you take your portions yourself.)

Slater - No, it's not rude to finish your meal in Asian society. They don't give you too much "on purpose"; there's just enough for about two helpings per person. Servings in Asia aren't that big actually - half of a typical American serving.
posted by divabat at 6:09 AM on August 8, 2005

Well, when I went to a Chinese restaurant in Windsor with my boyfriend, his sister, and her husband (who is Chinese), we got one of these large soups and it was enough for the four of us (they brought it out in a large bowl along with several cups, where they served our first portions). We also ordered a few dinner platters that we all shared. Pretty cool, actually.
posted by dagnyscott at 9:26 AM on August 8, 2005

There are appetizer and dessert soups which will serve four or more. They are meant to be ordered along with other dishes which will be served family style.

The soups which seem like they should serve two are, like Goofyy said, meant to be your whole meal. They're not appetizers for anything else, and they're served at more informal restaurants and cafes. Here in Los Angeles, I always eat half and take the rest home. Customs vary... when I was in Taiwan several years ago, taking leftovers home from a restaurant was very unorthodox, while in Los Angeles they practically assume you will.

Asian restaurants have different practices in different parts of the world because they are attempting to adapt to their surroundings. That is why a soup like pho might be labeled for two in one restaurant or throughout one city and might come with no explanation in another.
posted by halonine at 2:26 PM on August 8, 2005

dagnyscott - that's how it's basically done in Asia too. :)
posted by divabat at 7:41 PM on August 8, 2005

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