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I love noodle soup and doling out bowl after bowl of it, but I have noticed that ingredients are not evenly distributed between bowls. However I have noticed that the bowls, even when filled to the same level, contain different quantities of solid ingredients, potentially very different quantities of noodles, solid ingredients, garnish and liquid! With long noodles this is exacerbated by the tendency of the noodles to come out together and it is particularly difficult to ensure that subsequent servings have similar distribution to initial ones.

As this issue is visible to the naked eye I imagine that only the tip of the iceberg is being observed and there is much more unobserved unevenness.

How can I effectively dispense roughly even compositions of home served noodle soup with solid ingredients into multiple bowls a) served at the same time or b) in sequence?

Things I have tried:

  • Google searches for fair serving noodle soup - nothing relevant found
  • Cut or break the noodles into much smaller pieces - this reduces the clumping issue for noodles and puts them in the same class as other solid ingredients but sometimes one wants long noodles
  • Zig-zag over the bowls adding a little bit at a time - this is time consuming and particularly susceptible to clumping effects
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    This question is just such an excellent metaphor for the challenges of distributing resources fairly amongst the various socioeconomic layers of modern society Apr 30 at 16:20

8 Answers 8

49

Maybe take a cue from Ramen and prepare the broth and the add-ins separately. Evenly distribute the add-ins in bowl, then top with broth and garnish.

9

I use different distribution methods, depending on actual type of noodle soup.

Chicken noodle - 'European style' thin soup short noodles, all at the bottom.
Serve the soup until you get to the bottom of the pan, then distribute the noodles. This only works if you have just the right amount of soup for the diners, not if you're serving one bowl at a time.

Ramen-style - use a spaghetti spoon [more fork than spoon] to get all the chunks & noodles out first, then go back round with a regular ladle, just transferring soup. I often make the noodles separately with ramen, so I can distribute them first, then chunks, then liquid.

I guess an extreme measure - if you have 4 gallons of soup & two diners would be to keep the noodles in the top of the soup in a pasta strainer/colander/sieve, so you can lift them out separately. I've never needed to test this.

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  • I suggest your last sentence might actually be a 3rd distinct method (+1) - and your 2nd approach is what I use for stews and things like that
    – Chris H
    Apr 27 at 15:21
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    @ChrisH - I changed 'two' to 'different' so we don't need to enumerate so carefully;) & added another idea.
    – unlisted
    Apr 27 at 15:24
  • Thank you, that makes a lot of sense! Do you have any thoughts on what happens if we have soup in relative excess (e.g. the right amount of soup to give diners three bowls each, but we don't want to serve all the soup right away because there aren't enough bowls and it would get cold)?
    – Cong Chen
    Apr 27 at 15:26
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    Cong - that would be my later addition - float the noodles in the soup but in a separate container/sieve etc. Or just go with my usual ramen-style - keep the noodles separate altogether. I like my ramen noodles done 'just right' so I wouldn't want them hanging around in simmering liquid for any great length of time. The ones in EU-style chicken noodle are dried, so they kind of last forever in comparison.
    – unlisted
    Apr 27 at 15:29
  • There are often floating components as well such as chopped leek - solutions #1 (dispense them off the top first, much like the noodles go around last) and #3 (separately dispensed) seem suitable for those.
    – Cong Chen
    Apr 27 at 19:15
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This is one of the reasons why soups with finely cut vegetables are considered a more refined/better crafted dish than those with larger lumps. I am not saying that it is somehow morally wrong to cook and eat soups with large and/or irregular chunks of stuff, but if you make that decision, you are automatically making tradeoffs. And one of them is that your "fair dispensing" becomes much less attainable.

In the ideal case, you will have cut all pieces small enough such that there will be several of each kind per spoon (this is good not only for distribution, but also to provide a consistent taste with every spoonful). Then the only inhomogeneity will be between the solid pieces and the soup liquid.

In that case, the way to distribute it is such: First, you make sure that the pot is stirred well, and that it is no longer actively boiling. Then you take your ladle and grab some soup from the very bottom of the pot, even slightly scraping it. You place one or two ladles into the bowl that way. You gauge whether you have reached your desired level of solids, and if more are needed, grab just a little bit of solids with the next scoop. After that, you continue filling the bowl from the top, which means you are scooping liquid only, or very nearly so. At the end, you place any decoration on the surface of the soup in the bowl.

If your starting situation is not as ideal, you work the same way, but accept that you will also achieve less fairness - and in egregious cases, you have to adjust by fishing single items out of the bowl or the pot. It costs time indeed, but there is nothing to be done about that.

I don't know for sure how this would work with long noodles, as I have never put those into soup (in fact, all noodles I have seen sold as soup noodles are short). But it is a reasonably good way to work with soup made with vegetables, meat, and small noodles.

There are some kinds of soup which have some huge chunks (such as large Maultaschen, or golfball-sized meatballs). These recipes tend to not have much small-cut vegetables and other stuff floating around. In that case, you can count out the desired number of chunks with a slotted spoon, then use a ladle to fill up the bowl with liquid.

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  • Thank you - for long noodles I am thinking of various kinds of Asian noodle, one example would be en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cellophane_noodles which are very commonly found in soup and the thicker ones will be cooked in the soup for some time.
    – Cong Chen
    Apr 27 at 19:28
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    @CongChen I have used these once or twice. The recipes I had directed me to first cut them up with scissors into short pieces, while still dry. If you don't want to cut them, I am afraid I don't have a solution for you.
    – rumtscho
    Apr 27 at 20:51
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    Yes, always cut up glass noodles with scissors. Otherwise it is not possible to ladle your soup in an optimal manner. Ditto big or long pieces of anything. You have to be able to spoon it. I wish they would put smaller wontons in soup!
    – RedSonja
    Apr 28 at 12:11
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    For some soups it's traditional to have long noodles to represent longevity. Sharing them out is a hard problem though!
    – Cong Chen
    Apr 28 at 14:57
5

Perhaps not the answer you were looking for, but I just roll with it...

If it's ever an actual issue (children?) try to distribute fairness over multiple meals: 'so and so gets a little more of the good bits today as they went without yesterday'.

Valuable life lessons as so much of our greater society's resource distribution issues could be modelled with inhomogeneous soup 🤓😆.

Another tactic to deal with complainers is to get them to do the serving, but the remaining diners get to decide which serving goes where.

No complainers? No problem 😊

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    With children/complainers/etc., the problem, in my experience, is not that they all want the same but that they all want different - more noodles, less noodles; vegetables, no vegetables; etc. So inhomegenous but (to a limited degree) customized can work just fine. Depends on the customers. Apr 28 at 14:05
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    Just like society ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Apr 29 at 6:00
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I tend to go for a zig-zag type approach, but it really matters if I’m planning on emptying the pot (dishing up a few servings from a huge pot with some remaining vs. divvying up portions for later meals)

I find it best to manage the solids and broth separately. I use tongs or a slotted spoon to put a scoop of solids in each vessel, zig-zagging back if I think they need more, then I add the broth on top.

If I’m trying to empty the pot, I might do solids, broth, then come back to the solids once I can see better how much is left.

If you only have a ladle, and you’re not dealing with long noodles, you can put the ladle in the bottom to scoop up solids for each bowl, but then you need to judge if they’re even and zig zag back at least once, then top with broth.

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  • And to explain the ‘zig zag’. If you’re filling 4 bowls, you fill in the order: 1 2 3 4 4 3 2 1, then repeat
    – Joe
    Apr 29 at 10:53
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If the context is about fairness rather than precise tecnique, simply use the "fair cake division" method. It definitely works for 2 people, and I'm sure there are versions for more.

One person divides the cake (soup) into 2 parts. Second person, picks which of the two parts is theirs.

This puts incentive on first person to be as fair as possible, since being unfair results in the other person getting the "better" part.

(assumption here is that everyone's preferences are the same, which sometimes in real life don't happen - maybe someone likes noodles more and someone likes garnish more and someone likes meat more? So "fair" and "most satisfactory for all" aren't necessarily always the same for real people).

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  • Whenever I cut a cake for my brother to pick, I'd always cut it at a slant so he'd pick the one that looked bigger, only to discover that it was hollow :-)
    – Richard
    Apr 28 at 18:36
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    Yeah, Sheakspeare covered your life....
    – DVK
    Apr 28 at 18:42
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    Betrayal, deception, intrigue, brother-against-brother, man's inhumanity to man. This story has it all.
    – Richard
    Apr 28 at 18:53
  • For more than two people, there is a discussion at math.stackexchange.com/questions/637728/… Of course, being a math site, some assumptions are made.... Apr 29 at 5:03
  • I think your answer is missing the point. The question wasn't about how to decide which bowl has a "fair share" of soup; it is about a technique with which to fill a bowl with such a "fair share". Cake methods won't help here, the same thing requires a single knife cut in a cake.
    – rumtscho
    Apr 29 at 10:14
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We usually add noodles to the soup bowls, but for the other ingredients: Use the ladle to spin the soup in one direction for a decent whirlpool, then abruptly spin the ladle in the other creating a chaos of ingredients in the soup with an even distribution. Pull the ladle out from the turbulence and it will have an approximate even distribution.

0

I've always places the needed number of bowls in an order, first to last, and then served the soup from first to last and then last to first, repeating until all the soup is served.

The logic is that the ratio of good stuff to broth in the soup goes down as you serve. For example, assuming two ladles of soup per bowl, the first bowl gets the highest ratio and the lowest. The last bowl gets two nearly identical middle ratios.

I conceive of it as being like adding up a sequence of integers. The first ladle puts a 9 in the first bowl, 8 in the next, etc. If I'm serving five bowls, they end up with 9+0, 8+1, 7+2, 6+3, and 5+4.

I don't know if it's optimal, but it's functional.

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