Large Ramen Bowls: An (In-) Explicable Fascination

Large Ceramic Bowl - Rustic Ramen Bowl

Whether Ramen Noodle Soup, Dal And Rice Dishes, Or Good Old Vegetable Soup: Why Almost Anything Tastes Better From A Large Ceramic Bowl 

Today, in my lunch break, I had a delicious, home-cooked potato/pumpkin soup out of one of the large ceramic bowls I make in a white-blue coastal design in my small pottery studio in Devon. When I stood in my kitchen in front of the wall cupboard, a little distracted from the rush of glazing pots that, once again, had dried much earlier than expected, I found myself reaching, instinctively, for one of the largest bowls in the pile. For a brief moment, I thought: ‘That’s a bit oversized for the purpose!’ and considered choosing a smaller bowl instead – one with a lower rim and less volume, but something in me would not let go of the large rustic bowl in my hand. So, I ended up eating a fairly small portion of soup from my favourite stoneware bowl which, to be honest, could have held at least three times the amount of soup I was having. That made me wonder: ‘What is it that draws me to this particular shape and design whenever I have soup or Dal or something like that?’
To explain this, I guess, I need to go back to the beginning…  

Large Ceramic Bowls in White/Blue - Rustic Studio Pottery

Sabine Schmidt - Pottery Portrait

From The Common European Deep Plate To The Chinese Ramen Bowl: A Culinary Journey Through Time 

When I was a child in Germany in the late 1960s, there was only one tableware option to serve soup in. No matter what kind of soup we were having – whether heart-warming winter soups such as potato-, lentil-, or chicken soups or the type of mixed vegetable soups we enjoyed during spring and summer, with vegetables fresh from the garden – soup was always served in a wide, deep plate with a low rim: the traditional European soup plate, made from porcelain. It took me years to discover that there were different types of dinnerware out there, including ceramic stoneware bowls, and a whole wealth of different cultural cuisines, for that matter… 
Garden Herbs - Sabine Schmidt
I remember having my first pizza when I was about 11. My parents had taken me out to the first Italian restaurant of our area, in a nearby town not too far from Wiesbaden. Soon afterwards, I was introduced to my first spring roll and egg-noodle soup in a Chinese restaurant where I saw, also for the first time, soup being served in something other than our common soup plate: it was a large porcelain bowl with a high rim, accompanied by a large porcelain spoon.
Ramen Noodle Soup - Large Ramen Bowl - Sabine Schmidt
The next discovery I made on my journey through different cultural food styles and dinnerware took me to those little Turkish takeaways that started opening up in tiny little urban spaces that did not always seem suitable for any kind of hospitality, let alone the handling of food. It was a completely new experience for me. I sat there in a draughty little shelter on a wonky wooden highchair, an enormous TV-Screen hanging from the wall, brightly coloured and noisy. Old men were sitting at camping tables, playing cards and sipping tea from tiny glasses with rich golden ornaments. The smoke from their constantly lit cigarettes filled the room. Of course, this was perfectly normal at the time… What I loved in particular was traditional Sis Kebab. It was good value for money and the very first ‘finger food’ I ever tried. And what can I say: I just loved it!
That was also the time, when I had just started to study graphic design in the small city of Wiesbaden. In this corner of the world, it took quite a while for all the new and wonderfully exciting food styles and tastes to enter our urban life. But luckily, we could find almost any kind of cultural cuisine we longed for, in nearby Frankfurt. And only a few years later, I also began travelling, once in a while, to distant countries, and continents even, always keen to discover the unique character, lifestyle and feel of the given culture through its culinary specialties.

Large Ceramic Bowls And The Essence Of Soup

I think it is fair to say that those years have changed my perspective on food, but also on the tableware from which I eat and which I now create in my pottery studio. The older I get the more I come to appreciate the unique shape and haptic experience involved in holding a large ceramic bowl, in the style of traditional Chinese Ramen bowls, in my hands, as opposed to the old boring deep plate of my childhood and youth. ‘The larger and wonkier the better!’ is my new motto!
  Making Large Stoneware Bowls - Rustic Studio Pottery
And yes, I should probably add that, from my point of view, these large Ramen bowls serve a great variety of soup types so much better! This includes all those lovely Ramen noodle soup variations from China; Miso soups from Japan; Tom Kha Gai Soup from Thailand; Pho Bo (beef) or Pho Ga (chicken) soup from Vietnam; etc. But that’s not all. To me, it seems, traditional European soups of the sort mentioned above now feel so much more at home in a large bowl as well! It may sound strange, but there is something about this particular vessel size and shape that seems to capture the very essence of soup and soup-like dishes – their ‘soup-ness’ so to speak – much better than small, flat plate designs.
Ramen Noodle Soup - Large Ramen Bowl - Sabine Schmidt Pottery
Large Stoneware Bowl - Green/Yellow - Contemporary Ceramics
When it comes to my own pottery designs, I try to keep this relationship between food and tableware in mind. Created with a certain effortlessness and a slight touch of deliberate wonkiness, my Japanese-style Ramen bowls hold the organic richness of any soup type with ease. You could try it for yourself if you like – next time you get the chance to have a hot soup in a self-chosen bowl. I, for one, will surely continue to reach for my favourite bowl in the pile of large ceramic bowls in the cupboard whenever I am having a heart-warming soup. I would even go as far as to say: it is the embodiment of ‘soul food’ and feeling at home in the kitchen, for me. Anyone agree?
Large Ramen Bowl  in White-Blue_Rustic Studio PotteryGreen Stoneware Bowl - Contemporary Pottery DesignGrown/Grey Stoneware Bowl - Japanese Ceramics - WABI SABI
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Hi Sabine, loved your blog post and totally agree about the comfort of deep bowls for all things soupy. I managed to knock the handle off one of my favourite merry mustard tea mugs (I did what it really hard) so I’ll be in touch for a replacement, as I can’t have tea and coffee in any other mugs/ cappuccino cups now. They just feel right.

Julia Hetherington

Hi Sabine, I really enjoyed this blog. It is very evocative. Also I was wondering if I could arrange to collect the 2 unglazed casserole dishes some time? I miss our lessons together very much!

Jane Hunter

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