NEW YORK, NY—It was an event I anticipated for one day shy of a month: Al Yeganeh, the man who inspired the Soup Nazi character, was reopening his original location in New York, and I wanted to go.
Being a Seinfeld fan to the bone, when word got around that the shop made famous in one of the most well-known episodes was reopening, I was psyched. In the episode, a hot-tempered man called the Soup Nazi makes some of the best soup in Manhattan, but imposes a strict set of regulations on his customers. Patrons must approach the counter, state their order, move to the left, take their soup, and leave. Violations will result in the Soup Nazi snatching away the soup and delivering his admonishing catchphrase: “No soup for you!”
The night before and the morning of July 20, I mentally prepared myself for the feat. Did I have exact change? Yes, I had 11 one-dollar bills, which would be more than enough. Did I want bread? Only if he gave me bread. Was I going to dilly-dally, tap my fingers against the glass, and try to make small talk? No, no, and no.
When a friend and I arrived at The Original SoupMan, only five people were waiting in front of the modest soup counter with pots and ingredients laid bare for on-lookers. To the right was the menu of soups. Above the counter, signs with three simple rules in many different languages ordered customers to have their money ready and move to the left of the counter after ordering their soup. To help them move to the left, the sidewalk had white footsteps guiding customers along that path.
But no one really did move to the left, largely because no one made them. The cashier was a college-aged woman who seemed too gentle to yank away the soup if a customer breaks a rule. The man who appeared to be in charge raised his voice only twice: once to announce they only had chicken vegetable, turkey chili, and mulligatawny, and again to state that they had run out of one-dollar bills and required exact change.
What the staff may have lacked in intensity was compensated by the soup. I ordered a cup of mulligatawny—the soup Elaine was denied when she told the Soup Nazi that he resembled Al Pacino. It was absolutely delicious, thick, rich in flavor, and served with a piece of bread, an apple, and a Lindt chocolate truffle. My friend gave similarly rave reviews for her cup of chicken vegetable soup.
Since it was the first day, they even gave us free t-shirts, a kind gesture that defied the cruel reputation the establishment had among those only familiar with the TV show. Ironically, it actually would have been nice if they were meaner—or, at least as my friend put it, more brusque—as that would have accorded with my conception of the restaurant, but in Yeganeh’s attempts to shed the Nazi moniker he rightfully abhors, the commonness of the treatment was able to give way to the exceptionality of what really mattered—the soup.
Naveen N. Srivatsa ’12, a Crimson news writer and blog executive, is an economics concentrator in Leverett House.