How often can you eat pasta and then the dish it’s served out of? Or sip a smoothie and then down the glass? Never! Unless, that is, you’re eating out of a bread bowl.
Ahh, the bread bowl. Its name does not lie. It is, in fact, everything it purports to be. It is bread. It is a bowl. It is both. I encountered my first bread bowl in the cafeteria of Hershey’s Chocolate World, in Pennsylvania, and there began my lifelong fascination. It’s odd, because if you had to guess what from a chocolate factory would stick with me the most, a bread bowl would rank pretty low on the list. Yet one look at a hollowed-out boule filled to the brim with clam chowder, and I was overwhelmed. The questions began pouring in: How does the bread not disintegrate at the bottom? Do you eat your bowl as you go or all at the end? What foods were best for serving in bread bowls? What breads were best for serving food in? How could one truly enjoy their meal when the promise of sopped and soaking bread lay waiting?
Though I’ve now tried many a bread bowl, and answered many of my own questions, that doesn’t make me any less smitten with them. It’s the ultimate in sustainability, it’s zero-waste eating, it’s Houdini’s disappearing act for your dinner. Bread bowls, however, have a specific rap. One that confines them to strip malls or actual malls. But isn’t the bread bowl overdue for a little zhushing, a second look, a reconsideration? Now, I’m not saying it was ever bad (quite the opposite, actually), but it seems we—looks around—we have let the bread bowl fall by the wayside. And I refuse to let that go on any longer. It’s high time we give the bread bowl the love and life it deserves.
Take, for example, this South African bunny chow, a fresh and beany curry eaten out of hollowed-out bread. Born out of necessity, and not always a pleasant one, this dish belies a dark history. Nonetheless, the ingenuity is there: a spiced and juicy mix served out of doughy confines. Is a Georgian khachapuri not a bread bowl laid flat? A bread boat, if you will?
Don’t stop there. In fact, don’t stop anywhere. Make the bread bowl/boat/basin of your dreams. Start by picking out for yourself a sturdy, crusty loaf. Hollow out the innards—use those for bread crumbs or a panzanella—until you have something reminiscent of a serving dish. Then pick your favorite soupy or saucy dish with which to fill the bread bowl. I guarantee that no one, not your stomach, not your dinner guests, and especially not your dog, will protest. That is, of course, unless they have a gluten intolerance/aversion. In which case, be a doll and please provide them with a more suitable alternative.