ramen etiquette

Everyone eats ramen differently. Some people dig right in, mix in all the toppings, and slurp till there’s no tomorrow. Some people eat slowly, delicately sampling each ingredient, one by one (seriously, I know people like this!). According to the classic ramen movie Tampopo, there is a proper way to eat ramem, but I have to admit, I don’t quite follow all the “proper” steps prescribed by the movie.

When I eat at a ramenya, the first thing I do is hold the steaming bowl up to my face and breathe in the aromas. Do any distinct smells stand out? Pork? Salt? Chicken? Can I smell the onions? Is there garlic in the soup?

Next I sip a spoonful of soup, being careful to not let any of the toppings in my spoon. I mentally note the character and complexity of the soup, and again, try to detect all the ingredients that go into making the broth. Often I’ll take another sip of just the soup before I continue to the noodles, just to reaffirm my first impressions.

I’ll then slurp a generous helping of noodles to taste it sans toppings, paying attention to the texture; there’s nothing worse than soggy overcooked noodles. Then again, clumpy, too-chewy noodles aren’t that great either. The perfect texture for ramen noodles should be al-dente, if not just a bit harder, especially for the thinner hakata ramen.

After my initial exploration of the soup and noodles, the fun begins. I mix in the onions and other toppings and slurp away with abandon, pausing once in a while to chew on the shinachiku. BUT, like the famous ramen master in Tampopo, I set the pork aside (though I usually try to refrain from whispering sweet nothings to it) to give it a chance to soak up the soup.

For those uninitiated in the dark art of ramen slurping, know that slurping your ramen is a must with the Japanese. Not only is it the ideal way to enjoy a bowl of ramen, it can be downright insulting to the chef if you eat your ramen too quietly! So the first time you’re in an authentic (or even semi-authentic) ramenya, don’t be surprised to see tables of eager gourmands, slurping away happily. In Japan especially, the noises of an entire ramenya of slurping people just serves to make your appetite grow.

But wait! What about the poor lonely pork, soaking away in the corner of the bowl? I can usually control myself until I’m about a quarter of the way through with my noodles before the temptation is too great. I gently pick up the slice of pork and watch the oily soup drip away for a moment before i take a big bite. Once I’ve taken that initial bite, the rest of the bowl is a free-for-all ramen frenzy where any and all ramen-eating etiquette flies out the door until I finish every last drop.

How do you eat your ramen?

6 thoughts on “the proper way to eat ramen”

  1. Great article! I’m one of the folks that just can’t hold myself back and will start to mix stuff up after having an initial spoonful of soup.

    Oh, and is there a difference between menma and shinachiku?

  2. Yeah, I’m pretty sure there’s no difference. I remember reading somewhere that shinachiku came from some sort of derogatory word for Chinese people, but I’m not sure if that’s true or not.

  3. We have a noodle shop that recently opened up here on Maui. I was very pleased with the food, atmosphere and the service (usually). Having never been to Japan, I often wonder if I’m ‘doing it right’. Thanks for this article, as it has been most informative, and reassuring to me.

  4. Hi Keith, there is, of course, no “right” way to eat ramen, but I’m glad you’re “doing it right.” Hahaha. Thanks for the comments!

  5. Best way to eat ramen…Pretty much anything is ok, just don’t accidentally drop the bowl on the floor, spill soup on the furniture or carpet, feed anything in the bowl to your begging dog, or put your used chopsticks down on the table.

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