Why being polite can ruin your ramen
When it comes to ramen, forget those table manners you’ve learned. Anyone who’s said said “sit up”, “slow down” and “don’t slurp” has given bad advice for ramen. Here’s why:
Slurp like you mean it
Flavor that’s as deep and rich as ramen can be tasted through your whole mouth, from your cheeks to the tip of your tongue. So when sipping the broth, take in an ample amount of air as well. Slurping cools the soup to body-temperature, and it tastes better too.
It’s the same as wine tasting and professional coffee cupping. Anyone who has used their whole mouth to experience flavor knows the importance of aeration. A big long slurp is exactly what’s needed. It might not sound polite, but it definitely makes a difference.
Lean in, don’t sit up
Parents have been telling their children to sit up as long as they’ve been eating at the table, but the ramen shop is different. Forget about sitting up—lean in. Get close, with your head over the bowl, smell that rich broth and lift the noodles in a smooth short motion. It’s the only way to avoid splattering on your clean shirt, and it tastes better too.
One winning strategy is to use the spoon to hold the broth and dip the noodles in before sucking them up. Other people ignore the spoon altogether and lean right over. Either way, get close.
Ramen’s warm soup is actively working through the noodles, turning them from pleasantly firm to a mushy mess. As the soup cools it too gets less delicious by the minute, so to enjoy peak ramen it’s necessary to focus on the bowl. No tiny bites or polite conversation, those dinner-party policies don’t apply here. In fact, just the opposite.
It should take only about five minutes to finish. That might seem surprising given the large bowls, but after taking the first mouthful, it’s hard to stop going in for more.
No need to listen or even speak
While most cafes are buzzing with conversation while the staff quietly move from table to table, ramen shops are quite the opposite. The staff are loud and friendly so that the customers can focus on the bowl.
Save the conversation for after ramen, when you crack a beer or pour some tea. It may feel a little strange to ignore your friend or your partner, but if they are doing it right they should be ignoring you too.
Drink up... but no need to drink it all
In Western culture lifting a soup bowl to drink from it is a big no-no, but in Japanese culture it’s perfectly acceptable. After the soup cools enough, and especially after the noodles are gone, many devoted ramen lovers will lift the bowl and sip the broth.
While lifting the bowl makes it easy to gulp, there is no need to finish the broth. It’s heavily salted, so in other words it’s incredibly delicious but meant to be taken in moderation. People on their cheat day may finish it, while ramen lovers who eat it regularly may not.
In most other restaurants is slightly rude to return food. Good plates of pasta should be wiped spotless with bread, and leaving rice at any other Japanese restaurant is considered bad manners. But at the ramen shop you are welcome to drink as much or as little of the broth as you like.
So, while certain manners may be important at other tables, when you sit down to a bowl of ramen it’s pure utility. Slurp your noodles, lean in, take big mouthfuls, ignore your friends and drink straight from the bowl. And most importantly, enjoy every mouthful!