Learning the art of ramen eating is a masterful feat. You have to balance the simultaneous act of using your spoon and chopsticks in order to get the perfect ratio of noodle to broth into your mouth. Once you got the hang of this utensil gymnastics, you usually give little thought to how you look while performing this culinary act.
However, like many dishes rooted in tradition, there is a certain ramen etiquette that one should follow. Here are some tips for following proper ramen etiquette for your next nosh session.
Ramen’s Humble Origins
Ramen is truly blue collar food. It is inexpensive, can be a quick bite and with little fanfare, and is a hearty, satisfying dish. Think of ramen as Japanese fast food. Even though its proliferation in Styrofoam cups and college dorm rooms makes U.S. diners see ramen as an unceremonious meal, in Japan this dish can be found in back alleys made by ramen masters who have perfected this dish. Likely if you’re eating ramen in a U.S. restaurant, you’re tucking into a dish by a chef who cares about the quality and preparation of their ingredients. Much like a Japanese eater, it’s imperative to show the chef your respect and appreciation for the dish.
How Do the Japanese Eat Ramen?
Since ramen is often a daily part of a Japanese diet, there is a specific protocol that is used in order to show courtesy to not only fellow diners, but also the chef and their staff.
1. If you’re with a group, have your whole group in line and ready. Making the staff wait on your friend who is late is rude to other diners who may use your table, as well as to the chef who prides himself on serving every member of your party at the same time with a steaming hot meal.
2. Don’t take up prime real estate if you just want to order something to drink. If you’re at a ramen restaurant, you should be ordering a bowl of ramen.
3. Many ramen bars will offer toppings where you can customize your bowl to your tastes and preferences. However, don’t do this until you’ve had a few sips of the unadorned broth. The chef will see it as an insult that you doctored up their broth before tasting it in its purest essence.
4. Is it OK to slurp the last bits of broth and noodles? While in the U.S., slurping can be a sign of bad manners. In Japan, it’s completely acceptable to prevent the noodles from overcooking in the steaming broth. If you want the true Japanese experience, use your chopsticks to gather as many noodles as you can and feel free to slurp them quickly into your mouth — just don’t burn your tongue! It’s also fine if you choose to loudly drink the last portion of your bowl. In fact, the audible enjoyment of your meal shows that you’re enjoying your food.
5. Japanese ramen shops are true fast food, and the turnover is high. Don’t dawdle or linger in conversation after you’ve eaten. Pick up your utensils, clean up your space and give a quick nod to the kitchen staff on your way out as an acknowledgement of respect.
You won’t be likely to follow these same rules when eating instant ramen on your couch. However, at popular ramen restaurants across the U.S., your knowledge of Japanese ramen etiquette will be appreciated!