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Ramen Etiquette: Do's and Don'ts of Eating the Iconic Noodles in Japan



A woman is slurping ramen noodles at a restaurant


Ramen is more than just a meal in Japan. It's a cultural experience steeped in customs and traditions. From ordering to eating to respecting the chef and shop, let's explore the traditions, rituals and etiquette of eating ramen in Japan.


Do Slurp Your Noodles


Yes! One of the first things you'll notice when dining on ramen in Japan is the enthusiastic slurping sound echoing through the ramen shop. Contrary to Western dining norms, slurping noodles in Japan is not only acceptable but encouraged. It's a sign of appreciation and enjoyment, indicating that the noodles are being eaten hot and fresh. This practice also helps cool down the noodles slightly before they reach the mouth, enhancing the flavors and texture. If ramen chefs don't hear the energetic slurping of their noodles, it may be an indication for that you are displeased with the noodles.


Do Eat Quickly and Appreciatively


Eat it hot! Ramen is meant to be eaten promptly while the noodles are still firm and the broth is piping hot. It's not a dish to be leisurely savored over an extended period. Eating ramen quickly not only ensures the best texture and flavor but also shows respect to the chef and the effort put into preparing the dish. Japanese diners often enjoy their ramen in focused silence, savoring each bite with appreciation. Ramen is not a communal dining period or time to catch-up with friends for a conversation. Unlike many Western eating habits, respect for ramen is essential and outweighs any conversation you may have with fellow diners. Likely, someone is also waiting to take your next for the next delicious bowl of ramen.


Do Taste the Soup First


In Japan, we would traditionally start with the broth. It's an expected practice to take a sip of the soup before the noodles. Use the ramen soup spoon, or renge, to take a big sip of soup before eating the noodles. It's also perfectly acceptable to not even use the spoon at all. It's culturally OK to take a sip of broth directly from the bowl.


Do Use Proper Utensils

A bowl of ramen with chashu, nori, scallion and bamboo shoot toppings

When it comes to eating ramen, mastering the use of chopsticks and a soup spoon is essential. Use the chopsticks to pick up noodles and toppings, and use the spoon to sip the broth. It's customary to hold the spoon close to your mouth when drinking the broth to avoid any spills and to fully enjoy the flavors. Additionally, folding the paper napkin into a makeshift bib is common practice to prevent any accidental splatters on clothing. Unlike many Western shops, don't expect forks to be readily available in this ramen culture. In fact, eating ramen with a fork may be considered rude in some traditional settings or restaurants.


Do Customize Your Ramen Bowl


Many ramen shops in Japan allow customers to customize their bowls according to personal preferences. From noodle firmness (katame) to broth richness (kotteri), and even the amount of garlic or spiciness, diners have the opportunity to tailor their ramen experience. This level of customization adds to the allure of ramen, making each bowl a unique culinary adventure tailored to individual tastes. Be prepared though to make these selections at ramen ordering kiosks. It's far less common to be seated then review the menu and customize your order.


Do Show Gratitude when Finished


After finishing your bowl of ramen, it's courteous to express your appreciation to the chef and staff. A simple "gochisosama deshita" (thank you for the meal) is a polite way to show gratitude for the delicious dining experience. This phrase acknowledges the effort and skill involved in preparing the ramen and creates a sense of camaraderie between the diner and the kitchen.


Do Expect Seasonal Variations


Japanese cuisine is deeply influenced by the seasons, and ramen is no exception. Certain ramen styles are enjoyed more during specific times of the year. For example, rich and hearty ramen with thick broths are favored during colder months, providing warmth and comfort. In contrast, lighter and refreshing ramen varieties, such as cold ramen or tsukemen (dipping noodles), are preferred in the summer to combat the heat.


Now, some "don'ts":


  • Don't slurp too loudly.

  • Don't be rude to the chef and staff.

  • Don't go overboard on the condiments or toppings.

  • Don't leave leftovers.

  • Don't leave your counter space a mess when finished.


The traditions, rituals and etiquette of eating ramen in Japan go beyond mere consumption; they embody a deep respect for culinary traditions, appreciation for seasonal ingredients, and a shared love for this iconic dish. Whether you're a ramen aficionado or a first-time diner, embracing these customs enhances the overall enjoyment of the ramen dining experience and fosters a deeper connection with Japanese culture.

 

Jeff Parsons

Jeff Parsons is the Co-founder at The Story of Ramen.









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