Sometimes when non-Asians go to ramen bars, they're mildly weirded out by watching the patrons eat. To the uninitiated, the eating behaviors can seem kind of extreme. Why are people hovering over their bowls like animals at a feeding trough? Why do they let endless lengths of noodles dangle from their maw as they slurp—very, very loudly—over their bowls of broth?
If you haven't experienced the gloriousness of slurping your noodles at a ramen bar, then you need to pick up the practice ASAP. Why? Because slurping your noodles isn't rude, it actually serves two purposes:
- It cools off your mouthful of noodles just enough to let you enjoy them while the rest of the bowl stays piping hot, and
- It aerates the noodles and the broth, allowing the flavors to mellow out and fully develop before you chew and swallow.
Plus, if you eat your ramen daintily, the process can take a long time and the noodles will get all mushy.
If you've read our guide on how to make crappy wine taste good, you know that aeration simply means exposing something to oxygen—in this case, noodles and soup. What happens then is that flavors and aromas in the soup begin to mellow out and blend together as they begin to oxidize, i.e., breakdown in the presence of oxygen.
But if you've grown up in a household where slurping food is taboo, eating ramen "the right way" can take a little practice. And if you're really committed to ramen eating and not adept at using chopsticks, you might want to practice that a little beforehand also.
A few elements are key: pick up a small amount of noodles. Remember, you'll be slurping them, and you don't want to choke because you overestimated the amount. Next, pull the noodles way, way up so they don't get caught in the rest of the noodles. Once they're free, dip 'em back in the broth so they get a lot of flavor.
Purse your lips as if you're about to say "Oooh." Bend over your bowl. Then bring those noodles to your lips and really suck 'em up into your mouth while making all the noise you can.
When small drops of soup go flying everywhere, you know you're doing it right, though getting closer to the bowl mitigates this. Alternate with slurping broth straight from the bowl or using the spoon—whatever you like. Repeat as desired.
Business Insider also has a good visual guide on the ins and outs of ramen eating. For more fun with ramen noodles, discover the curious ingredient that gives them their distinctive taste, and if you want to experiment at home before venturing out to a ramen bar, learn how to instantly upgrade packaged ramen at home instead.