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Slurping Noodles in Japan: A Cultural Etiquette

By Catarina Guedes-Almeida
March 03, 2022

We all know noodles are a staple of Japanese cuisine. There are a variety of noodles that each have their own unique flavor, taste, and style. However, such delicious noodle dishes also share many things in common. Whether it is ramen (Chinese style wheat noodles), udon (wheat flour noodles) or soba (buckwheat flour noodles), one thing they share in common is the practice of slurping noodles.

Why Should You Slurp Noodles?

A hand holds noodles in place with two black chopsticks as a woman is slurping the noodles in a ramen restaurant.
In Japanese culture, there are plenty of reasons to slurp based on who you ask. Let’s check out a few! Image via Shutterstock

During the Edo Period, many people ate noodles at outdoor stalls. Historically, the noodles were eaten as quickly as possible, and then they would drink the soup which would result in loud slurping. One can even argue that slurping noodles is a part of Japanese table manners as slurping is an action correlated with eating noodles. 

Plus, in order to fully enjoy the noodle experience, people should not be bothered by the expected mess that slurping may cause so that they can fully focus on enjoying the taste. On top of this, some people consider the act of slurping to be a kind of compliment to the cook about how good the noodles are.

Another reason is that, ramen must be eaten hot. Ramen is not just a part of Japanese culture, but both the making (and eating) of it is also an art. The noodles require perfect timing from when the noodles are boiled to adding the soup and need to be enjoyed quickly. Delicious ramen requires plenty of work, time, and timing to get the most out of it! 

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Just look at the different types of ramen: Hakata ramen, Kyushu ramen, Yokohama ramen, and especially Hokkaido ramen. Each type requires meticulous preparation and as a result, specific methods on how to eat it developed.

Most importantly, there is really no single method for how to eat noodles. In particular, for the whole ramen experience, some claim that you should drink a glass of water before eating to prepare the stomach for the ramen. However, others claim that one should avoid drinking water because it suppresses the taste buds and therefore weakens the ramen experience. 

The same problem applies to slurping. Some people believe that the meal should be eaten and slurped slowly so that the flavors are savored while others believe that ramen should be consumed rapidly to be properly appreciated. Fast or slow, however, they still slurp!

How to Slurp Noodles

Two men at a ramen noodle shop are slurping noodles as they hold their bowls and stand in the busy shop.
Slurping noodles can be harder than it sounds for people who didn’t grow up doing it. There is actually a method to the madness. Image via Shutterstock

When it comes to eating ramen, one should first taste a mouthful of the soup. Then it’s time for the noodle slurping. Because it’s encouraged to eat the noodles while it is hot, slurping the noodles will actually make it easier to eat. 

As you suck the noodles in, make sure you are drawing lots of air so that not only does some of the broth come up with the noodles, but the air also has a cooling effect on the very hot noodles.

Slurping noodles is not only a custom with ramen noodles but can also be done with soba and udon. Whether it is cold or hot, slurping allows you to fully experience the aroma as you eat. It’s a similar idea to a wine tasting, where taste and aroma are both important for getting the full experience of the wine.

Additionally, slurping the noodles without biting off the noodle pieces also makes sure that you are getting all of the aromas and flavors. That’s why it’s important not to pick up too many noodles, even when eating soba noodles, which are thinner than ramen or udon noodles. 

Noodle Harassment? What’s That?

Japanese business men and other workers stand at a ramen stand as they enjoy and hold bowls of ramen.
Slurping noodles is just a normal part of Japanese culture, but visitors to Japan often don’t know this, leading to this strange phenomenon. Image via Shutterstock

Back in 2016, a new term was created called noodle harassment, or nu-hara (ヌーハラ), in which people expressed their distaste for very loud slurping sounds. In particular, the sound of slurping bothered tourists who were not used to the sounds. 

However, since 2016, ASMR eating, otherwise known as mukbang (eating on camera and online), has grown increasingly popular. People post their tasty noodle dishes online and show how they eat it. Often the videos focus on the sounds, especially their slurping. These videos have millions of views, proving that there are a number of people that actually enjoy the sounds of slurping noodles. 

The point is, despite noodle harassment existing, you should not worry about what others think while enjoying a rich, flavorful noodle dish. 

Whether you’re eating Japanese cup ramen from a convenience store, weird ramen flavors, or one of the delectable ramen dishes mentioned above, make sure to savor the mouth-watering taste and if you are up for it, give slurping noodles a try. 

Do you slurp your noodles? Does the sound bother you or is it natural to hear while eating noodles? Comment below to share your noodle slurping experience as well as your favorite Japanese noodle dish!

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Catarina Guedes-Almeida

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