Slurping Noodles for politeness
Slurp loudly or else
It’s true, slurping noodles is not only accepted in Japan, but is also polite. This is one of those customs that is hard for some foreigners to grasp because it is almost completely opposite many Western countries.
When you get your noodles, don’t be shy, let loose a big slurp. This lets the cook or your host know you like the meal. If you don’t slurp, they may feel you don’t like the food.
Slurping noodles actually isn’t entirely for the sake of politeness, but for safety too, or at least to avoid getting a burnt tongue. Japanese soup and noodles are served steaming hot. Hot enough to burn your tongue and mouth. By slurping the food quickly in, you are helping your mouth escape burns and the peeling skin that follows by cooling the food just enough and rapidly sucking it in, past the sensitive parts of the mouth.
When I first arrived in japan, I went to a ramen restaurant with some new friends. I knew slurping wasn’t considered rude, but it still felt odd for me to do so I proceeded to eat my ramen quietly.
After a few minutes, one of my friends leaned over and asked me, “You do know that it isn’t rude to slurp your noodles in Japan, don’t you?” I assured him I was aware of that fact. Seemingly satisfied, he went back to eating. A few minutes later he leaned over again. “You really should slurp your noodles. It’s kind of rude to the cook not to.”
Only old men do it?
Now be aware, this slurping when eating noodles is something of a regional and even generational thing. Another Japanese friend (from near Tokyo) I told that story to informed me he had never heard it was rude not to slurp. Hmmmm…
Curious, I asked another friend in Tokyo. He informed me that only old men slurp their noodles and young people don’t. My wife agrees with this – interestingly, she is from a small town north of Tokyo. Yet other friends from the area I live (Chubu) and still others from the Kyoto area assure me everyone slurps their noodles and it’s rude not to. I can only assume from this that the tradition or practice of slurping your noodles to be polite varies by region.
As with many things, the older a person is, the more they follow traditional customs. So if you are having dinner with an older person or if you notice the cook or owners are older, slurp it up! And at any rate, don’t be surprised or offended if you hear lots of slurping when you visit your local ramen place!
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