Tuesday, November 25, 2008

On Slurping

Udon Man
Originally uploaded by erink
Japanese slurp their noodles. On the trip we ate a lot of noodles (I think it's a stereotype that tourists eat nothing but udon, soba, and ramen - but they are good!) and I think I finally got the hang of it.

As a good American kid, I grew up eating spaghetti without slurping. At least in polite company. I also learned that if you did suck the spaghetti into your mouth the fun way, the end of the noodle whips around and spatters sauce on your shirt. So that fear of staining had also influenced my attempts to slurp in the past.

Turns out I was missing a key point. In Japan, all became clear. And here's why:
When Japanese serve things hot, they are really, really hot.
The tea is really, really hot; the soup is really, really hot; the bath is really, really hot.

You have to slurp the noodles to cool them down. Otherwise you'd be there for hours.

To cool the noodles, you have to slurp them with your mouth open. If you close your lips around them, your lips get burned.

This explains the sound, too. The sound is close to that aeration gurgle you use for wine tasting. It's a lot louder than that squeaky little slurp you'd get at the end of a spaghetti strand.

The other advantage of slurping with your mouth open is that the noodles don't spatter.

The disadvantage is that it's a little gross hanging your mouth over the bowl and shoveling stuff in, but if you control the amount of noodle you pick up you can pretty much get one mouthful in without a lot of back and forth. Though, in my experience, you will have to bite. Some noodles are very long.

So, that's my journeyman take on noodle slurping. I've probably got lots of things wrong still, so don't take this as the high authority on Japanese table manners.

I think more field work is necessary.

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