The Fine Art of Slurping

Some tasty noodles with fresh veggies and a fish cake. Yum!

Some tasty noodles with fresh veggies and a fish cake. Yum!

             I was aware before coming to Japan that noodles were a staple food source here, but my previous conception of what noodles are has been completely dispensed of.  Noodles are not served as pasta, nor are they some plain and boring affair simply served beneath the main dish or on the side to provide carbs; noodles here are served in a variety of broths with a mix of veggies and sometimes meats.  It is best likened to chicken noodle soup, but with a much more intriguing mix of flavors and textures provided by all the seasonings, somewhat chewy seaweeds or greens, crunchy stalk vegetables, and of course the soft noodles themselves.  These noodle soups do have one thing in common with all other noodles dishes though; you can’t fit their expansive lengths in your mouth, so you are left with slimy tentacles plastered to your chin. Fortunately, in Japan, the age old dilemma of whether to awkwardly chew off the ends of the pasta or suck them up and sound like a dying vacuum cleaner has been decided for me!  In fact, enthusiastic animal noises while eating your noodles are considered a sign of appreciation and it is rude not to make them!

            Despite manners no longer inconveniencing my noodle consumption, this noisy technique is not without its pitfalls.  Over-aggressive slurping can turn your eating companions into a confectionary splatter painting, while too much caution can result in an wholly underwhelming performance.  I have thus decided to describe a few different strategies for producing appropriate slurping noises without creating the messy catastrophes that likely prompted the Western ban on such.

We all sit down to some noodles at a temple. Not some expert use of chopsticks in preparation for slurpage.

We all sit down to some noodles at a temple. Note some expert use of chopsticks in preparation for slurpage.

            First, simply drinking the simple act of drinking broth straight from the bowl is an easy way to produce pleasing slurping noises with minimal risk.  I think my proficiency with this technique arises from years of not so subtly downing all of the milk in my cereal bowls before anybody could stop me. With just a little more finesse, I can apply this to my broth drinking and effectively show my gracious host or chef that they have the best noodles this side of the Pacific (or anywhere really).  Of course, there are some pitfalls to such slurping that one must be aware of.  Multiple times now I have taken on a bit too much broth and incidentally reversed the roles of my trachea and esophagus. Don’t do this, it hurts.

            If the broth is too hot to risk pouring the whole bowl down my throat, or I am just not feeling very adventurous, it is not out of the question to use a spoon (the spoons here are much deeper and hold more liquid).  While not as dramatic, this safer approach still allows for a short slurp that gets the point across.  You really can’t go wrong with spooning.

A nice bowl of Curry Noodles.

A nice bowl of Curry Noodles.

            Of course, slurping the noodles themselves is the main event.  Mastering the art is actually fairly tricky.  Simply creating a vacuum and sucking up the noodles creates a crazy daisy situation complete with wildly thrashing noodles and showers of hot, salty broth.  On the other hand, attempting to collect the noodles into your mouth using your tongue is both slow and sadly insufficient in the slurping sound category, even with some lip-smacking accentuations.  Rather, I have found that a practiced slurper alternates between these methods to achieve the full effect whilst still maintaining some dignity.  Having figured all of this out, I believe that my noodle consumption has become an enjoyable event for everybody involved, which is good because I have eaten a lot of delicious noodles and plan to eat a lot more.


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