Everyone eats ramen differently. Some people dig right in, mix in all the toppings, and slurp till there’s no tomorrow. Some people eat slowly, delicately sampling each ingredient, one by one (seriously, I know people like this!). According to the classic ramen movie Tampopo, there is a proper way to eat ramem, but I have to admit, I don’t quite follow all the “proper” steps prescribed by the movie.
When I eat at a ramenya, the first thing I do is hold the steaming bowl up to my face and breathe in the aromas. Do any distinct smells stand out? Pork? Salt? Chicken? Can I smell the onions? Is there garlic in the soup?
Next I sip a spoonful of soup, being careful to not let any of the toppings in my spoon. I mentally note the character and complexity of the soup, and again, try to detect all the ingredients that go into making the broth. Often I’ll take another sip of just the soup before I continue to the noodles, just to reaffirm my first impressions.
I’ll then slurp a generous helping of noodles to taste it sans toppings, paying attention to the texture; there’s nothing worse than soggy overcooked noodles. Then again, clumpy, too-chewy noodles aren’t that great either. The perfect texture for ramen noodles should be al-dente, if not just a bit harder, especially for the thinner hakata ramen.
After my initial exploration of the soup and noodles, the fun begins. I mix in the onions and other toppings and slurp away with abandon, pausing once in a while to chew on the shinachiku. BUT, like the famous ramen master in Tampopo, I set the pork aside (though I usually try to refrain from whispering sweet nothings to it) to give it a chance to soak up the soup.
For those uninitiated in the dark art of ramen slurping, know that slurping your ramen is a must with the Japanese. Not only is it the ideal way to enjoy a bowl of ramen, it can be downright insulting to the chef if you eat your ramen too quietly! So the first time you’re in an authentic (or even semi-authentic) ramenya, don’t be surprised to see tables of eager gourmands, slurping away happily. In Japan especially, the noises of an entire ramenya of slurping people just serves to make your appetite grow.
But wait! What about the poor lonely pork, soaking away in the corner of the bowl? I can usually control myself until I’m about a quarter of the way through with my noodles before the temptation is too great. I gently pick up the slice of pork and watch the oily soup drip away for a moment before i take a big bite. Once I’ve taken that initial bite, the rest of the bowl is a free-for-all ramen frenzy where any and all ramen-eating etiquette flies out the door until I finish every last drop.
How do you eat your ramen?