Whether you are dining in a ramen restaurant in Japan or a Japanese restaurant back home, proper chopsticks usage and etiquette should be practiced to show appreciation and respect to the chef who meticulously prepared the meal.
The thought of using chopsticks can be intimidating and even a deterrent for some to try delicious Japanese cuisines, like ramen.
Knowing the general rules and tips, as well as major faux pas will help you master the art of chopsticks and perfect Japanese table manners.
How to Eat Ramen:
1. Sample some of the broth
It is perfectly fine to drink a bit of the soup using your spoon.
2. Pick up a few strands of noodles with your chopsticks
With your chopsticks, pinch a bite-sized amount and lift up to your mouth.
Keep in mind, if you grab too many noodles, you might get a tangly mess which will make it difficult to put into your mouth.
A little tip: Keep your chopsticks aligned, it will help with grabbing the noodles.
3. Slurp away at your noodles!
This is actually the proper and preferable way of eating ramen and other types of noodles.
While slurping is frowned upon in almost all other foreign countries, this Japan-specific gesture is believed to allow the diner to better savor the aroma of the noodles.
Don’t be afraid to make sounds while doing so.
A little tip: Only slurp ramen, udon, soba or any other Japanese noodle dishes. Slurping other foods in Japan is still frowned upon!
4. Eat quickly!
Ramen is actually fast food. You want to eat it quickly while it is still piping hot.
If you wait for too long, not only will the soup and noodles get cold, the noodles will absorb the broth, making it thick and soft and losing its nice chew.
Slurping is a lot harder than it seems!
You think you can't do it?
Don't worry. I've prepared some exercises.
Level 1: Slurping Air
Making your mouth as small as possible, inhale air using your mouth and exhale using your nose. Your mouth should be shaped like you are pronouncing the “O” sound. After making this shape with your mouth, make a noise like "Suuuuu" when you inhale.
Level 2: Slurping Water
Keep your mouth in an “O”-shape and slurp the surface of a cup of water. Keep the water inside your mouth and exhale from your nose. The point of this exercise is learning to slurp and keeping the contents in your mouth while at the same time letting air into your lungs.
The Final Big Boss: Slurping Noodles
Do the same thing you did in the previous step but instead of water this time, you will be slurping noodles. Use cut noodles and cold soup for practice.
There are some advantages and reasons of using this “slurping” method when eating ramen...
1. You can prevent noodles from getting soggy and soup from getting cold. If you slurp, you can eat noodles quickly, so you can enjoy its chewiness. In addition, it is rude to the chef to not eat food as soon as it is served to you.
2. You can enjoy the flavor of ramen at least 4 times more if you slurp. Having a combination of air, noodles and soup together allows you to feel more flavor in your mouth.
3. Japanese people find it disgusting to bite off excess noodles and for the excess pieces to go back into the soup bowl. That is why slurping is preferred because you can bring all the noodles into your mouth at once.
Remember that chewing noisily or eating with your mouth open are still bad manners in Japan, but only slurping is OK. Depending on where you are and which way you are most comfortable with, try out both ways and see which way is the best way for you to enjoy ramen.
Now that we’ve looked at the proper ways to handle ramen with the help of chopsticks, let’s take a look at some of the major no-no’s.
Things You Should NOT Do with Chopsticks:
1. Don't Stand Your Chopsticks Upright
This is one of the biggest taboos in Japanese chopsticks mannerism as this is a practiced funeral custom.
In Japanese funerals, a bowl of rice with two standing chopsticks are presented in front of an altar with the deceased's photo.
Not only is this considered a major faux pas in Japan, but in many other Asian countries as well.
When your chopsticks are not in use, you should leave it on your chopstick rest.
If one didn't come with your disposable chopsticks, you can easily fold one using the paper wrapper of your chopsticks.
2. Don't Pass Food From Chopsticks to Chopsticks
This is reminiscent of another Japanese funeral custom where cremated bones are ritually passed between two pairs of chopsticks into the urn.
If you want to pass food to another person, you can do so by putting it directly onto their plate.
When you are transferring food from a shared plate to another person's plate or your own plate, never use your own chopsticks.
The front of your chopsticks have been in your mouth and should not be near the shared plate.
You should also not use the back of your chopsticks as they are considered to be dirty since this is where your hands rest.
Instead, ask the server for a pair of toribashi (取り箸) - chopsticks for communal use. These chopsticks rest on shared plates and are used when transferring food from a shared plate onto individual plates.
3. Don't Cross Your Chopsticks
When your chopsticks are not in use, you should have them rested straight and parallel to each other instead of being crossed.
Your chopsticks are seen as a pair and they should always be together side-by-side.
Do not use them like a fork and knife with one chopstick in each hand trying to pry large pieces of food apart.
4. Don't Browse or Dig with Your Chopsticks
Take food from the top of the shared dish.
Don't use your chopsticks to dig through the shared dish for something good.
If you can't decide what to take, take a bit of everything from each dish instead of taking only things that you like.
5. Don't Point with Chopsticks
Do not point at things or people with chopsticks when you are talking, it is seen as bad manners.
When your chopsticks are not in use, you should have them rested.
6. Don't Lick or Suck the Ends of Your Chopsticks
Sucking or licking the ends of your chopsticks, and holding them in your mouth while your hands are occupied are seen as bad manners.
The main purpose your chopsticks serve is to transfer food from your plate into your mouth.
Doing anything outside of this is considered inappropriate.
7. Don't Rub Your Chopsticks Against Each Other
Some people rub disposable wooden chopsticks together to remove splinters. This is seen as rude as it indicates that you think the chopsticks are cheap.
If you need to remove splinters, do so by plucking them off the chopsticks.
8. Don't Swirl Your Chopsticks in Soup
When you swirl your chopsticks in soup or any other liquids at the dining table.
It looks like you are trying to wash it.
9. Don't Stab Your Food with Your Chopsticks
Chopsticks should be used to "pinch" food and brought to your mouth.
Do not stab your chopsticks into the food like a fork. If you are having a difficult time picking up noodles like ramen, use a spoon to help.
10. Don't Eat Directly From Communal and Shared Dishes
Pick up food on a shared plate using the toribashi and put it onto your own plate before eating it.
That's it! After reading all the do's and don'ts on Japanese chopsticks mannerism, you are already on the path of mastering the art of chopsticks.
Don't get too absorbed with the rules of using chopsticks. Even some Japanese people struggle with perfecting chopsticks usage.
If you cannot remember everything you've read here today, just remember the two main chopsticks taboos, which mirror Japanese funeral customs, and make sure not to do those.
Focus on enjoying that bowl of ramen or whatever it is you have in front of you. If you try your best, everything will turn out well.