Q: I love to eat noodles when I’m traveling around Japan and South Korea, but I’m always surprised to walk into a restaurant and hear loud slurping — even in a nice place! What’s up with that?
A: You might wonder if these people’s mamas raised ’em right. Fact is, they did.
In Japan, South Korea and elsewhere in Asia, slurping one’s noodles is the way to show you’re enjoying the food. Fail to slurp, and the cook may think you’re not enjoying his handiwork. The loudness of the slurping tends to vary depending on how fancy a restaurant you’re in. If you’re dressed to the nines and drinking top-shelf sake or soju, you probably want to keep the noise somewhat low. But if you’re sitting in a tiny ramen place under the train tracks, feel free to turn the volume up to 11. Everyone else will.
But slurping your noodles has a practical purpose, too. Most varieties of noodle dishes are served in scalding hot broth. If you’re hungry, you don’t want to wait long for your meal to downgrade from a third-degree burn threat, so the theory goes that slurping the noodles helps cool them down faster right before they hit your mouth. I’m not sure of the science behind that — so don’t look at me if you slurp and still burn your tongue. But there are plenty of folks who will swear by it, so perhaps there’s something to it.
So when in Asia, do as your fellow diners do, and slurp away. Just be sure not to take that habit back home with you. If your mom’s anything like mine, she definitely would not approve.
Got a question about goings-on in the Pacific? E-mail Stacy Chandler at: email@example.com.