We might be biased but we think that ramen is one of the most fun foods to eat. In fact, it gets more fun the more bowls of ramen you eat as you perfect the not-so-subtle art of slurping.
There are also risks with ramen. The piping hot broth can burn your mouth, the slippery noodles can fall off of your chopsticks and cause some serious splashback, and when exactly do you tackle the toppings?
As experts in the field of ramen consumption, we have racked up thousands of hours of practice (it’s a tough job but someone’s gotta do it) in our home of Japan and here in the U.S. To help you have the best, most authentic experience every time you eat, we’ve laid out our top tips for how to eat ramen the Japanese way.
What Equipment Do I Need to Eat Ramen?
There are three essential tools you need to eat ramen the Japanese way.
1. Ramen Bowl
In Japan, different ramen restaurants will serve the meal in bowls of various shapes and sizes, depending on how they want customers to experience it. One Japanese ceramic artist lists at least seven separate bowl shapes which can then be further molded into other variations — all designed to bring out the best of what’s in the bowl.
As a general rule, your ramen bowl should be big enough to be able to hold the standard 17-ounce serving of toppings, noodles, and soup.
Of course, the bigger the bowl the more you can fit in it. However, many ramen chefs aim to have three-quarters ramen to one bowl, though it differs from shop to shop. You want it so that you can easily admire the presentation of the ramen when you’re sitting back from the bowl, but without the risk of spillage.
Ramen bowls are typically ceramic, though you can also buy plastic, melamine, steel, and even wood. Ceramic bowls will keep your ramen hot the longest, but they are also hotter to the touch so be careful when handling!
However confident you are in your chopstick skills, we recommend giving them a try when eating ramen. Chopsticks are perfect for gripping your ramen noodles and lifting them high out of the bowl for proper aeration (and admiration).
You can use them almost like a two-pronged lever to feed the full length of the noodles upwards into your mouth. This also prevents the noodles from flying about everywhere and splashing you in the face as you slurp.
Slurping is pretty difficult to do with a fork and you definitely can’t pick up noodles with only a spoon — if you can do this, you really are a ramen hero.
3. Ramen Soup Spoon
In Japanese, the traditional ramen spoon is called a chirirenge, or more commonly just renge, which translates to “fallen lotus petal.” It is flat and deep, with a groove in the handle leading to the base.
The bend in the handle is for resting it against the side of the bowl, while the groove is actually a place for you to put your finger so that you can pinch the spoon at the end between your index and your thumb. You might have also seen another type of spoon called an otama jakushi, which is a sort of shallow wooden ladle with a longer handle.
When eating ramen, you should hold the spoon in your left hand and your chopsticks in your right. You can use the spoon almost like a safety net by keeping it underneath your trail of noodles when you lift them out of the bowl. If you drop them, they’ll land on the spoon rather than in the soup and all over the person opposite.
Some people also like to compile a mini mouthful of ramen in the spoon, collecting the broth, noodles, and a bit of topping onto it, and taking a bite that way.
Japanese Do’s for Eating Ramen
You’ve got your equipment laid out. Your ramen is cooked and ready. It’s time to dive in.
But wait a minute, you can’t just recklessly plunge in there. Ramen can be an intimidating affair even for the most seasoned ramen fanatics. There’s a technique to tackle the steaming bowl of long-boiled soup, carefully composed tare (seasoning), perfectly cooked noodles, and thoughtfully chosen toppings that make up the meal.
We recommend trying the do’s and avoiding the don’ts below to get the best experience.
Often thought of as the Japanese equivalent of “bon appétit,” the word “itadakimasu” is most often said to mark the beginning of a meal, though you can also use it in other contexts.
It roughly translates as “to receive” and is a way of saying thank you to the ingredients, producers, chefs, tableware makers, and anyone else who was involved in the making of your meal.
Though it has its roots in Buddhism’s arrival to Japan, around the 6th century, one popular theory (among many) suggests that the word only came into the Japanese vernacular during the Showa era (1926-1989) when teachers made pupils thank the emperor, their parents, and all living beings before eating.
When you say itadakimasu, place your hands together like the photo above and bow just slightly. Now, you may eat.
Be Ready to Eat Fast
Don’t hang around too long saying “itadakimasu” though, you only have a five-minute window before your noodles lose their optimal chewiness. Letting your noodles sit in the hot soup makes them mushy, releasing starch and upsetting the balance of the broth.
Ramen is meant to be eaten immediately, hence the wild slurping (and little talking) you’ll hear in ramen shops as customers race to consume the contents of their bowls. According to ramen chef Ivan Orkin (a New York native who did the seemingly impossible and ran two successful ramen shops in Tokyo), a bowl of ramen should be finished within about 10 minutes.
How do you know you’re eating it fast enough? It should be hot all the way to the finish line. You might find beads of sweat on your forehead and your face flushed with the effort of inhaling mouthfuls of noodles — this is a good thing.
One tip is to put your head close to the bowl and make sure you are sitting at a table with zero distractions. Ramen is not a Netflix-and-chew kind of dish.
Sip the Soup First
Just before coming out of the starting blocks, we do recommend taking a sip of the soup so that you can fully appreciate the ramen’s flavor complexity.
If you’ve been slaving away over your own original tonkotsu for a few hours or sourced a new brand of miso for your take on Sapporo ramen, you’ll want to pause a moment to taste your efforts and respect the journey your meal has taken.
At Ramen Hero, we’ve spent a lot of time perfecting our soups. From our Crying Samurai caramelized onion oil miso ramen to our Misosaurus spicy tonkotsu miso ramen, we’ve scoured the land for the choicest ingredients and agonized over flavor combinations.
We’d love for you to take a minute to really savor the thought behind the ramen — we think it makes it taste better!
Pull the Noodles High Into the Air and Dip
When you’re ready, grab a small bite of noodles with your chopsticks and pull them high into the air above the bowl. This will help cool the noodles down slightly and also give you a chance to admire them in all their bouncy glory. You can then dip them back into the broth to gather more of that flavor onto the noodles.
Try not to be over-ambitious with the number of noodles you pick up. The noodles will be coiled together in the bowl, so it needs to be a small enough amount that you can hold onto without dropping them, and also fit into your mouth without burning yourself.
The slurp is an essential step in your ramen ritual, though it takes quite a bit of practice to get it right.
Much like sipping on a hot drink, slurping cools down your noodles, meaning that you can eat them quickly before they deteriorate. In aerating the noodles, the slurp also enhances the flavor of each mouthful, while the aromatic steam between the bowl and your face adds another layer to the sensory experience of eating ramen.
It can feel quite odd trying to vacuum up noodles, and you might struggle on your first time. It's not a regular action you’d be able to do with other solid foods like sandwiches, but with ramen, slurping is key!
Get Into a Rhythm of Broth and Bites
So when do you eat the toppings and the soup? Orkin talks about finding the “rhythm of the noodle” which is really your personal flow of how you want to eat your bowl of ramen.
Some people eat all of the toppings first, but like Orkin, we’d suggest going from bite to bite. After your first sip of the soup, go for a slurp of noodles, then try a bite of the toppings (individually or together), then sip some more soup, then slurp, and so on.
You can also use the chirirenge, adding a couple of strands of noodles, a bit of topping, and the soup to create a spoonful of ramen packed with the highlights.
Similar to the noodles, it’s a good idea to get to the toppings early rather than leaving them to go soggy in the soup. With an ajitsuke tamago (marinated, soft-boiled egg), you should split it in half in the soup or bite into it, rather than trying to pop the whole thing in your mouth in one go. It’s OK to put half-bitten toppings back into the bowl.
Drink the Soup That’s Left (If You Want)
At Ramen Hero, we love to drink any ramen soup that’s leftover. It’s basically like having an umami bomb explode in your mouth and set off a ton of flavor fireworks.
Be warned though, every mouthful has a salty intensity that might leave you gasping for water (see more on that below).
If you’ve got room, you can also add more noodles to your broth. In some tonkotsu ramen shops in Japan, you can ask for kaedama and the chef will top up your bowl with noodles for a small fee.
Japanese Don’ts for Eating Ramen
Along with the do’s, there are a few don’ts when it comes to how to eat ramen. Don’t worry if you find yourself making mistakes, though — practice makes perfect!
Wait for Others
In a group situation, whether at home or at a restaurant, you’ll need to throw politeness out the window and forego waiting for everyone to receive their serving before you begin. As soon as your ramen is ready you’ve got to go for it!
Forget to Hydrate
Many noodle newbies forget to drink in the rush to consume their ramen within the optimal time frame. Most ramen is high in sodium (often up to 70% of your daily allowance), even if you can’t taste it, and will leave you with an intense thirst that only standing under Niagara Falls with your mouth open will cure.
Gulp, don’t sip, water between mouthfuls. If you can make oolong or green tea, or the ramen shop offers either, this is even better as it helps digest the fat. Of course, you’ll see people drinking beer, which goes well with the saltiness too. Just make sure you stay hydrated!
Be a Plopper
It can be tempting when you lose your slurping momentum to bite the noodles halfway and let them fall back into your bowl. This is a risky move as, not only is it a bit gross, you might also end up splashing yourself and/or people around you with tasty yet leaves-a-stain ramen broth.
As we mentioned, you can use your spoon to catch the noodles if this happens, or stick your head right over the bowl so that no one suspects (they just think you’re giving your ramen an appreciative sniff). Always start with small chopstick-fulls of noodles and practice from there before you master the proper way.
Leave Your Chopsticks in Your Bowl
When you’ve finished your ramen, don’t stick your chopsticks in the bowl but put them next to the bowl or along the rim instead.
This is because placing chopsticks this way imitates a particular funeral ritual in which chopsticks are stood upright in a bowl of rice, and is said to bring bad luck when done out of context.
The same goes for all Japanese food so whether you’re home alone or in a ramen shop, eating ramen or sashimi-don (rice bowl), it’s good practice to avoid this.
The Proper Way to Eat Ramen: Enjoy It
Throughout ramen’s evolution from Chinese import to industrialized fast food to global gourmet phenomenon, this dish has always been about freestyling.
Whether it's a ramen master playing with new ingredients, a yatai (street stall) owner plying his bowls of noodles around the block, or you at home preparing your favorite comfort food, ramen is a dish that’s highly personal.
There’s no right way or wrong way to eat ramen, but the tips above will at least make sure that you can have the best ramen experience.
All together now, “Itadakimasu!”