Feb 6, 2011

Japanese slurping culture while eating noodles and soup.

While I was having nice lunch with a friend of mine who just came back from crazy new year trips at Omotesando, we had a discussion about Japanese slurping culture while eating noodles and soup.

I've had many discussions about this topic with other people before and my opinion for slurping while eating Soba noodles is to bring out the aromas, just like when you do wine tasting.
Some people told me that it is also to give compliments to the chefs, but I couldn't quite agree with it.

That is true- Japanese people are well known for their politeness and humbleness.
While there are so many taboos for using chopsticks and other things, why do we "slurp" that is a taboo of western culture? It is OK only when you eat noodles and soups, not while chewing.

There should be a better reason than just "to give compliments to the chef". I still quite like my theory of Soba though, it does not apply to Udon, Ramen and soup.

So I searched:

There is a functional reason- As Japanese people eat soup and noodles while they are with how they eat that ends up making some sound, it bring down its temperature. 

More importantly, It is not about you should "slurp" or not "slurp". Japanese have a culture of "enjoying the sound" while eating as well as tasting on your tongue, smelling the aromas with your nose and watching with your eyes. Japanese culture is not black- and- white. It is full of ambiguity, just like Japanese colors. This can also be said in Japanese words, attitude, philosophies, and our sense. 

This is the theory that I found and I could agree with. 

I'm not sure what you think from this.

"Eating does not consist of only manners and taboos." 

If you have this in your mind, slurping sounds that a Japanese person making next to you while eating noodles may become a little less unbearable?



  1. Firstly, I think that Japanese people have the right to slurp in their own society, if the social consensus is that it is ok. Ditto for chinese people answering their phones in the cinema (in china), but equally the topic should still be open to discussion. Especially as it sits quite oddly in a country that demands substantial social conformity and 'politeness'.

    As children growing up in an anglocised culture, if soup is hot we are taught to blow on it before each sip, which is quiet, rather than to suck (slurp) which is not. It is very intriguing that in Japan, where people are arguably even more polite than anywhere else, it is perfectly ok to be slurping in someone's ear in a tightly packed restaurant, regardless of the temperature of the dish in front of them.


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  3. Politeness has nothing to do with it. If slurping is the culturally accepted norm, then there is nothing impolite about it. I will bet that there are at least 5 more things in the so called "polite Japanese society" that are seen as "rude" somewhere else. Rudeness and politeness are completely decided by a culture.
    Now, as far as the purpose of slurping: I think that "the noodles are hot" is a perfectly sufficient reason. Why do we need any other reason? It's the most enjoyable way to eat noodles because you control the temperature by the amount of slurp. Somewhere at some point in Western history, we decided that "sounds made with food" were gross and probably reminded the listener of bodily noises. We in the west have a fucked up relationship to our bodies, so that viewpoint is no surprise.

    Always hungry after seeing your posts,


  4. I don't disagree at all, although it appears to me to go beyond merely the temperature of the food. It may have started that way, but I have seen (or heard) plenty of slurping of dishes that appeared to me not to be hot at all.

    Speaking of rudeness and politeness being dictated by culture, I couldn't agree more, but in very general terms i can be said that the generation of noise, relative to the proximity of others is generally considered less polite.
    Certainly the Japanese appear to err more on the side of quietness and go to some lengths to educate visitors of Japanese norms with regard to use of mobile phones, headphone leakage, etc.
    So I think it's interesting to consider why noise generated by eating is sometimes exempt. I am especially curious to know if it's ok to slurp the bottom of milkshakes here.

    I think westerners definitely have a fucked up relationship with our food supply, but it seems that all societies that have urbanized struggle with putting their highly evolved hunter gatherer bodies to good use in this desk bound society.
    To their credit (and in contrast to almost all other segments of the Japanese economy) the food industry seems much more local and independent here than in the US or UK. Also, there is a far greater proportion of 'stay at home mothers', which may be considered a measure of backwardness on some scales, no doubt leads to better meals for the family, as at least one member of the household has the time to buy quality produce and prepare it. If that changes in the future, it's possible so will their relationship with food and therefore their bodies.