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Ramen: How to eat it? What's with the spoon?

I love ramen. The kind from a restaurant, I mean, not the instant college-food kind
from a plastic package. Fortunately, living in San Francisco I have several really
great places to go get some.

So here's the problem. While I'm completely capable of handling a bowl in a way
that is satisfactory to me and never seems to draw derisory looks from the waitstaff
and other customers, a couple of times when eating with friends they've made little
comments. "That's an interesting way to do it." "Is that how your mom taught you."
With a vague air of snide that makes me stop and laugh off whatever I was about to

I think my friends have seen Tampopo which I understand has ramen lessons in
it but I don't know because I haven't seen it.

Rather than explain how I eat it and have you all laugh at me too, I'll just ask.
I'm sitting with a bowl filled with porky goodness, noodles, maybe an egg, and
some other floaty things. I've got a pair of chopsticks and and a big spoon-like
device. There's a little tray of salt and pepper shakers and sometimes a little
tub of kim chee. Where do I go from here?

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  1. Japanese women (or those who were taught correctly) eat ramen a bit more delicately than men. Not knowing your gender, i'll go with the angle your male.

    Chopsticks of course, help to "shovel" the noodles to your mouth..Same with the chashu, bean-sprouts, bamboo shoots and other veggies. The Egg..Now THAT's a tricky one..If your good with your chopsticks, you can pick it up and eat it in one bite. If your like me, tho...You have had that little bugger slip out, splashing back into scalding hot broth and causing 3rd degree burns (ouch!) Therefore, I now pick it up with the large spoon, and eat it in 2 bites.

    Slurping noodles is okay, I just personally use the spoon a bit more, and "drape" the noodles into it, then slurp away. A bit more feminine way to do it.

    As for additives, I normally put a bit of white pepper, and La-Yu oil for flavor.

    1. Gads! The chopsicks in the right hand (if you're right handed) are used to raise the noodles and solid bits to your mouth, which (your mouth) should not be centimeters from the bowl (albeit oft observed). The left hand holds the spoon (a tablespoon or Chinese soup spoon in American lingo, not a "spoon-like device"). The idea is to consume the soup with the spoon in a slow tango with the chopsicks eating of the solids.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

        Even if you're LEFThanded, in some circles you should still hold the chopsticks in your right hand. Especially if you're sharing the table with my grandmother...'cause if you tried to pick 'em up in your left hand, she'd bust your knuckles in a New York Minute!

        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

          Chopsicks- when you accidentally push them too far down your throat?

          Sorry, couldn't help myself. Spent the whole day at the Tucson gem show trying to communicate with a world of people- literally. I don't speak anything but a little Espanol, and there weren't many of those there among the sellers. A typo was too easy. Again, my apologies with a side of thanks

        2. The ramen lessons in Tampopo are so toungue in cheek you'd look like you had a tennis ball in your mouth. I've never once "caressed the pork to show appreciation," though there are some bowls which I've enjoyed enough to do so after-the-fact :). Here's what I do: like Sam, sticks in strong hand, spoon in off. Grab some a bite sized amount of noodles/bamboo/meat/whatever with your sticks and start chewing. 3/4 of the way through that bite, sip some soup. I tend to take big heaping bites of noodles, and smaller ones of whatever other ingredients there are. I slurp soup and noodles; this actually will help cool the food as you eat it, similar to blowing on it. A tip if you're worried about splashing while slurping your noodles is after you've got the first bit in your mouth, hold your sticks around the noodles just above the broth level. This keeps them moving upwards into your mouth instead of outwards to create a splash zone.

          I garnish with some garlic if I feel it's needed. Always try the soup before you throw condiments in.

          1 Reply
          1. re: MeAndroo

            The eating lessons in Tampopo are tongue-in-cheek...but there's truth to them. Specifically "eye the cha siu with affection" (i.e., you want to monitor the meat to noodle ratio to make sure you have meat at the end) and wanting to finish with a nice long sip of broth. An analogy is won ton/noodle soup...you never just eat all the won ton or noodles or spaghetti and meatballs.

            Any way, I agree with the shovel w/ chop sticks, follow with sips of broth with spoon and nibbles on goodies (cha siu, etc.) in between.

          2. Chuckles - THANK YOU for bringing up this topic! Ever since a really good ramen shop opened in our neighborhood, I've been wondering much the same thing. I even tried looking at threads here on CH about ramen, and googling other sites about ramen to see if there was anything about eating etiquette or instructions.

            I normally eat most of the solid items with the chopsticks, and broth (as well as that wily egg!) with the spoon. I see a lot of other diners at our local shop using both hands, but I find it really awkward to try to manipulate the spoon with my "off" hand (I'm a leftie, so I switch back and forth between using the chopsticks and the spoon, both left-handed.) Also, many diners load noodles into the spoon and eat them from that, which confuses me (I've tried it and I'm completely ham-handed at it (as noted above, I'm not good using spoon with my non-dominant hand), and I don't understand why one would eat noodles from the spoon when it's so much easier to manage them with chopsticks in the first place.)

            1. Chopsticks for all solids, including the egg. Use chopsticks to restrain wild noodles while sucking them in. If egg is too big the chopsticks can be used scissor like to cut it. I generally just stab one stick into the egg, stabilize with the second, and down in one bite.
              I follow the Korean style of slurping the noodles. When alone or informal pick up the bowl and down the soup. More formal use the spoon for the soup.
              If I tried the two handed method stuff would go everywhere.

              2 Replies
              1. re: hannaone

                I do this as well. but the spoon you and I use is the korean one and not the chinese one with the big bowl part. sometimes though I hold chopsticks and spoon in the same hand which is pretty rude (this is what I've heard). Or if I'm alone I will just pick up the bowl and drink the soup

                oh and kimchee you can eat by itself in between bites of soup, or you can put it in your soup. for example picking up noodles and kimchee with your chopsticks or you can even put some kimchee broth/sauce into your ramen - but I'm sure if you did that in front of japanese people they might be offended.

                1. re: bitsubeats

                  [...pretty rude (this is what I've heard)]
                  Yeah, in a formal setting or when dining with elders it is considered insulting to the elder.

              2. Some places give you little dishes on the side - I sometimes put small batches of noodles in a small dish and season in there, so my broth in the main bowl stays in tact. Don't forget that you also need your non-dominant hand to wipe your sweat off your forehead! Never been to Japan, but while in Hawaii, where there are more Japanese (natives and tourists), all japanese patrons were slurping and wiping their foreheads. When I do that here in NYC, other diners (usually non-Japanese) raise their brows. I like my ramen served really hot, so slurping is the way to eat!

                1 Reply
                1. re: welle

                  I definitely have to wipe my brow because my face is pretty much in the bowl! :)

                2. I'm from Osaka, Japan and I'd say that MeAndroo's reply is the closest to the "best" way to eat ramen. Ramen is meant to be eaten quickly, and by slurping the noodles and using the spoon to drink the soup, you get a good amount of noodles with the flavor of the soup in your mouth at the same time.
                  Ramen's an informal food, so there's no real etiquette to be observed while you eat it: that's why slurping is ok, even encouraged. Since you're going to be slurping, your head will end up close to the bowl while eating (a lot of people look like they're praying into the bowl), to meet the noodles.
                  If you're worried about getting splashback on your clothes, you can 1. pick the noodles out of the soup almost entirely, letting them dry for a bit, then 2. grab the tail end with the spoon and 3. slurp the top part of the noodle slowly and "drink" the noodles into your mouth.

                  I'm envious of your current ramen situation: I'm in Boston now and there's really no real good ramen around these parts...

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: asodat

                    Have you tried Ken's Ramen, in the Super 88 in Allston? I really enjoy their ramen, but I'd love your opinion.

                    1. re: Allstonian

                      Hey, sorry for the delay: I've been disconnected from the world for a while.
                      I've tried it: of the places in the Boston, I think they do the best job with the soup bases. I've had their special salt, soy, and miso and I recall them to be pretty good in relation to the other places in the area, but their noodles were ... limp (I'm sure there's a more technical term to describe noodle/pasta texture, firmness, etc). It just came off tasting heavier than I would've liked it to be.
                      I still drop by the place when I have that irresistable craving for noodles, but it definitely hasn't become a regular place for me to go.

                  2. This is really helpful. Thank you. It's answered at least one important question: the spoon is there as a helper and is not the only mechanism for lifting the soup. I've seen a number of people eat ramen by daintily using the chopstics to load the spoon and then only the spoon goes near the mouth (maybe this is the more delicate girl method Honeychan mentions? And yes, I'm a boy.)

                    I haven't tossed any kim chee (is that what it's called in this context?) in yet but
                    it's good to know that's an option if the notion ever strikes me.

                    One lingering issue is what to do when all the solid parts are gone and there's only
                    broth left. I see lots of people stopping at that point. Normally I'll use the spoon to
                    finish the rest (rather than picking up the bowl and guzzling it all down which is what
                    I really want to do ...). But I sometimes get the impression that once the meat and
                    noodles are gone, I'm supposed to be done. My concern is that drinking the soup
                    might be seen in the same light as, say, drinking the water a WeiƟwurst is served
                    in (http://www.washjeff.edu/CAPL/record_d...) ?

                    14 Replies
                    1. re: Chuckles the Clone

                      With the Korean ramen that I eat, the broth is the best part. Hot, spicy, liquid delight.

                      1. re: Chuckles the Clone

                        Pick up the bowl and drink the remaining soup.

                        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                          This is what I do. Proper ramen broth is too good to waste just because people frown upon it. I usually use the spoon until the broth level is pretty low, then pick up the bowl. Eat up!

                          I tend to leave udon broth. Then again, I tend to get udon with tempura on the side.

                        2. re: Chuckles the Clone

                          During my recent trip to Japan I've definitely noticed that Japanese generally leave almost all of the broth after eating -- they eat all the solids and sometimes men (apparently a faux-pas for women) order extra noodles, but barely touch the broth! I personally find the broth the best part and often end up having extra noodles and no more soup P____P

                          1. re: Chuckles the Clone

                            I drink some of the broth, but not all...it can be very salty, especially if you are eating instant ramen

                            but if it's particularly delicious and/or homemade I will drink the entire thing.

                            1. re: Chuckles the Clone

                              I love the broth, but sometimes it leaves you with this heavy and stuffed feeling. I read that Japanese practice a concept of never eating over 80% full, maybe that's the reason, ppl leave out the broth - just googled it up and they call it ''hara hachi bunme".

                              Menchanko-tei, a mini-chain here in NY, have these bowls that have art on the bottom of the bowls, that you only get to see if you finish the broth. I know it's silly and I know pretty much what I'm going to see, but I try to finish the broth and peek the bottom of my bowl every time.

                              1. re: welle

                                Haha, I just ate at Menchanko-tei for lunch today. I had the hiyashi chuka, mmmm. I couldn't finish the broth though, I never usually do - way too salty to just drink plain.

                                Is it actually a faux-pas for women to consume the whole bowl? Whoops.

                                1. re: janethepain

                                  "sometimes men (apparently a faux-pas for women) order extra noodles" - I read that as saying that it's a faux pas for women to order extra noodles.

                                  1. re: Allstonian

                                    yes this is what we were told by our Japanese friend at Ichiran Ramen place in Fukuoka (famous for ramen and the private booths that have separations from other diners and curtains from staff) -- he explained that apparently Ichiran privacy and ordering via filling out a preference card (how much garlic, spice, extra noodles, etc.) is due to this "faux-pas" factor for women. This guy is a joker sometimes so not sure how serious he was -- but I can see how this "gluttony" of extra noodles would be looked down in women in Japan.

                              2. re: Chuckles the Clone

                                Some places you risk your life, or at least your piece of mind, leaving anything but an empty bowl. Read about this joint- http://www.chowhound.com/topics/324870 .

                                1. re: Chuckles the Clone

                                  Here in Honolulu the broth is almost always refered to as "shiro", which I assume is a Japanese word. Is this unique to Hawaii, or is it more universally understood and or used? I know that many Japanese words used commonly here are quite archaic and not used anymore in Japan.

                                      1. re: KaimukiMan

                                        shiru= soup, shiro= white ... maybe if they're using white miso (but this might be a stretch)

                                2. I know we're talking ramen here, but do the same rules apply for pho?

                                  9 Replies
                                  1. re: rhnault

                                    I do the same thing with any Asian noodle soup where chopsticks are used. "Rules" just don't apply to some dishes.

                                    1. re: rhnault

                                      i've heard that for pho leaving the broth is the same situation. i assume it's due to the msg, but broth is good stuff. i'll usually drink most of the broth if it's really good even if it is frowned upon.

                                      i ate diakoyuka for the first time last week and the broth was so excellent i drank all of it. i think i sure pissed off the old japanese dude next to me...

                                      and about putting noodles into the spoon; i usually do this if say instead of slurp a bite the noodles and end up with small noodles, then it's easier to just put it in the spoon and stick it in your mouth. this happens alot when i used to eat the thick chinese rice noodles (fun).

                                      1. re: phant0omx

                                        But the whole point of pho is to get the broth that's been simmered for so long!

                                        I only put noodles into my spoon if they're too slimy to eat neatly with chopsticks (are you listening, udon?)

                                        Ramen, Chinese beef noodles, and pho I eat the same way -- spoon in left hand, chopsticks in right (I'm ambidextrous). You can bite off the noodles (NEATLY) and let them fall back into your own bowl. As for the meat in pho, I make a paste of lime juice and black pepper, then dip the meat in that, put it in the spoon, add broth, and slurp the whole thing in from the spoon.

                                        Watch Viet businessmen eating pho sometime -- not a drop goes on their suits but that big bowl of pho is sucked up in less than five minutes flat.

                                        1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                          I agree! It's all about the broth. Spoon in left, chopsticks in right, big bowl of awesome noodles/pho etc and broth. what more can you ask for...oh and don't forget the napkins to wipe the sweat.

                                          I must try the lime juice and black pepper paste. It sounds delicious.

                                          Now I want some pho...

                                          1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                            Isn't it considered bad luck to cut, tear or bite off a partial noodle?

                                              1. re: KTinNYC

                                                Hmm, these are a few references to my question. I had heard this from both a Japanese and a Chinese person some years ago. Probably nothing to it though, so break and cut your noodles. Me? I am going tghe safe route just in case. ;)


                                                1. re: DallasDude

                                                  Chinese people eat noodles on their birthday because it is symbolic of a long life, I keep to this tradition but biting off a noodle isn't an issue. If you eat enough noodles you'll notice that sometimes the noodles get tangled up in a mass and if you didn't bite them of you'll end up with all the noodles in the bowl in your mouth in the first slurp.

                                                  1. re: DallasDude

                                                    It's bad luck to cut them before they're served. Once the bowl is in front of you and you're eating it, you can bite them off like normal; they have served their superstitious purpose at that point. If you didn't bite them off, you'd end up deep-throating a four-foot-long noodle.

                                        2. Good tips from above, and the spoon is superfluous in all but the "haute"est of situations, but hasn't anyone ever used this tool when the ramen is served too hot?:


                                          Recommended for use in places that serve it scalding, but still expect quick table turnaround.

                                          3 Replies
                                          1. re: FoodFuser

                                            If the ramen broth is too hot and bordering on scalding, than the shop isn't worth wasting your time. This is a SilverJay sign of ramen doom.

                                            1. re: Silverjay

                                              Almost three years after the post, I'll add that I understand that in Japan ramen is served very hot and bordering on scalding. The slurping allows you to eat the ramen at the high temperatures.

                                          2. What horrifies me is when I see diners use a FORK/CHOPSTICKS to TWIRL their ramen in the air!