The Best Way To Compliment The Chef While Eating In Japan Is Seen As 'Rude' In The US

Japan is a culinary paradise, from its famous conveyor belt sushi chains to the Michelin-starred restaurants of Tokyo. Along with the country's top-notch food are several mealtime customs and table manners tourists should learn before their trip. Surprisingly, that includes mastering the art of slurping.

Slurping might be considered rude in the U.S., but it's the norm in Japan. In fact, it's not only normal but encouraged when eating noodles like ramen and udon. Slurping shows the chef that you're enjoying the food and eager to down a big mouthful. On the other hand, taking small, hesitant bites could be viewed as a lack of enthusiasm for the meal.

If you're new to slurping, start by tasting the broth (if your noodles were served up soup-style) from your spoon. Then, grab some noodles in your chopsticks, letting the bottom rest in your spoon. Use a bit of suction to slurp up the noodles while simultaneously inhaling some air. Avoid biting off the noodles when slurping if possible, as this can be considered rude by some locals. If you do have to bite off a long piece, try to catch it with your spoon or chopsticks to avoid splashing your dining neighbor.

Is it rude not to slurp?

While slurping noodles is customary in Japan (visit any ramen restaurant, and you'll quickly realize that the sound of slurping is the typical soundtrack), you don't have to slurp if you don't want to. There's also no need to force yourself to slurp if you struggle with the technique or find it uncomfortable. While it's true that slurping is one way to demonstrate you're enjoying your food, most chefs likely won't notice if you're audibly slurping or not. Similarly, they probably won't be offended if you eat your noodles quietly.

If you want to compliment the chef — whether you prefer to slurp or not — the best way is to use a few basic Japanese phrases. When you're served your meal, say "itadakimasu" as a way of expressing your appreciation (to really fit in with the locals, put your hands together in a prayer gesture while saying the phrase). If you want to tell the chef your food is delicious, try saying, "oishii desu." And once you've finished your meal, be sure say to the chef "gochisousama deshita," which roughly translates to "thank you for the meal."

Practical reasons to slurp noodles in Japan

If you ask a Japanese person why they slurp their noodles, their initial response might not have anything to do with complimenting the chef at all. Rather, there are some practical reasons why slurping is so common in the East Asian country, including the temperature of the food. Ramen and other brothy noodles are often served piping hot in Japan, yet they're best consumed quickly. After all, no one wants to eat a bowl of soggy, cold noodles. Couple this with the fact that ramen shops tend to have limited seating (and it's considered impolite to take up space at the counter too long), and it's easy to see why people might want to rush through their meal. However, quickly scooping up noodles and chewing them the regular way could burn your mouth. By slurping, you cool your food with each bite you take.

Slurping can also make ramen and other dishes taste better. A 2017 study published in the International Journal of Gastronomy and Food Science found that research participants rated soups as having more flavor when slurped rather than sipped. If you really want to taste your noodles — whether they were served fresh at a restaurant or bought from Japan's iconic 7-Elevens — try slurping them up to take in all the delicious umami flavor.