What not to do when eating noodles
To slurp or not to slurp? When it comes to dining on a bowl of noodle soup across Asia, that is not the only question.
- May 2018
From condiment qualms to chopstick tactics, noodle soup etiquette in Asia can be confusing for the uninitiated. Here’s the full low-down to help you look and act like a local, from Singapore to Tokyo.
The big slurp
Slurping your noodles loudly is considered a compliment to the chef throughout Japan and China – a sign of deep appreciation for your one-bowl meal. In South Korea and Singapore, however, not so much. There, you might get unappreciative glances – the kind you get when you talk too loudly in a quiet train carriage. As far as Koreans and Singaporeans are concerned, slurping loudly is utterly uncouth.
Just because an eatery provides condiments – like Sriracha and hoisin sauce for Vietnamese pho or sesame oil and pepper flakes for Japanese ramen — doesn’t mean you should pile them into your bowl as soon as it arrives. Sip a few spoonfuls before deciding how much you want to add; think of it as nosing your wine before drinking it. If nothing else, it signals to the chef you’ve sampled the original flavours of their hard work. Then add the condiments a little at a time. Too much and you risk masking all the lovely flavours of a well-crafted dish.
Let’s twist again
It’s not considered rude to twirl your noodles around your chopsticks, but the act does imply that you’re a long way from mastering them.
In Thailand, chopsticks are only used for noodle dishes. Everything else is eaten using forks and spoons. In Singapore, India and Malaysia, noodles are nearly always served and eaten with forks and spoons.
Be bowled over
If your bowl of noodles doesn’t come with a spoon, feel free to drink the soup by lifting the bowl to your mouth.
In Japan, larger bowls should remain set on the table while you eat. When served noodle dishes in smaller bowls, it is polite to pick up the bowl with one hand and lead it close to your mouth when eating from it.
In Korea, however, it is never polite to lift your bowl off the table. Bowls always remain on the table while eating.
In China, never tap your bowl with your chopsticks. That’s how beggars ask for food.
Know your noodle
In South East Asia, yellow noodles aren’t always made from egg. The thick, bright yellow noodles served in places like Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia are often made with an alkaline agent (think baking soda), which results in a chewier creation with a distinct hue.
Throughout Asia, “ramen” refers to the Japanese wheat-noodle dish. What the US calls “ramen” is known as instant noodles around South East Asia.
Though some South East Asian noodle dishes are similarly named, they vary greatly from country to country. Penang laksa and Singapore laksa , for example, are completely different. The latter typically features a curried broth flavoured with coconut milk, dried chillies and dried shrimp, while the former is a sweet and sour affair. Despite their regional differences, thick rice noodles are found in both dishes.