Do you know why the Japanese make slurp sounds when eating noodles? It is because the slurp makes noodles more tasty for them.
Before going into the details, let's see what type of noodles are commonly available.
You can easily find many restaurants serving Soba, Udon and Ramen around any train station in Japan. The noodles are also served at Yatai, street stalls, attracting drunken business men on their way home. They are mandatory on the menu in outdoor food festivals as well.
Especially both the Soba and Udon have been thought to be the best meals to quickly get full and hot in winter since hundreds of years ago.
The Soba is a long thin brownish noodle made from buckwheat flour and the Udon is a noodle made of kneaded wheat. The Udon is thicker than the Soba and whitish in color.
Ramen is a kind of Japanese-Chinese dish consisting of Chinese noodles served in a hot chicken broth made with soy source, miso (fermented soybean paste) or salt. Ramen is served with Menma (Chinese bamboo garnish), Naruto (steamed fish-paste cake) and Chasu (roast pork).
They have continuously been developing with unique cooking methods by regions and shops. For example in Ramen: Tonkotsu in Hakata, Black in Toyama and Dosanko in Hokkaido.
Names are given by topping and cooking methods
The names of the noodles are determined by the kind of topping and the method of cooking. Let's look at the topping for the Soba and Udon as it is fairly easy to remember.
Tenpura Soba or Udon is topped with tenpura as shown. It is the most popular in the noodles. The tenpura basically means a fried shrimp in case of noodles.
But don't be surprised to notice that the shrimp inside the tenpura is not big, compared with the batter!
Kitsune (or fox) Soba or Udon is topped with the aburaage (deep-fried sliced tofu).
The aburaage is simmered by the sweet soy sauce and put on the noodles.
Don’t worry, the Japanese don’t eat foxes which used to be believed to love deep-fried sliced tofu so much.
If you have a chance to visit the Fushimi Inari shrine in Kyoto, which is the most popular Japanese shrine for overseas travelers, you will find a fox holding something in his mouth. It is the inari-zushi (sushi rice wrapped by aburaage).
Tanuki (or raccoon dog) Soba or Udon is topped with the tenkasu (bits of fried tempura batter).
The Japanese don’t eat raccoon dogs, either!
The name of Tanuki come from "tane-nuki" (no core material).
It means tempura without the shrimp, just bits of fried tempura batter.
It's very confusing, though. The soba topped with the aburaage is called the Tanuki Soba in Osaka.
Tsukimi (or moon watching) Soba or Udon is served with a raw or half-cooked egg.
The egg represents a full moon in the bowl. So, it looks like you are watching the moon in front of the bowl.
The Japanese love to eat raw eggs on noodles and even rice, which is considered perfectly safe.
In Japan, the expiration date for consumption is printed on each eggshell or at least on the package container. In addition, eggs are kept under the cool conditions both in shops and at home.
Cold Soba and Udon served in summer
While hot soba and udon are served in soup throughout all seasons, you can choose the cold version served on the zaru (bamboo mesh) in summer. They are called "Zaru Soba or Udon" and quite delicious!
You can eat the noodle after dipping it in the tsuyu (soba or udon-source). This style is very popular for Japanese business men, because it allows them to quickly finish the lunch and come back to work.
At least it fits on Japanese business style.
The cold soba has a few unique features: Wasabi and Sobayu
Wasabi (horseradish) is put into the soba-tsuyu.
Sobayu is the hot water from the boiled soba. It is served together with the cold soba. After the soba is eaten, the sobayu is added to the left-over sauce dip and you can drink it. If you want, you can ask another serving of the sobayu free.
It is believed that the Sobayu makes the condition of your stomach good.
Let's get back to the original topic, the slurping sounds. In Japan, it is accepted to make slurping sounds in any places when eating noodles. Japanese people believe that slurping will stimulate their appetite and enhance the taste of the noodles. This believe has made it customary for the Japanese to slurp noodles.
Those who were born and grew up in Tokyo are called "Edokko". They especially love to make the slurping sounds as they believe it a cool manner to eat noodles. They even don’t bite.
During your stay in Japan, please practice to make good slurping sounds. It would unexpectedly be difficult for foreign people. If you can do, the surrounding people at Soba shop will certainly feel that you are quite satisfied with the taste of the noodles. Of course, you will look cool especially in Tokyo!