In terms of ramen etiquette, the ramen world is relatively laid-back. But if you do these 7 things, you'll convey a deeper understanding of Japan and its wonderful ramen culture.
Furthermore, you'll better enjoy your ramen and properly blend in like a local!
1. Start with the Soup
This is more a recommendation than a requirement. Many Japan ramen shops dedicate a crazy amount of time to making the soup. Therefore, it's best to enjoy the soup by itself first (before the noodles). They'll give you a renge (deeper soup spoon) for that initial sip.
In addition, you're welcome to drink straight from the bowl, cupping it with both hands. This allows more fantastic aromas to enter your nose. But do be careful - ramen soup is piping hot in Japan. This is why many opt to use the spoon / renge first.
2. Slurps Up!
You don't have to slurp your ramen. But don't be alarmed when you hear people slurping at ramen shops in Japan. Mainly, there are 3 reasons why Japanese slurp.
Firstly, slurping helps cool your ramen down. Secondly, you're showing appreciation to the chef. Lastly and perhaps most importantly, you're taking in more air through your nose. Just like drinking straight from the bowl, this amplifies the flavors.
Again, you don't have to slurp. But feel free to give it a try!
3. Don't Stay Long
This is particularly true in Tokyo and other big city ramen shops in Japan. There's an unspoken rule - you eat your ramen, and then you leave right after. Ramen is a relatively cheap meal in Japan - even at the more sophisticated ramen shops.
One reason shop owners can keep ramen prices so low is the fast customer turnover. In other words, Japanese ramen customers are pretty much in and out (without lingering).
In the same regard, ramen is best enjoyed right after it arrives (before the noodles get soggy)! So after that first sip of soup, don't wait too long to dive in.
4. Chopsticks Related
There are a few rules regarding chopsticks. 1. Don't pass food from one set of chopsticks to another. e.g. If you're passing food to someone, use your chopsticks to place it in their bowl (not passing it directly to their chopsticks).
2. When you're taking a break or done, it's most polite to place your chopsticks on top of the bowl (not in the bowl). This is an extension of NOT sticking your chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice. This takes place at Japanese funerals and is a no-no in restaurants.
5. When Done, Place Bowl on Counter
Some small ramen shops in Japan are staffed by only one or two people. This means they do a lot - from the cooking to the cleaning. This is a way to help them out.
With counter seating, there's often a ledge above you. This is often from where the chef hands you ramen. When you're done, you can simply place your bowl back on the ledge.
But check what other people are doing around you. Some ledges might be too narrow to support a bowl. Or there might be staff that come around to clean up from behind you.
6. Don't Go Overboard with Condiments
There are certain ramen styles where using tabletop condiments are encouraged. But outside of this, do try to enjoy the ramen in the beginning without condiments.
After you've finished half of the ramen or so, feel free to add those flavor changers. Waiting to add condiments makes you appreciate and enjoy the ramen as the chef envisioned it.
7. A Special Good Bye / Thank you
When you're exiting a ramen restaurant (or any restaurant in Japan), say Gochisousama deshita to the staff. It basically means "thank you for the meal".
All Japanese utter it - how about giving it a go? It's the most authentic way to show thanks after a meal. Besides, it will likely put a smile on someone's face!
Again, ramen isn't exactly full of strict rules. But follow these ramen etiquette points and you're guaranteed to have a smoother and tastier ramen experience in Japan!