Japanese people can eat a bowl of noodles in just five minutes. That’s because they don’t chew. Real noodle connoisseurs know that the taste of the noodle is felt in the throat, not the tongue, so to appreciate the true flavor of noodles, you must swallow them whole. I wonder how the stomach feels about this.
Noodle-eating technique can be observed by walking into any udon shop in Japan. These shops typically possess an air of tenseness in which people are huddled down over their bowls busily sucking up noodles. People don’t talk much in udon shops. Eating noodles requires your full attention. In Kagawa Prefecture in Shikoku, people eat four times as much udon as people in other parts of Japan. “Sanuki udon,” as it is called, is sold in over 1,000 shops, and many times you can make it yourself at self-service udon restaurants. I recently spent some time in Kagawa observing noodle-eating techniques. I’ve recorded my observations here along with my own method for successful noodle eating, which I call the Hoover Method.
Suction. Pause and size up the noodles, giving them your full attention. When you’ve finally attained a Zen relationship with your noodles, you can begin the process of movement from point A — the bowl — to point B — your mouth.
Once you’ve got the noodles into your mouth, you’ve got to suck and suck hard. Think of your Hoover vacuum cleaner, the one with the canister, tube and detachable heads. If you take off the head and examine the tube, you can see the shape and diameter of the round opening. The Hoover company has done extensive research about the size and shape necessary for the best suction. Adopt these dimensions.
Warning: Beware of Noodle Chin. This is a chafed chin resulting from letting the noodles slide across your chin before they get to your mouth. The remedy is simple. Look at the bowl the whole time you eat. Cradle the udon bowl in one hand. Relax your shoulders until they slump. Huddle over the bowl until you are close enough to feel the hot steam on your face. Suck.
Velocity. Next, you’ll have to learn how to control the velocity with which noodles enter your mouth. This is tricky. They’ll keep slipping and sliding in, all the while gaining momentum. If they slide into your mouth too fast, broth will be flicking everywhere, including onto the people over at the next table. Choose a low suction setting.
A note about the business noodle. Remember this three-step method if you ever decide to have a business lunch at a noodle shop: 1. Order a bowl of noodles. 2. Hunker down and slurp. 3. Talk about business.
Noodle Length. Noodle length is hard to gauge. When the noodles are still at point A, size them up. Think: Can I really fit all that into my mouth? Remember, 80 percent of the noodle is still hiding in the bowl. As you start sucking, you’ll feel the noodles pile up on your tongue. If you haven’t gauged correctly you’ll know because you’ll suck until your mouth is full of noodles then look into the bowl and realize you have not yet reached the end of the noodle. You keep sucking, but the noodle keeps coming. You are practically choking, but the noodle keeps coming. Finally, the end of the last noodle lashes out at your chin before disappearing into your mouth. Now you’re in trouble because you have to chew all those noodles that seem to have expanded to twice their size while sitting inside your mouth. No wonder Japanese people just swallow them.