Slurping in Good Taste

Yesterday while waiting for my car to get its oil changed, I read a neat article on ramen by Kevin Pang in the Chicago Tribune. One of the points that he made was on the function of slurping. He writes, “Slurping accomplishes two duties: It cools the noodle, and the extra intake of oxygen supposedly amplifies flavor, the same way it would with wine.”

I never thought of it that way, but it made sense to me. Wine connoisseurs would breathe in the aroma of the wine before drinking, and perhaps even use a wine aerator or a decanter before pouring it into a glass so the wine could get more oxygen. And then it got me thinking about oxygen’s role in improving the taste of food. For instance, doesn’t it seem that food tastes better when you’re eating outside in the fresh air—especially while camping, picnicking, or even grilling?

It also made me realize that people who chew with their mouths open are at an advantage. They’re getting able to get more oxygen in while chewing, thereby enhancing their dining experience, right? However, it’s not a pleasant picture for the person sitting across from him/her who might have the misfortune of looking at the masticated bolus during midchew. Even worse would be if s/he were a vigorous open-mouth chewer who’d shoot off food particles like little asteroids.

I suppose a discreet way of chewing with your mouth semi-open would be to take smaller bites in quick succession while inhaling quietly through your mouth, lips rounded slightly as if you were going to whistle. Or perhaps trying to chew carefully while talking with your dining companion? Hmmm—both methods seem potential choking hazards. Even slurping is a potential choking hazard. But a what a way to die in the midst of relishing good food!

One of my favorite lines from Pang’s article was when he quoted a bad Brittany Murphy movie, The Ramen Girl, in which the ramen chef says, “A bowl of ramen is a self-contained universe with life from the sea, the mountain and the earth, all existing in perfect harmony. What holds it all together is the broth. The broth gives life to the ramen.” And then it got me to thinking of one of my all-time favorite food movies, Tampopo, in which the main characters are striving to create the ultimate broth and noodle combination in order to bring new life into a run-down noodle shack. Tampopo also has tangential scenes which show the relationship of food in the cycle of life, love/sex/death, and people’s relationship to one another. (I highly recommend it—if you haven’t seen it already.)

One of my favorite side scenes has a group of well-bred young ladies attending a dining etiquette class. The instructor is trying to teach them how to properly twirl spaghetti with fork and spoon and chew discreetly (mouths closed). Most of the women are fumbling and trying to do their best to get the pasta onto their forks. Meanwhile, the troublemaker in the class decides that she’s hungry and has had enough of all this posturing and whatnot, and starts slurping and eating away with gusto. The room erupts in chaos as all the other girls decide to do the same—even the prim and proper instructor, who we see at the end wipe her mouth with the back of her hand and sigh with contentment.

I cannot tell you how many times I think of that scene while eating at a fancy restaurant. Although I try to do my part to eat with good manners, I find myself wondering wouldn’t it be fun to be the “troublemaker” and enjoy the food without reserve—slurp the soup, inhale the food mouth to plate, and even lick the plate? Let us give that hawk-eyed, stuffy-looking old lady who’s watching us something to remember. Even better would be to have the whole restaurant say, Good manners be damned—I’m going to enjoy my food however I feel like it because I’m paying a lot of money for it. Let chaos ensue and people enjoy food as it’s meant to be enjoyed!

But alas, there is a time and place where slurping is acceptable (and encouraged). Guess I should swing by Mitsuwa’s Santouka for some ramen.

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