Translated by Sandy Lau
A Ramen Enthusiast Recommends: Manners And Ordering At A Ramen Shop
This articles will teach you how to order the world-famous Japanese ramen and things to note while in line at popular shops. We’ll also explain how to decipher the menu even when the employees don’t speak English.
Written by 神谷和紀
How to Order at a Ramen Shop
The process of ordering at ramen shops in Japan is largely split into two categories – ordering by purchasing a ticket at a ticket machine or looking at a menu and verbally placing your order. We’ll go into an explanation on each method of ordering.
1. Purchasing a Ticket at a Ticket Machine
There are several ticket machines like these installed at city ramen shops like those in Tokyo. It’s very easy to use; all you have to do is insert your money and push the button of the dish you’d like to eat.
However, it is common for these machines not to accept large bills like the 5000 yen or 10,000 yen bill; when that happens, ask to exchange money and an employee will assist you. The types of useable bills are often printed near the bill slot, so please be sure to check it beforehand.
2. Looking at a Menu and Ordering Verbally
There are still many restaurants, such as shops that have a fair amount of history and ramen shops in areas far from the cities of Tokyo or Osaka, where you do not order by ticket machine, but instead order verbally.
There are many menus that are vertically written (and sometimes horizontally written) like the one pictured above at these ramen shops. It’s simple to order; all you have to do make your selection and inform the employee. While payment is often made after your meal, there are sometimes also shops where payment is made in advance.
3. Only in Japanese! How to Decipher Recommended Menu Items
Unfortunately, there will also be times when ticket machines and menus are only written in Japanese. Or the employees do not understand English and it’s so busy that it’s difficult to flag down an employee.
Although this may not be a 100% success rate, when that happens, there is actually a way to decipher what are the recommended dishes at a shop.
First, in the case of a ticket machine, the recommended dishes and standard menus are often situated at the top left of the machine.
It’s natural for a person to look at things from top to bottom when considering the height of a person’s eye level. The human gaze also has a tendency to naturally move from top left to bottom right, making it possible to say that the top left area will draw a person’s attention even on ticket machines.
* See the area marked in blue in the above photo
On a vertically written menu, the recommended dishes and standard menus are often placed on the rightmost side of the menu. It is due to the fact that when reading vertically written Japanese, you begin by reading from right to left.
In the case of a horizontally written menu, your eyes will naturally move to the top of the menu, so most recommended dishes and standard menus have been placed on the top section of the menu.
* See the area marked in blue in the above photo
To sum it up, if you’re confused about ordering at a ramen shop, it’s best to remember that the probability of making a wrong guess is low when ordering dishes from the areas indicated below.
Ticket machine: top left
Vertically written menu: righthand side
Horizontally written menu: top
Ramen Etiquette and How to Eat It
Now, we’ll give an explanation on the trick to enjoying ramen as well as etiquette to follow inside restaurants. If you remember this, then you won’t be the cause of unnecessary stress to neither other customers or the shop and can enjoy your ramen.
1. Take Your Photos Quickly
You’ll find that many people have lately begun taking photos in restaurants, which also includes ramen shops. It is not a problem unless it has been stated that photography is prohibited but remember that it is unnecessary to take photos and that the main event is to enjoy eating your ramen.
The noodles will become soggy and the soup will grow cold if you ignore your ramen, so the one trick to enjoying your ramen is to finish taking your photos quickly.
Please restrict photo-taking to your own ramen and the exterior of the shop. Taking photos of the inside of the shop, including its kitchen, is prohibited at many ramen shops, so please ask an employee whether or not it is possible first if you’d like to take a photo.
2. Slurp While You Eat
It is custom in Japan to slurp while eating noodles such as ramen, soba (buckwheat noodles), and udon. It is said that when you slurp while eating, the flavors of the noodles and soup will meld even more together, and it will become easier to pick out the fragrance of the ramen.
However, we also often hear people say, “I want to try slurping while eating my ramen, but I can’t slurp that well.” The trick is to slurp vigorously by also sucking in the air together with the noodles. When eating ramen, please don’t be reserved while slurping and instead try making hearty slurps while eating.
3. Give Your Seat to the Next Customer After Eating
After you have finished eating your ramen, be sure to give your seat as quickly as possible to the next waiting customer. Eating speeds will differ from person to person, but it is frowned upon to be leisurely chatting when you’ve already finished eating.
It’s best to change locations to a place such as a café if you’d like to take your time talking with your companion.
Lines often form at popular ramen shops and, unfortunately, problems have often occurred due to these lines. However, most of these problems can be resolved if we, as customers, become aware of them.
We’ll explain specifically what kind of problems occur and how you should prevent them.
1. Line Up Once Everyone Has Gathered
When visiting ramen shops with several people, sometimes someone will wait in line beforehand and the remaining party meet up with them afterwards.
When you think about it from the perspective of the people waiting in line, you won’t feel great from being cut in front of in line when there is only a bit more to go before you can enter. It also means that that person will be made to wait even longer in line.
Problems have frequently occurred between customers because of this, especially at ramen shops in cities like Tokyo. This has resulted in an influx of notices posted outside indicating that you must line up with your entire party.
Let’s make sure to line up only after your entire party has gathered so everyone can have a pleasant ramen eating experience.
2. No Smoking or Drinking While in Line
People smoking in line is a relatively common problem. Many people don’t like the smoke or smell of cigarettes and it’s also extremely hazardous if the light from the cigarette were to fall on other customers.
There are many ramen shops where “No Smoking!” is posted at the front of the shop. However, be sure not to smoke even when it’s not explicitly stated anywhere.
There are also sometimes those that drink alcohol while in line. It’s common for people’s voices to become loud and noisy when consuming alcohol and you will not only inconvenience others in line, but also the residents of the neighborhood. We hope that you stand in the other person’s shoes and keep in mind to be considerate of others.
3. Properly Line Up in a Straight Line
When a line becomes long, it is prone to become disorderly. It’s great to line up in a straight line along the edge of the road, but a line immediately becomes disorderly when groups of people line up side by side.
In particular, there are many Tokyo ramen shops that look out onto narrow streets as well as shops on the corners of condominiums, resulting in complaints being received from pedestrians and condominium residents. Due to these complaints, many ramen shops have either relocated or closed down. Be sure to keep in mind to line up in as straight a line as possible.
Aside from the etiquette mentioned above, let’s make sure to not inconvenience the shop or other customers by doing things such as properly parking in the established area at shops with parking lots.
Enjoy Your Ramen Adventure!
We took a look at what you should take note of, how to eat, and how to order when eating ramen in Japan that you should know beforehand. Please feel free to use this article as a reference when eating ramen in Japan.