Last updated November 2019 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle
Why you Should Adopt the Slurp ‘n’ Suck Technique & Leave your Preconceived Table Manners at Home:
In many Western countries, table manners encourage restraint and self-control. Sadly, these rules often have the effect of suppressing all the pleasures of eating. In Asia, which is surely the ‘foodiest’ continent on Earth, things are very different. While at university in London, I went on a date with a student from Hong Kong. She took me to a Chinese restaurant: “When eating Chinese food”, she said, “you must let all your inhibitions go.” This, of course, made me retreat right back into my shell. But, when I moved to Vietnam after graduating, I began to understand what she was trying to teach me.
*Special thanks to my slurp model, Carl
6 REASONS TO SLURP YOUR NOODLES
One of the most important ‘table manners’ in Vietnam is slurping. The Vietnamese call it húp, but I prefer to call it húp hút – literally ‘slurp ‘n’ suck’ – which, when you think about it, is more accurate. Contrary to Western standards, there’s nothing rude, disgusting or inelegant about slurping. In fact, it’s joyful, respectful, and practical too. So the next time you sit down to enjoy a bowl of one of Vietnam’s famous noodle soups, remember these 6 Reasons to Slurp ‘n’ Suck:
4. LOOSE JUICE
6. NOSE DIVE!
1. WHEN IN ROME….
In the same way that you wouldn’t ask for a knife and fork when everyone else is using chopsticks, slurping is part of the process of cultural assimilation. It’s a way of getting involved, diving in, going native, trying new things. This is what travelling abroad or living in another culture is supposed to be all about: new experiences. When in Vietnam, do as the Vietnamese do: slurp ‘n’ suck those noodles.
2. CAUTION: HOT CONTENTS!
Like most things that foreigners find strange about Vietnam, there are practical reasons behind slurping. Noodles and the broth they’re served in are hot, and food tastes better when it’s hot. The problem is that you don’t want to scorch your tongue. In Western countries, you might blow on your forkful of food or wait for your meal to cool down. But this doesn’t work in Vietnam: anyone who sits in front of a bowl of noodles for more than a minute without eating them, will be ordered by the proprietor to ‘ăn nóng cho ngon đi!‘ – eat it while it’s hot, yo! Slurping is the most efficient way to do this. The quick intake of air serves the function of cooling the noodles on their way from bowl to mouth, rather than stopping and blowing on them. This means you can eat hot food more quickly so that the noodles, and everything else in the bowl, will stay nice and crisp, rather than getting all soft and soggy while you wait for it all to cool down.
Vietnamese people love food. When it’s time to eat, it’s all about the meal and the moment: nothing else matters, nothing else exists. I call this ‘Total Dining’ – complete absorption in food and drink. You see it everyday in Vietnam; people abandoning themselves to the joys of eating. Slurping is a big part of this. It’s playtime, it’s pleasure time: who cares about the splashes of broth on your white shirt, the sounds you’re making, the mess you’re making. It’s about relishing the food. Quite simply, to slurp noodles is to enjoy noodles. There’s a time and a place for Apollonian reason and restraint, but it ain’t mealtime, not in Vietnam: mealtime belongs to Dionysus.
4. LOOSE JUICE
A good noodle soup is all about the juice. Vietnamese broths are among the best in world: magic potions full of mysterious ingredients; cauldrons of nectar in which strange and delicious alchemical processes take place. Noodles are essentially a vehicle for broth; they’re naked without juice. The problem is that noodles are slippery and smooth: if you don’t use the correct technique, all the juice will trickle off the noodles on their journey from bowl to mouth. Don’t loose that juice! Get your head close to the bowl and suck ‘n’ slurp on those noodles as much as you can.
The intake of air (through the slurp ‘n’ suck technique) exposes the noodles and broth to oxygen. This has the effect of bringing out more flavours through the process of aeration. It all sounds very scientific, but people who are supposed to know about these things (chefs, scientists…..food bloggers), tend to agree that the process leads to a fuller, richer, smoother taste. Wine tasters follow a similar practice: allowing air into their glass, mouth and nasal passages in order to get a full spectrum and spread of flavours. Interestingly, the same argument could be made for the benefits of eating with your mouth open (there goes another established Western ‘table manner’).
6. NOSE DIVE!
When you slurp ‘n’ suck you need to get your head close to your bowl. So close, in fact, that your nose is practically in the broth. An estimated 60-80% of taste is actually smell, so the closer your nose is to the bowl of noodle soup, the better it will taste. Sounds like dodgy science? Well, it’s easy enough to test this hypothesis by conducting your own experiment: I’ve been doing so once a day for the last 10 years in Vietnam and it works for me!