“Put down your plate,” my Aunt Lorrie whispers through laughter. She had taken me—and me alone, not my brother and my sister—to IHOP. I forget why I was singled out, but I felt special.
This was during the early years of my decade-long pancake obsession (from about age 6-16) and after the last of the pancake was in me, I slanted the plate toward my face and started to lick the remaining syrup.
This was clearly not appropriate in a Southern Jersey restaurant. Okay, no jokes. In any US restaurant. We just don’t show that sort of oneness with our food.
It’s probably from our stuffy British ancestors. But in America we have certain stoic standards of eating. Plates and bowls are kept on the table. No noises should utter from our mouths, except maybe a soft mmmm.
Being a dramatic type, I will show my appreciation through an extended closing of the eyes so that I may tune out the rest of the table to fully concentrate on the bite within me. I may utter a slightly-louder-than-normal mmmm. But that’s all. That’s all we do to communicate deliciousness. Well, and tip. But that’s another story.
Meanwhile, in Japan they’ve realized eating is a full-body sport. Chopsticks become an extension of the hand in a way that sharp metal objects cannot. It is fully expected that when eating one will bring a bowl of rice or noodles up to her face. Shoveling in rice. Slurping up noodle soup.
80 and I never fully let it all out, noise-wise. We’ve become so accustomed to keeping our mouths closed that it feels like faking it when we slurp outloud. But for our last meal in Japan, at Tatsu restaurant in the airport, I ordered one more udon soup. And in our silent mourning of leaving the country, I heard myself. I slurped. Not loudly. But I let my mouth relax. Did what came natural when sucking in doughy strands. And it made a bit of noise. Then I happily lifted the bowl and gulped the remainder of the fishy broth. I think Aunt Lorrie would have understood.
Pictured: Egg and udon soup in Osaka, Japan