Japan is famous for its vast range of noodle dishes. Ramen, Soba, Udon, Yakisoba are at the top of the list. During your time in Japan, you will find a countless number of noodle restaurants (chain-store and privately owned). Some will have different tastes depending on the area, and some may even have completely different ingredients. Today in this post, I will introduce a ramen store that you ‘MUST’ visit at least once in Japan, the ‘Ichiran’ ramen restaurant! One of the best ramen and most popular with foreigners in Japan for its taste and ‘slightly different’ restaurant service style.
The Infamous ‘Ichiran Tonkotsu’ Hakata Ramen
Ichiran ramen was created in Hakata (Fukuoka Prefecture) which is famous for ‘Tonkotsu’ or pork-based broth in ramen dishes. Ichiran apparently is one of the Tonkotsu pioneers with their classic recipe dating back to the 1960’s.
The dish consists of thin and firm noodles (Hakata Style) with creamy pork-based ‘Tonkotsu soup’. On top, you get a handful of green onion, pork slices and Ichiran’s original red-pepper sauce (contains 30 different types of spices).
Simple and delicious.
Also, on a side-note. Ichiran self-produces the oil used at their restaurants (100% natural) and is apparently the first ramen company to offer ‘Trans Fat Free’ tonkotsu ramen.
When you first visit an Ichiran restaurant you will notice a very different atmosphere compared to your local neighborhood ramen restaurant. It’s not the typical counter with visible kitchen style ramen shop. Instead, you will find closed booths, a seating chart and an order sheet that you fill out for your order.
The reason behind this ‘unique’ style is that the Ichiran company wants their customers to enjoy their ramen experience to the fullest. They wanted to create a system where customers have as little disruptions by staff and other people as possible and enjoy the entirety of an Ichiran ramen. In their words ‘concentrate on the flavor’.
Another concept which is unique to Ichiran is that there is only one ramen available, the tonkotsu. But you can customize it in nearly every way you want!
How to Order at an Ichiran Ramen Restaurant
As stated above, the Ichiran ramen service includes closed booths and order sheets, and little interaction with staff. Therefore, it may sound complicated to make an order. But don’t worry, here is a step by step guide to help you get from the door to your hot bowl of delicious ramen.
Step 1: Buying Your Ichiran Ramen Ticket
At the entrance, you will be greeted by a ticket vending machine. There is only one type of ramen you can buy so there is no need to be indecisive. But here you can buy a ramen refill (kaedama) or any extra add-on toppings such as more green onions or garlic. You can also get side-dishes such as rice or a sliced pork platter. (Remember money first then push the button!)
Step 2: Finding Your seat
At larger Ichiran restaurants you will find an electric seating chart that shows vacant booths. This is just a way to show you how long you might have to wait. In the end, the staff will usher you to your numbered booth. If you come with friends, then the booth walls can be unlocked so you can actually talk to them next to you.
Step 3: Customizing Your Ichiran Ramen
When at your seat you will fill out a preference sheet that allows you to customize nearly everything in your ramen. Flavor strength, oiliness, strength of red-pepper sauce, noodle texture and amount of the accompanying ingredients.
Note: Sometimes if there is a big queue, staff will ask you to fill this sheet out while in line to save time.
Step 4: Ordering Your Ramen
When you are ready, pass your ramen ticket (and any extra tickets) with your preference sheet to the staff through the window of your booth. If you ordered something extra, the staff will give you a mini metal tray (more on this later). While you wait there is a water dispenser tap to pour yourself a drink.
Step 5: Receiving your Ichiran Ramen
When your ramen arrives, the staff will close the window of your booth and you are ready to go. A friendly warning, the red-pepper sauce can be a tad spicy so mix your ramen well. You don’t want to get a chunk of that in one mouthful.
Step 6: Getting Add-on Extra
For those who ordered something extra, it’s time to use that mini metal tray. When you are ready, there is a button at the edge of your table. One function is a staff call button but the other is a sensor. If you put your mini metal tray on top of the sensor a funky tune is played and staff will come to your booth and exchange the tray for your extra order.
This handy gadget was implemented to once again minimize interaction with staff but also to make it easier for people, especially females to make their refill or extra order. They don’t have to worry about people listening in to their orders and thinking ‘wow that guy/girl is pigging out’.
If you didn’t get any refill or extra food and you are still hungry after your ramen, don’t worry because there is an order form on the paper cover of your chopsticks, of all places. Circle off what you want and push the call button. You pay for this at your booth through the window. (The paper cover is only in Japanese, for English there is another sheet.)
Step 7: Getting Your Refill
If you ordered a kaedama (Noodle refill) you will get it in a bowl. If you ordered a refill first off at the ticket machine, or if you think you might, then remember to leave enough soup for it! There are no soup refills so if you drink too much of your soup you will end up with rather dry noodles.
Step 8: Finished and Full
Just for fun, when you are done have a look at the bottom of your ramen bowl. There is a special message in Japanese at the bottom. This message is personalized for that particular restaurant, so if you are lucky enough to go to an Ichiran ramen restaurant in different areas, check it out.
One of the best ramen I personally have had in Japan. The taste was, of course, delicious, but the overall ramen experience itself is something that everyone needs to enjoy at least once during their time in Japan. If you enjoyed the taste then you can also buy souvenir packs of the ramen or of the red-pepper sauce for you take home!