The Ultimate Guide To Ichiran Ramen: A Delicious and Unique Dining Experience
Ramen. It is such an important part of Japanese cuisine that you cannot visit Japan and not try it. There are many reasons as to why ramen is so popular: not only can it be eaten cheaply and quickly, but it is also delicious and filling. Since there are so many great ramen restaurants out there, which ramen restaurant should you visit? How about Ichiran Ramen, which has distinguished itself from its competitors with its savory ramen and novel serving style? It is so famous that it even has overseas branches in some parts of the world! This article will explore what makes Ichiran so unique and a visit worth your while.
Jul 03 2020 (Sep 30 2020)
History Of Ichiran Ramen
Ichiran Ramen is famous for its rich tonkotsu (pork-based broth) Hakata-style ramen, which is the signature style in Fukuoka. From its humble beginnings as a ramen stall called "Futaba Ramen" in Hakata in 1960, it later adopted the name “Ichiran” in 1966. Subsequently, in 1993, Ichiran Ramen launched a store in Nanokawa in Fukuoka City, which showcased a solo dining concept in the form of partitioned seats. This feature boosted Ichiran Ramen's popularity and facilitated the opening of its second store in Odo in Fukuoka City.
Ichiran Ramen's second store performed well too. Seizing the chance, Ichiran Ramen opened seven more branches in Fukuoka before setting up its first branch outside Fukuoka in 2001 - in swanky Roppongi, no less.
The name soon caught on with foodies from all over Japan as Ichiran Ramen steadily expanded all over the country, stamping its dominance from Hokkaido to Okinawa. By February 2020, it had stores in more than 80 locations in Japan. It also spread its market presence abroad, with overseas branches in Hong Kong, New York, and Taiwan.
Determined to get their hands on a bowl of Ichiran Ramen, people often do not mind queuing for up to an hour (depending on the time) if they have to do so, especially at its popular branches in Shibuya, Tokyo as well as in Dotonbori, Osaka. It may be wise to do your research and visit these branches during off-peak hours!
What Makes Ichiran Ramen So Unique
Once you step inside the restaurant, there is a view of partitioned seats designed for individual diners. These seats evoke a tranquil atmosphere and put you in a conducive mood for eating. Plus, there is a screen door in front of each cubicle, which means that you do not need to interact with the wait staff serving you. Manabu Yoshitomi, the company president of Ichiran, supposedly came up with this concept after learning that his female friends were shy about slurping their noodles in public. In any case, Ichiran Ramen allows you to devour your ramen in peace to recharge your energy after a hectic traveling schedule.
Of course, you may be traveling with your friends, in which case you may want to chat freely with them during your meal at Ichiran Ramen. Ichiran Ramen does allow its customers to take down the partitions so that you can engage in conversation with your friends. Some branches also have small private rooms available.
Ichiran Ramen encourages its customers to eat ramen the way they like it. And your customization journey begins right before you step into the restaurant. You will be greeted by a vending machine that displays the various choices that Ichiran Ramen offers. You can choose the Classic Tonkotsu Ramen for a wallet-friendly 890 yen, the Ichiran Select 5 that includes ramen and five toppings for 1,490 yen, or whatever else on the menu fits your fancy.
As for the toppings it offers, it has several mouthwatering options, including a half-boiled salted egg, kikurage mushrooms, dried seaweed, and extra slices of pork. After deciding what kind of ramen you would like to have, insert your money into the machine to purchase a ticket.
Your customization journey continues the moment you make yourself comfortable in a cubicle. The wait staff will pass you an order sheet under the screen door. Here, Ichiran Ramen demonstrates its attention to detail and commitment to service by letting you choose every single aspect of your ramen. No detail is too small, as you can decide the firmness of the noodles, the fat content of the bowl, your preferred level of spiciness, and whether you wish to have toppings like garlic and green onions.
Plus, the order sheets are available in Japanese, English, Chinese, and Korean, so you can confidently make your order even if you do not understand Japanese. What's more, if you are not a fan of pork but want to partake in the Ichiran Ramen experience, some outlets such as the Nishi Shinjuku branch in Tokyo and Namba Midosuji branch in Osaka offer pork-less ramen. However, the website states that although the ramen does not use pork, the company does not think it can be considered halal, so please keep that in mind.
Now, just how does the taste of the ramen win the hearts and minds of devotees? First and foremost, the appearance of Ichiran Ramen strikes a visual impact. Every bowl is embellished with a thick red sauce that makes you want to immediately dig in and see if its spiciness agrees with you. This sauce is like no other, as it is an original creation of Ichiran Ramen. More than 30 spices are painstakingly mixed and then aged. Thus, the umami from all these spices is crystallized to yield a togarashi pepper blend that gives your taste buds a delightful kick!
Plus, it pairs very well with the rich tonkotsu broth, providing a layered taste that is refreshing on the palate.
Another secret to the taste is its intricately made tonkotsu broth. The umami is carefully extracted from pork bones which are boiled for a long time to give off an inviting fragrance and a creamy taste. There is nothing like a thick warm broth to help you rejuvenate yourself.
In addition, to ensure that you relish a bowl of Ichiran Ramen in the most ideal conditions, every restaurant enforces a strict rule that each bowl of noodles must be served to customers 15 seconds after they are cooked. This is to ensure that the noodles come in your preferred level of firmness.
In short, Ichiran Ramen's special sauce, creamy broth, and firm noodles all work together to give you a gastronomically good time.
Noodle Refill System
Ichiran Ramen serves such scrumptious ramen that you may want to enjoy every last drop. Ichiran Ramen understands that many diners want to savor and enjoy the broth together with the noodles, so it offers a kae-dama (noodle refill) system.
The way to do this is to buy a refill ticket at the vending machine so that when you are done with your noodles but still have leftover broth, you can place it on a small rectangular tray found at the end of your table. Placing the ticket on the metal tray will trigger a charm that lets the servers know that you would like more noodles, and a waiter or waitress will hurry over to bring you an additional serving. Be it savoring slowly or slurping swiftly, the kae-dama system helps to clean the bowl.
Popularity Of Ichiran Ramen
With its many domestic branches, it would seem that Ichiran Ramen has won quite the following. Indeed, many locals and foreigners may choose Ichiran Ramen as their favorite ramen chain store because of its unique experience, as well as its noodles that are pleasing to both the eyes and the palate. Its solo dining concept lets you eat individually in peace, and its customized system allows you to get the exact bowl of noodles you are craving. And you are always free to switch up your order for the next time!
Moreover, many Ichiran Ramen branches are open 24/7, which means that you can fit a meal there easily into your travel schedule and eat it whenever you want! Let it be breakfast, lunch, dinner, or a midnight snack!
Certain branches like the Hakata store, Shibuya store, and Shibuya Spain-zaka store sell Ichiran-brand instant ramen packs. Should the outlet you visit not sell these instant ramen boxes, fret not, for you can get your hands on them at Don Quijote, one of the largest discount chain stores in Japan.
Each box contains five servings, with every serving containing Ichiran Ramen's noodles, original spicy red seasoning, and dried broth base. This helps ensure the authenticity of the instant noodles and allows you to be an Ichiran Ramen Masterchef in the comfort of your own home!
Every box comes at a price of 2,000 yen which is comparatively pricey for instant ramen, but it allows ramen fans and anyone who may receive a pack a hassle-free taste of the ramen at home. Hence, many travelers buy many boxes as souvenirs for their family and friends back home, allowing friends and family to get a taste of the world-famous ramen. This indirectly contributes to Ichiran Ramen's popularity as some foreigners will have tried out Ichiran Ramen and enjoyed its taste, looking to experience the true thing in Japan.
Ichiran Ramen's fame extends beyond its shores as it has established three branches in America, another two branches in Hong Kong, and yet another two branches in Taiwan.
Ichiran Ramen launched its first overseas branch in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong in 2013. It later opened the largest Ichiran store in the world at Tsim Sha Tsui, which has a whopping 182 seats and offers communal seating! This gives a different kind of experience with Ichiran Ramen as you can now chat with your meal buddies while soaking up the charged atmosphere of the ever-energetic Hong Kong people.
New York, United States
Determined to conquer the American market, Ichiran Ramen set up an overseas branch and a production facility in Brooklyn, New York in 2016. Having a production facility helped maintain Ichiran Ramen's stringent standards and diners were thrilled to savor the noodles freshly made in the same manner as Japan. Ichiran Ramen's ability to replicate its taste in Brooklyn was well-received by New Yorkers, for the second branch in Midtown, Manhattan soon followed in March 2018. Ichiran Ramen even launched a two-story branch in Times Square in March 2019.
Following the success of its Hong Kong and New York branches, Ichiran Ramen next entered the Taiwanese market. In 2017, it established a branch in Xinyi District, Taipei, thus fulfilling the Taiwanese's desire for its ramen. National media reported on how they uncomplainingly waited for 240 hours to try out its ramen! Due to this phenomenal success, a second branch was opened in Xinyi District a year later - and is a three-minute walk from the inaugural branch.
Give Your Taste Buds A Treat
Feel your stomach growling? Feel your tongue salivating? Indeed, Ichiran Ramen provides you a special experience - from its cool concept and calm ambiance to delicious ramen and detailed service. Of course, I spent some time living in Fukuoka, so I may be a bit biased, but be sure to visit one outlet on your next trip to Japan, or grab some instant noodles to enjoy at home!
Title image credit (left to right): StreetVJ / Shutterstock.com, JHENG YAO / Shutterstock.com
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.