Ichiran Ramen: Not your Ordinary Japanese Ramen Shop
Believe or not, but Ichiran’s characteristic booth-based ramen-eating concept began with high school girls who were shy about eating in public. When Ichiran owner Mr. Yoshitomi was a student, he noticed that many of his female friends tended to hide their mouths while eating ramen. Some investigation revealed that their reluctance to being watched as they slurped down their noodles was actually a huge barrier to them entering a ramen shop! Based on this discovery, Ichiran’s system is designed to let diners eat in private, savoring the full-bodied flavor of the shop’s own special type of tonkotsu (pork bone) ramen. The shop is popular with men and women alike—including people from overseas, who may make up half of the customers depending on the day. Let’s take a tour of an Ichrian Ramen experience to discover why it’s not your typical Japanese ramen shop.
The Ichiran Ramen Concept
Going to a ramen shop in Japan usually means entering a brightly-lit restaurant where you will be greeted with jolly cries of “irrasshaimase!” as you struggle to find a counter seat in the crowd. Wolfing down your noodles amid the clatter of bowls, the slurping noises of other diners, and lots of neon-lit kanji characters, you then stumble outside only to realize that you never really tasted your ramen—you were much too distracted by everything around you!
Using a series of easy-to-understand buttons and guides, Ichiran aims to eliminate these distractions, leaving you to focus just on the taste of the ramen in front of you.
There's only one reason that the people who started Ichiran would have taken the trouble to create such a unique and systematic eating experience—for the love of ramen itself! The noodles are of the fresh and uncooked variety, known as namamen, the consistency of which changes day by day according to temperature and humidity.
As for the dashi broth, thick and savory tonkotsu is Ichiran’s specialty, with 4 subtly different types of pork bone dashi broth to choose from. By far the most popular of these is the “Tennen Tonkotsu,” perfected with a secret sauce. Only the Ichiran staff knows what’s in it—too bad they’re not around to ask!
Toppings and Sides
Most people enjoy a soft-boiled egg on the side of their ramen. The salty flavor is boiled right in, making for an experience both mysterious and delicious.
As for what to put in your ramen, never forget to add extra chashu—heavenly slices of pork fillet.
Finally, for dessert, try the Matcha Annin Dofu, a tasty tofu confection created from almonds, apricots and green tea. It’s especially popular with overseas visitors and can also be ordered via the menu provided.
How to Order
At Ichiran, flavor is the thing—and they do everything possible to make sure that you can enjoy it. The first thing you'll notice as you head down the stairs into the shop is how dim it is. You also won’t see any staff, but that’s all part of the plan to help you rest your eyes and open your stomach to an awesome ramen experience!
Here’s how to do it, step-by-step:
1) Take Your Ticket
First you have to order the set menu you want from a ticket machine, which you’ll see just as you come down the stairs. While this may come as a surprise to some people, it’s actually common in many shops around Japan! To make ordering even easier, the Ichiran Ramen ticket machines have pictures and multiple language options (English, Japanese, Chinese and Korean).
Just put your money in, press the button showing the set you want, and viola!
When your ticket pops out of the bottom slot, grab it! Then, pull the lever to get your change, and press the separate receipt button is you wish to receive a receipt.
2) Find a Vacant Seat
Next to the ticket machine you’ll see a flashing panel, similar to one of those computer banks on a classic Star Trek episode. While it may not be as clever as the ship’s computer, it does let you know where you can find an empty seat—lights are red if still available.
To reserve your seat, touch the square green button next to the flashing light you want. If the light goes dim, you’ve done it! Make sure you remember the row you reserved as you head down the hall.
3) Go To Your Seat
Now find your row, lift the noren (red door covering)…
…and enter your ramen-eating space.
Even if you find that someone has reserved a seat next to yours, have no fear—each seat has a partition that you can lock down on both sides so that nobody can disturb your slurpy bliss. If you come with a friend or two and want to share your dining space together, just open it up.
4) Customize Your Ramen
Now that you’re safely in your seat, you need to let staff know what you would like with your ramen, using an order sheet provided. Like the ticket machine, sheets are available in four languages, including English.
Fill in the order sheet to customise your ramen with favorite toppings, and adjust the flavor to your personal preferences, simply by circling what you want. If you’re new at this, we suggest—like the shop—choosing the “medium” or “regular” option for most things (except the spice level, which you may want to lower if you’re sensitive). Also, add toppings whenever possible!
5) Press the Button
When you’re ready, press the card-shaped button in front of you on the tabletop. Music will sound and a hand will magically pop out to take your meal ticket and order sheet. You’ve managed to find your seat, buy your food, and customize your order—all without having to speak a single word of Japanese!
6) Concentrate on the Flavor of your Ramen
Now all that remains is to shut out the rest of the world and enjoy what you came for. As your ramen slides out in front of you like a gift, we think you’ll agree it’s worth the wait.
7) Last step—Order Extra!
Ordering an extra helping of ramen—known as kaidama—is common in Japan. Here, it’s as simple as placing the yellow tray on the rectangle in front of you!
Ichiran devotees have been known to eat their extra helping without any additional sauce or soup, proof of how good it is.
If you fall in love with the signature Ichiran Ramen taste and simply can’t bear to leave it behind, you can actually buy a sealed pack of ramen and sauce to take home with you—ambitious foodies may even want to buy seasoning to go along with it! Whatever you do, we feel sure that you’ll keep coming back for the special ramen as cooked by long time noodle veterans and served in a quiet space, with the sound of your own joy as the only distraction.
Message to Ichiran Japanese Ramen Customers
The people at Ichiran take great pride in being a specialty shop that only serves tonkotsu ramen of the highest quality and best taste, and their commitment comes through in each and every steamy bowl. For the people at Ichiran, ramen is more than noodles, but an essential part of Japanese culinary culture that everyone should experience regardless of nationality. That's why they are happy to welcome everybody to the shop—although if all goes according to plan, you’ll never actually have to communicate with them!