I would assume that many of you have heard about Ichiran Ramen – one of the most famous Japanese ramen stores that has franchises located outside of Japan. Coming to any Ichiran store during business hours you will always find a line of people patiently waiting for their turn to have a taste. What’s the reason for this persistent love while there are tons of other ramen shops in Japan? Let’s take a look inside the store and find out!
Manabu Yoshitomi first opened Ichiran as a small food stall in 1960 with the name “Funata Noodles” in Fukuoka. Not until 1993 was the current concept of the store decided, and kept until today, under the new name “Ichiran”. The menu only consists of one specific type of ramen, which is 豚骨ラーメン Tonkotsu Ramen, also know as “Pork Bone Ramen”. Up until now, the store has successfully opened 71 stores in total, with 6 international franchises (2 in Hong Kong, 1 in Taiwan and 1 in USA).
Stepping into any Ichiran store, you will be surprised to see how private and minimalist it is. From the moment you set foot inside the store until when you finish your bowl of ramen, you will see only the host upon entering, and another staff member’s hands serving you the ramen. Isn’t that cool? Moreover, when heading to your seat, you will see every spot is separated by wooden dividers on both sides. Even the opening for the kitchen to serve you the ramen is covered by a bamboo curtain, and within arm length when your order is ready. This design is said to maximize the privacy and the experience of the customers.
When asking about the concept of the restaurant, the president took us back to his interesting story of when he was a student. At that time whenever he came to a ramen store, he saw high school girls looking very embarrassed trying to cover their mouths whenever they ate the ramen. Some girls were even too shy to step into a ramen shop at all. Seeing the reactions of these girls, Yoshitomi was hit with an idea. The minimalist style of Ichiran was created in order to let the customers freely and comfortably enjoy the taste of ramen. Sitting in a private booth, customers will no longer be so distracted by the sounds caused by other customers either. If you aren’t really into having to converse with people when going out to eat, don’t worry, you don’t have to speak a word to the staff, and your order will still be served exactly how you want it.
As Tonkotsu is the only available item on the menu of this restaurant, Ichiran really pays attention to detail when it comes to get the best flavor out of the broth. Ichiran was the first ever restaurant to put specially made chili sauce directly into the ramen. The chili helps to erase the greasiness from the pork broth and wake up your taste buds with some heat on your tongue.
For the thick and creamy broth, Ichiran’s tonkotsu broth is 100% made from pork bone. However, pork bone does leave some bad odor when being heated. In order to eliminate the bad smell from the broth, Ichiran has spent time and effort to find the best method in time management and flavor control so that the broth is preserved with the best flavor for as long as possible. Advanced technology and secret ingredients from the chef are also use to enhance the flavor of the broth. It’s not a lie to say that when you come to Ichiran you will be able to taste some of the top quality tonkotsu ramen in Japan.
How to make your order in Ichiran
When you do enter the restaurant (hopefully without a long wait), you will be presented with a ticket machine just like any other ramen store. If you cannot understand Japanese, there are pictures, so you can easily understand the ramen options and toppings included. Normally customers will choose the basic tonkotsu ramen with a half-boiled egg and char siu pork. After that, you can choose other toppings such as extra meat, shiitake mushroom or extra noodles if you have a big appetite. When you are done selecting your order, insert the money, press the order button and receive your ticket.
Just one more step and you can enjoy your bowl of hot noodles. Grab your ticket and bring it with you to an unoccupied seat, where you will be handed a preference choice paper. This is where you can customize your ramen based on your preferences and taste buds. The options include broth taste and extra toppings. First, you can choose your broth strength, from weak to strong. Then you can choose whether you want green onion, garlic, or Ichiran’s special chili sauce. Last but not least, you can choose how your noodle texture should be: from extra firm to extra soft. Also, the preference paper is available in English, Chinese and Korean too, so feel free to ask for the language you are comfortable with.
When you have made your decisions with respect to all the options, just hand it through the bamboo curtain window and wait for the magical moment when your ramen will appear. Don’t you feel excited just hearing about this interesting experience? If you have a chance to visit Japan or any city with an Ichiran franchise, don’t hesitate to give it a try and experience the taste for yourself! I have no doubt that you’ll be blown-away.