Friends who know about my passion for ramen often ask me for recommendations when they travel to Japan. Whether they are first time travellers or experienced visitors to this country, I often direct them to one of my favourite chain shops for <i>tonkotsu</i> ramen, Ichiran Ramen. It was the first ramen shop I visited in Japan. Not only does this shop offer some of the tastiest ramen I’ve ever had, the amount of options available to customize your bowl of tonkotsu ramen and the unique seating system that encourages customers to “concentrate on the ramen” is something to experience.
I have many reasons to praise this shop, but one of the big reasons that make this an easy recommendation to visitors is that Ichiran is one of the largest high-quality ramen chains in Japan. With shops across 15 prefectures all over Japan and 13 shops in Tokyo alone, my friends could easily fit a visit to this restaurant into their travel itinerary.
Of course, as a ramen enthusiast, I wouldn’t recommend a shop if the taste were only mediocre. The first Ichiran shop opened in Fukuoka back in the 35th year of the Showa Period (1960), and the popularity of the shop continued to grow strong thanks to the delicious and health-conscious ingredients used for the classic tonkotsu (pork-bone-based) ramen they sell.
Unlike most tonkotsu ramen, Ichiran has the “cleanest” flavour of all the ones I’ve ever tried, thanks to their secret cooking technique. The texture of the home-made fresh noodles is firm and smooth. The soup is also topped with a hint of the “Ichiran’s Original Red Sauce” that uses over 30 kinds of spices and is cooked for days. The natural ingredients used in the ramen also make it the first tonkotsu ramen company to have 0% trans-fat and contain a lot of natural collagen. All these are reasons why Ichiran’s taste is one of the best in Japan.
However, as I have mentioned above, the flavour is only one of the reasons why I adore this shop. Although they only offer one type of ramen: tonkotsu, there are many ways you can customize your ramen to your preferences. When you order your ramen, you are given a questionnaire-like sheet to fill in:
- Richness of the soup’s flavour (light, standard or rich)
- Thickness of the soup (super thin, thin, standard, thick or super thick)
- Amount of garlic (none, a bit, standard=1/4 clove, half clove or one clove)
- Scallion (none, green parts or white parts)
- Cha-siu pork (yes or no)
- Special Red Sauce (no, half amount, standard, double or [ ] amount of up to 10 levels)
- Noodles (super firm, firm, standard, soft, super soft)
The other uniqueness that makes Ichiran so special is the seating system. Rather than a row of counter seats as you would normally picture in a ramen shop, imagine having individual dividers between each seat so you cannot see the person beside you at all. On top of that, there are rolling blinds in front of you so the kitchen and staffs are also not visible to you. The purpose is to create an eating environment where you see nothing but the bowl of hot and delicious ramen in front of you, so your concentration would not be distracted by other surrounding factors. If you are visiting with friends, the dividers are removable in some shops and there are individual rooms at some other, so you can concentrate on the ramen together as a group.
The price of the ramen isn’t the cheapest, not in the slightest. At 790 yen per bowl and 190 yen for extra noodles, Ichiran is on the high end of the ramen price scale. But the flavour of their tonkotsu ramen and the seating system also make this one of the top ramen restaurants I’ve ever visited. So this recommendation is not only to my friends but also to all of you out there. If you are looking for a ramen place to try when you visit Japan, make Ichiran Ramen a priority on your list!