Fukuoka is famous across Japan for one specific type of noodles: tonkotsu ramen, or ramen made with a pork bone-based broth. With hundreds of ramen shops dotted around the city, it’s hard to know where to start, but looking for a line of customers outside a restaurant should point you in the right direction. More likely than not, the queue will be for ICHIRAN, a chain of ramen shops that has locations all over Japan, but started right here in Fukuoka, Kyushu.
Currently one of Japan’s most famous tonkotsu ramen shops, ICHIRAN didn’t start out as a chain. Rather, it used to be a simple ramen stall that was opened in 1960, similar to the ones you may still spot on the streets of Fukuoka.
ICHIRAN’s speciality is its classic, smooth tonkotsu broth. In fact, ICHIRAN is known for being the birthplace of tonkotsu soup. The broth is 100 percent natural and made entirely from pig bones, but making it is actually quite a bit more difficult than it may seem at first glance: by simply boiling the pork bones for hours, you would end up with a soup that may taste good, but has some unpleasant fragrance as well. Instead, the masters behind ICHIRAN’s soup managed to devise a method by which you end up with a deep, rich broth, without any unwanted odors. The soup is constantly checked for this as well, with both the trained chefs and the latest technology ensuring the broth is always of the highest – and tastiest – quality possible. Ultimately, their aim is to make each bowl of soup completely uniform.
Besides their characteristic soup, ICHIRAN pioneered another staple of tonkotsu ramen culture: the use of their Original Spicy Red Sauce, added to the broth to spice things up a little. Their original version is made from more than 30 different ingredients, and is aged for several days to develop the flavor as much as possible. Being such an integral part of the dish, the recipe is heavily guarded, with only four people in the entire company knowing the full recipe and ingredient list.
Although ICHIRAN makes sure that the base components are as great as they can be, it’s ultimately up to you to make it into a perfect bowl of ramen. The menu is set apart by its high level of customization – you can choose virtually every part of the cooking process. Do you want your noodles al dente, a bit softer or firmer? Want to add Welsh onions? Some extra chili paste? The broth to be even deeper, or just a bit lighter? Any garlic? Simply write it down on the special ordering sheet, and give it to the staff. And if you are extra hungry – or simply want to try your noodles cooked in a slightly different way – you can always order kaedama, or an extra serving of noodles, by placing the “kaedama plate” on the special buzzer.
After putting all that thought into ordering, you probably want to focus on the finished product as much as you can. Precisely for that reason, ICHIRAN has a special type of seating set up in their restaurants, known as “ICHIRAN’s Own Ramen Focus Booths.” These individual booths have partitions set up on three sides, so you can truly concentrate on the bowl in front of you, without being distracted: not by the other customers, the staff, or even the buzz of the kitchen. Ramen has never been this personal.
More info at en.ichiran.com