If you’ve yet to get acquainted with ICHIRAN Ramen, you might want to remain tight-lipped about your naivety. I didn’t. And I got ramen-shamed. “What do you mean you don’t know ICHIRAN?” A former high school friend, with whom I had reconnected during a visit to Tokyo from Singapore, asked me incredulously. I sensed disdain dripping off his words, almost as though I didn’t deserve my more than 15 years of reasonably fulfilled life in Japan.
But that was 2019, and I’ve since come to learn: the few ramen joints I’ve spotted in town with snaking queues under bold splashes of red in green-lined circle logos are ICHIRAN – the Kyushu-born tonkotsu (pork-bone broth) ramen chain that has steadily gained a cult following in and outside Japan. Started about 60 years ago in a small street of Fukuoka Prefecture, ICHIRAN now has more than 75 stores in Japan, the US, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Stepping into an ICHIRAN Ramen store will change not only the way you think about pork-bone broth ramen, but also the entire way you look at Japan’s beloved noodle dish. Instead of the regular open-counter seating with views of sweat-browed staff swinging bunches of noodles, you get “Ramen Focus Booths” in an almost hushed atmosphere. It’s not unlike the study cubicles in a library (but with a lot more sense of anticipation).
“You get Ramen Focus Booths in an almost hushed atmosphere”
Enjoying ICHIRAN ramen is serious business. It means minimal interaction with staff (“bamboo curtains” ensure no eye contact when the steaming bowls arrive at your booth). There’s an order sheet to customize every single detail: How al dente would you like your noodles? Welsh onions? Extra chili sauce? Thicker or lighter broth? If you just want an extra helping of noodles (cooked softer or harder according to your taste), simply place your plate on a special buzzer to order your Kae-Dama (“extra noodles”).
It’s set up to let you savor every drop of ICHIRAN’s trademark “rich and sophisticated” tonkotsu broth, made naturally from pig bones. Thanks to years of research, ICHIRAN says its experts have brought out all the deliciousness of tonkotsu without the heavy smell usually related to pork-based broth.
Everything is based on trial and error (by a professional team of more than 40), including finding the best flour composition under different weather conditions to ensure the best match of its noodle with the soup. Their Original Spicy Red Sauce – made from top-notch quality ingredients sourced from around the world, and repeated blending and adjusting via a unique technology – adds a distinct kick that leaves you wanting more.
Curly and Straight
For those who can’t get enough, there are take-home options such as the ICHIRAN Ramen Curly Noodles and Hakata-Style Thin Noodles, complete with the Original Spicy Red Seasoning. Make sure you hunt down the curly noodles, which are available only in Fukuoka. Both the noodles and soup are unique and different from the regular version sold in Japan. ICHIRAN describes it as a flavorful restaurant-quality ramen with a rich fragrance and springy texture, made with rare seasonings combined in a “golden” ratio. The Fukuoka Prefecture motif on its packaging also makes it a great souvenir.
But if you’re not in Fukuoka, you can opt for the Hakata-Style Thin Noodles take-home set. These smooth and chewy noodles release less starch when boiled, creating a clearer, less cloudy water that brings out the best flavors of the soup. As you slurp away in the privacy of your own home, it might strike you that tonkotsu ramen really doesn’t get any more meditative than ICHIRAN’s.
More info at ichiran.com