Ichiran, Ichiran, Ichiran!
Prior to coming to Japan, a whole bunch of friends who’ve previously visited the country, have painstaking drilled it into our heads that Ichiran is potentially the best thing we’d ever try. “You have to try Ichiran.”
There was no doubt that we did.
If you haven’t come by the name yet, Ichiran is essentially a ramen restaurant chain that’s popped up across the whole of Japan and serves only one type of tonkotsu ramen. Their speciality is to allow customers to choose how they’d like their ramen, which in a sense expands their one item menu to tens of different combinations.
Stores are also equipped with booths that can be divided or opened up to allow groups and individuals a different dining setting.
It’s become so popular that even Ichiran branded souvenirs can be purchased in store!
With their tonkotsu ramen, customers get to choose:
- The strength of the broth flavour
- How rich the broth is
- How spicy they’d like it
- How firm they want the noodles to be
- Whether they’d like any toppings with the ramen – green onion, pork etc.
If they want to add more to their meal, extras can be purchased; such as a half-boiled salt egg, extra pork, and Mr Chu’s favourite – extra noodles.
Mr Chu and I have visited a couple of times, so we’ve tried a few variations of the ramen. Here are our thoughts.
The broth is actually pretty fantastic. I chose to have full strength flavour and regular richness (as I personally like broth that isn’t too thick), and man did I really get the full taste of what everyone was talking about.
The broth was very flavoursome and salty but doesn’t provide a bad lingering after taste. The pork-based broth really comes out after the initial flavours are experienced. Overall, it’s not super heavy either, which can happen with pork-based ramen.
Though I ordered firm noodles, honestly… I’ve had better. I personally like the springy texture to firm ramen, and Ichiran has missed the mark a little for me. Besides being a bit softer than what I prefer, I also found the noodles to be a bit chewy on the inside. A bit of a bummer considering the great standard the broth had.
Adding pork to my ramen, I also felt that the pork was good, but like the noodles it wasn’t great. The meat was a tad too tough – I would’ve liked a melt-in-your-mouth experience. There also wasn’t much of the pork either. Two slices within the whole bowl; I guess that’s why they have an extra pork option.
ORIGINAL RED SAUCE
One of Ichiran’s key ingredients is their famed Original Red Sauce. Apparently super top-secret, this sauce is red-pepper based and combined with 30 types of spices to produce the lip-smacking goodness they dollop onto your ramen. I LIKE IT!
I won’t say no to a little spice! It’s not overly hot and my 1 serving of Red Sauce was perfect for the light spice-eater in me. I would personally say that ½ a serving of Red Sauce doesn’t do much. Having had it during my first visit, I don’t think it gives much of a kick – even though it’s the recommended amount. If you’re game though, you can kick it up to 2 servings without incurring the extras fee.
Ichiran had pretty reasonable menu pricing. The standard bowl of ramen is ¥790 with extras ranging from ¥100 – ¥200, depending on what you get. An extra serve of noodles is only ¥190.
It’s not the cheapest ramen we’ve seen in town, but it’s still alright considering the amount of popularity the chain has. They could’ve easily charged for more.
SEATING ARRANGEMENT: BOOTHS AND TABLES
Other than the ramen, I think that a lot of people are crazy over Ichiran because of the booths that customers are seated in. Each customer is allocated a tiny section of a bench, with each seat being divided by wooden boards that can be folded away for bigger groups. A small window is cut out of the wooden wall in front of the customers, where they’ll later find is the space in which the hands of a mostly-hidden server will appear with their meal. When the ramen is delivered, your server will step back and a flash of their upper body is seen as they give you a quick bow and lower the bamboo curtain.
Each booth contains all you need – utensils, a buzzer for calling staff, and a personal water spout to provide unlimited water. Pretty cool I think!
If you’re rather see the people you’re dining with (because it’s kind of hard for conversation to flow when you’re all seated in a line), then some larger Ichiran branches will have regular tables for their groups.
All in all, Ichiran was good. The broth was wonderfully delicious and the restaurant is easily found because of the amount of branches it has across Japan. The rest of the ingredients though were good; not great.
I would recommend you to check it out anyway. Otherwise your hyped-up friends will say “What?! Why not?”. But I wouldn’t lift my expectations up too high.
That’s my thoughts on Ichiran anyway. If you do try it or have tried it (because who hasn’t), then let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
Mrs Chu x