Ichiran Ramen - consider this your ultimate guide, with ALL the ins and outs. We're covering what to order, how to order, and even whether Ichiran is worth visiting (as ramen pros). Let's get started!
Ichiran Ramen - Some History
In 1960, Ichiran was born in Fukuoka City, Fukuoka (Southern Japan). This area is ALL ABOUT tonkotsu (pork bone) ramen, a style now loved around the world. Like a lot of ramen shops in Fukuoka City, they actually started out as a food stall.
But it wasn't until 1993 that they became a company and started aggressively expanding. Today, Ichiran is a sizeable ramen empire, with over 80 branches worldwide. This includes New York, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.
The "Ramen Booth" Experience
At each of its restaurants, Ichiran recreates the food stall atmosphere of its roots. Their interior is cozy and inviting, with a dark wood finish and an old Japan nostalgia. You'll almost feel like you've stepped into a Miyazaki animated film.
Each customer has a little ramen compartment to themselves. Staff will interact with customers on the other side of this compartment, raising and lowering a bamboo-woven curtain. This is nothing short of magical.
What & How to Order
At Ichiran, you first order from a ticket machine. This is customary at many ramen shops in Japan, especially in larger cities. Insert your cash first (make sure to have bills ready). After this, the buttons will light up. You then press what you want.
Ramen starts at ¥980 (top right). This is what I would normally choose. For Japan, this is a relatively high starting point - more on this later! Given this and that the toppings are pretty basic, I personally feel there's nothing else you NEED to add.
But if you're hungry, hit the ¥1,320 ramen button (top center). It comes with a 2nd helping of noodles (kae-dama) and an egg. More on this later too!
After purchasing tickets, use the handy seating chart above to see which booths are vacant (vacant spots are light green). In the above example, the middle and left rows are where you want to be.
When you've sat down at your individual ramen booth, place your tickets on the counter for the staff to collect (except your kae-dama / noodle refill ticket). From here, customize your ramen via one of the order sheets, as below (circling what you want).
You have to give Ichiran credit - this customization aspect is a lot of fun! For the flavor sections (first 3 at the top), I recommend "Medium" and above. I also recommend green onions (not white). For the spicy red sauce, "Medium" or even "2x spicy" will still allow you to properly enjoy the rich broth (without the spice taking over).
But these options are just what I prefer - to each their own! This is the beauty of the order sheets.
So - What about the Ramen?
They basically boil pork bones for a LONG time to create a wonderfully rich soup. In addition, a soy sauce seasoning steers it, adding welcome tanginess and sweetness. Lastly, their spicy red sauce provides some kick. Think of these 3 as a flavor triangle.
Outside of this, Ichiran is notoriously secretive about their soup. The signature red sauce, for example, includes over 30 ingredients...and the recipe is locked up in a vault.
The toppings, as mentioned earlier, are just fine. The green onions are there for freshness and crunch. The fatty slice of pork is your tasty bit of protein. In similar fashion, the thin noodles complement the triangular symphony of soup.
If you have a ticket for a noodle refill (comes with the ¥1,320), place it on the red button (left in the above photo). When I was a broke college student, I always got extra noodles. However, I now never feel the need to order them anywhere, including at Ichiran. This is also because I'm usually grabbing another bowl right after 😅.
In this sense, I don't think extra noodles are A MUST at Ichiran. But if you're hungry, they are a cheap way to get full. Finally, the soft-boiled egg (¥1,320 meal) is indeed tasty. Don't be alarmed that you have to peel it yourself though. This is how it was back in the day at food stalls! It's all part of the experience here.
Ultimately Worth the Hype?
From what I wrote above, Ichiran sounds like they dish out well-balanced pork bone ramen. This is true. However, you do have to note that their ramen is mass-produced...they are a big company now.
If anything, this just means that their ramen carries a more manufactured flavor. Don't get me wrong - I ate A LOT of Ichiran when I was young. This is also the case as an adult (many branches are open all night).
In short, I have fond memories of Ichiran. They do serve tasty ramen - there's no doubt about this. Returning to the "manufactured flavor" sentiment - this can also be seen as a strength. When you regularly visit any food chain, you know what to consistently expect. It's the same at Ichiran Ramen.
So while there are more refined tonkotsu bowls out there (coming from someone who's eaten thousands of bowls), Ichiran gets the job done in a fun way. You do have to pay a higher price for their ramen...but you're paying for the experience, booths and all.
Additionally, we have to give Ichiran props for having come this far. They've played a huge role in making ramen known to the world.
The ramenhead in me knows that there are better bowls out there. But the businessperson in me applauds them. In the same regard, the child in me happily rejoices when I revisit them.