Ichiran: An Intimate Moment with Ramen
Hi everyone! Today, we're going to talk about Ichiran, one of the most popular Japanese ramen chains in the world. Ichiran has over 60 branches throughout Asia and it just opened up a new production facility and restaurant in New York in preparation for its expansion to the USA. Our experience at Ichiran was at their Shimbashi location in Japan. In addition to their stunningly good Tonkotsu Ramen and Original Red Sauce, Ichiran is a game changer. The experience eating at this ramen joint is totally different than any other ramen place I've been to.
Ichiran was our first meal in Japan. After flying for over 14 hours, we were starving and tired. Steph was already starting to gnaw at my arm. So, my parents decided to take us to Ichiran before we passed out. When we got to the Shimbashi location, there was a short wait (about 30-45 minutes). It wasn't that bad actually because we were so jet lagged and time seemed to pass in a blur. While waiting in line, they give you a little form where you can personalize the ramen to your liking. I'll describe this more later.
Side story: At the time of writing this review, I just got some cold brew at my local coffee shop (Culture Espresso). This is their strongest batch yet because I have not blinked in 30 minutes and I'm starting to hear colors.
Ichiran's attention to detail and ability to manage quality control are characteristics that are common to most Japanese specialists. I've heard complaints that their branch in New York is unreasonably expensive ($20+ per person). But, I do understand where they're coming from. Costs are just higher in New York. They're also paying for the upkeep of their production facility. You're paying for the real deal and the original recipe. They aren't just sourcing their noodles from a random supplier to keep costs low. I'll probably visit the New York branch soon to see how it compares to the ones in Japan. I hope they don't have sad soft-boiled eggs.
When we got to the front of the line, we were asked to use this crazy ramen vending machine contraption (see above). It showed all the different things we could order. First, you put in money then you click on all the items you want. For example, if you insert 5000 yen, each button you click will subtract the cost of that item and provide you with a little voucher. As long as you have money in the vending machine, you can keep clicking whatever you want. When you are done ordering, it will give you your change back (unless you spent it all).
PRO TIP: Get some kae-dama (extra noodles). Note that when you get the noodles, it doesn't come with extra broth. You are meant to just add the noodles to your previous bowl of ramen.
As soon as you are directed to your seat, you will realize that they put you in little ramen cubicles with dividers (see above). Each cubicle has its own water dispenser and a tiny button that will call over the server when you need help. So cool! There are wooden blinds in front of you that open and close. This is where some anonymous server takes your vouchers and provides you with your food. When they are not interacting with you, they will shut the blinds so you can enjoy your ramen in peace. This is definitely the most anti-social ramen joint but I don't mind! Look at me enjoying my Ichiran in my ramen cubicle.
Anyway, time to start talking about the actual food. As I said earlier, they give you a form which allows you to tailor the ramen to your own personal preference. You can choose the flavor strength (weak to strong), richness (oil content - none to ultra rich), garlic level (none to one whole clove), green onion (none, white, or green), sliced pork (yes or no, as if that's a real question), Red Sauce (spicy level), and noodle texture (extra firm to extra soft).
For my order, I got medium strength flavor, rich oil content, regular garlic, green onion, sliced pork, regular Red Sauce level, and firm noodles. My friends and I always clash on who serves the best ramen in New York. Eventually, we realized that we have our own preferences in what good ramen should taste like. For example, I love salty and rich ramen while some of my friends love the less oily and more complex tasting ramen. Ichiran's ramen preference form solves this issue by allowing you to customize the ramen however you like.
Their Tonkotsu pork-based broth is unreal. I loved that I could order it a little extra rich. I could actually see a thin layer of oil and liquefied fat resting atop my broth. In comparison to Steph's ramen with normal richness, mine was more savory and a bit saltier. If you don't like salty ramen, you should stick to the normal richness. The sliced pork was different than what I was used to. It was not fatty at all and thinly sliced.
The noodles were perfect. I didn't hesitate to order kae-dama. My one complaint is that soft-boiled egg. That was probably the saddest soft-boiled egg of my life. I think I got an old, overcooked egg. The shell wouldn't come off easily. I eventually just cut the egg in half. This exposed the overcooked yolk. It looked like one of those plastic food models that kids play with! It was totally round. The egg was a little gooey but not at all what I was expecting. I think I just got unlucky with my egg.