Meditate on Your Noodles at Ichiran Ramen
As a language student in Fukuoka prefecture in the 1990s, one of my regular hangouts was a discreet noodle bar called Ichiran Ramen. It was open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and was the perfect spot for a comforting slurp of noodle soup on the way home from bar hopping with my friends. When I returned to Japan in 2012, I was happily surprised to discover that our humble Ichiran Ramen had become a national phenomenon with a chain of restaurants across Japan. In 2013, it even opened its first international outlet in Hong Kong. The question is, why has it become so popular?
Originally a members-only restaurant, Ichiran Ramen has a unique style, as each customer sits alone in an individual booth to focus on eating his or her ramen. Whilst some may consider this practice antisocial, it is actually a great chance to relax and focus on your steaming hot bowl of noodle soup. When your heart is fully consumed by the ramen experience, you don’t want to talk, you just want to slurp! In this cold weather, there is nothing more comforting than to step inside your cosy little booth and take a deep breath before enjoying your meal in meditative silence.
If you really want to enjoy the experience with a friend then it is possible to open up the partition between you and the booth next to you, but I do recommend you try the solo noodle meditation at least once.
Another reason for the success of Ichiran Ramen is the taste. Ramen noodles are typically served in different types of stock according to the region. At Ichiran you will enjoy a pork-based broth called tonkotsu, which is typical of Fukuoka prefecture. Ichiran Ramen also prides itself on a special red sauce made from its secret recipe. A further unique point is that you are able to customise your ramen using your ordering sheet.
The Ichiran Ramen experience gives you very little contact with the staff because the focus is on the noodles. Here is a quick guide to the ordering system:
- Pay for your noodles and any side dishes at the vending machine near the entrance upon arrival. There are pictures on the buttons with both Japanese and English translation. The machine will print out a coupon for each item you order.
- Select an available seat from looking at the electronic seating chart or simply enter and choose an empty booth. There are usually hangers on the wall behind you for your coat.
- Complete your order form to customise your noodles. A number of branches have English and Chinese forms now.
- Press the right hand button on the counter in front of you and slide your completed order form and coupons under the curtain.
- Serve yourself drinking water from the dispenser in the booth. Breathe, contemplate life and wait patiently for your noodles to appear from behind the curtain in front of you.
- Enjoy your noodles!
Whenever I have visiting guests I take them to Ichiran Ramen and they always request a second visit. For me the delicious smell of Ichiran Ramen takes me back to my happy student days and will always hold a place in my heart!
Ichiran Ramen has locations across Tokyo and Japan. To find one near you, visit the chain’s English website.