Ichiran (一蘭) is a famous ramen chain restaurant that has several qualities that are quite unlike a typical chain restaurant. Their unique selling point is the fact that they only sell one type of ramen, priced at 790yen, but then allow you to personalize it however you want (within reason). Before you enter the shop, you have to order your ramen by a ticket vending machine near the door.
I tend to find ramen portions small, so I always order extra noodles (that either come already in your ramen or in a separate bowl during your meal).
You can also order whatever side dishes you want for your ramen, such as seaweed, eggs, extra pickled vegetables, green onion, or garlic, for a reasonable price of 50yen – 100yen each.
When you enter the shop, you are directed to a tiny row of small seats while you wait for a booth to open up. Each restaurant is tiny; it adds to the “ramen experience.” As a result, every time I’ve eaten at Ichiran, there is always a line outside. Not to worry, though, because booths clear out quickly. The five people in front of us were waited on and seated after about ten minutes.
While you wait, you are given a questionnaire to fill out that asks you how you like your ramen cooked. This was my favorite part of the restaurant.
People like ramen for a variety of reasons. People also tend to dislike ramen for a variety of reasons. For instance, I find ramen broth is weak and the noodles are too soft. I prefer their summer version, Tsukemen, a thicker noodle that is dipped in a separate, flavorful broth.
Ichiran solved this problem by allowing me to customize my bowl of ramen. I appreciated that.
For instance, I chose the strongest broth, with fairly katai (hard) noodles, lots of garlic, lots of green onions, lots of oil, and very spicy. And I didn’t have to explain anything. When my friends and I tried each other’s ramen later on, they all tasted different. Some were spicy, some were almost sweet, and some tasted like watered down chicken soup. Everyone has their own preferences.
If you don’t speak Japanese, the waiter or waitress will help you with the questionnaire.
The booths themselves are like the name suggests: small, individual bar stools surrounded by a partial wooden frame. It is not awkward if you are eating with a group of friends, because you can still see the person next to you. The booth walls are just large enough to remove any sense of awkwardness if you are placed next to a stranger.
I thought that was considerate.
The ramen was delicious. My noodles were more firm than usual and the broth and oily and savory, just how I like it. I would recommend any number of the Ichiran chain restaurants in Tokyo for someone looking for a fun, cheap, ramen dinner.
Tokyo and Japan have a reputation for the strange and unusual museums.