Friday, April 13, 2012

Adventures in Ramen: Ichiran Ramen in Shibuya

Ramen eating is serious business here in Japan.  It is one of Japan's most well known and popular foods - perhaps even more so than sushi. I love them both, so living in Japan is a dream for me. Before I moved here, one of my besties and I would eat dinner at Goma Tei in Honolulu every chance we got.  I realize now that I was fairly ignorant about ramen and the fact that there are so many different types and different aspects to it.  I'm still no expert, but I feel like I know a little more than I did before.  For example, the different regions in Japan have their own unique ramen style based on the type of soup/broth used (e.g., miso, shoyu, shio).  There's even a whole museum dedicated to ramen in Yokohama, but that's a post for another day (if you're interested, here's the website: Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum. There are a few things about ramen consumption in Japan that are common to most places: (1) you order by machine: (2) ramen restaurants are generally not meant for socializing; (3) it is perfectly acceptable to slurp your ramen (sometimes it seems like the louder the better). 

I met some friends visiting in Tokyo earlier in the week and the first thing on their list of things they wanted to do was check out Shibuya.  None of us had eaten as of yet so that was our priority upon getting to Shibuya.  Someone found Ichiran Ramen on Tripadvisor and since it had good ratings, we headed there.  However, we almost had a totally different experience because initially we walked into the wrong place (both places had "ichi" in the name) but after looking at the menu above the vending machine, we were pretty sure we were in the wrong spot - this place was very fast foody looking and served what appeared to be more donburi type dishes.  So, after all 5 of us turned around and walked out, I saw another sign with "ichi" in the name and promptly led us down the stairs (I should've known it was downstairs - underground restaurants usually end up being the best ones).

As I mentioned, ordering at ramen establishments takes place by way of a vending machine. Basically you select and pay for all the things you want - i.e., your ramen, extra condiments for your ramen, gyoza perhaps, a drink if they offer them.  Some places will have their menu items listed in Japanese AND English AND/OR will at least have a picture of the item (if not, then you pretty much just guess and hope for the best).  Once you put the correct amount of Yen in the machine, it spits out a ticket which you present when you sit down.  When I first looked at the choices on the machine, I was a little skeptical because there was only one option for ramen (usually, there are at least 2-3 different options), so I wasn't really sure what I was going to get.  As I waited for the rest of the group to finish ordering, I took a peek around the corner to look at the seating area.  What I saw was a row of cubicle looking seating - I had heard about ramen establishments like this where you don't talk to anyone and it's really all about just eating your ramen.  This was clearly a serious ramen joint, so I was excited.

Everything you would need to enjoy this meal is right there in your cubicle area - water dispenser, a pen to complete the customization form and a buzzer to let them know you need something or when you are finished.  As soon as I sat down, I was instructed by the guy on the other side of the counter to complete the form so they could prepare my ramen according to how I wanted it.  The form was pretty intense (thankfully it was in English); it was almost like taking a test except there were really no wrong answers.  Ichiran allows you to customize your ramen based on the following  (1) flavor strength; (2) richness (fat content); (3) amount of garlic; (4) amount of green onions; (5) whether I wanted roast pork in it; (6) how spicy I wanted it; and (7) how hard/soft I wanted the noodles.  Also, I had the option of whether I wanted to add egg,  mushrooms and a variety of other condiments.  After I completed the form, the bamboo shade was dropped to ensure maximum privacy - like I said, this was a serious ramen joint.

As per usual, it only took 10 minutes before my steaming bowl of ramen was put in front of my face. Although we were talking to each other up to this point (and not really abiding by the "don't talk" policy), once our food came, you could hear crickets. So how was it?  I thought it was really yummy and I loved the fact that you could customize the ramen to your specifically tastes (and now I know why there was only one option on the vending machine), BUT I prefer my ramen to have a bigger/thicker piece of pork in it.  Everyone has their own preferences when it comes to ramen and in fact some people that I know (I'm not going to name names ) are very adamant about which restaurant/establishment has the best ramen.  Anyway, back to what I was saying, people have their own preferences based generally on one or more of these : (1) broth; (2) noodles; and (3) meat. Some people may not think the meat is an important part, but I am not one of them. While Ichiran was definitely a winner, unless I happen to be in Tokyo, I'll stick with my hubby's fave down here in Kamakura (we don't know the name because we can't read the kanji).


Annie Kamiya said...

My fav, fav, FAV blog post thus far. 100 Yen Shop close second. You are SO taking me to one of these serious ramen eating places when I'm there. Everything about this place is right up my alley! Love you Shanners!!!!!!!!!!!

倉澤弘実 said...

I’m working at Japanese TV making companyd.
we’re gonna introduce places where foreign people come in TV show.
and we wanna introduce Ichiran Ramen.
can we show your HP to explane Ichhiran is one of the famous ramen shop for foreigner??
if it’s ok, plz let me know