Ichiran — Japan’s Loneliest Ramen Experience (But Definitely A Great One!)
First of all, let me start out by saying I’ve never actually gone alone into any branch of Ichiran, ever. Always had family with me on each occasion I’ve stepped through the doors of the Kyushu-style ramen restaurant, and always loved the food, and occasional adult drink there.
That said, though, Ichiran Ramen, while being very popular in Japan for many reasons, is the loneliest ramen experience.
Let’s start with how the process goes once you step through the entrance doors. A vending machine will take your order; not a server, not a friendly face behind the counter, but a machine that you need to deposit money into and enter your order(s) into. Once that has been done, the machine will provide tickets for each item you purchased, and with that you head to the counter where you will be having your ramen at.
Once at the counter, you’ll probably notice the privacy “walls” on each side of your area, left and right. If you’re with familiar company, you can retract the partitions between you, but perhaps the impression of separation initially, is an indelible one.
Then, a sheet of paper and pen is provided for your specification of how you want your ramen done. Again, no interaction with another human being needed for this, as you simply mark the sheet to your tastes, and then the server will take it along with the tickets you got previously from the machine. Speaking of which, you hardly see the server with the curtain and small opening between counter and staff area, which adds to the solitary effect going on here.
But in a few minutes, once ramen is served, the loneliness kind of disappears into the background, as the bowl suddenly catches all of your attention. The goodness of the tonkotsu (pork bone) based broth and thin ramen just absorbs you into each mouthful of the delicacy. Though Ichiran isn’t quite my favorite ramen, it is close (probably second).
Ironically, Ichiran also has some “home” ramen for sale at certain stores, including its own restaurants… which I can joke, is probably ideal for the totally lonely shut-ins to enjoy the popular Ichiran Ramen without even leaving home. Another example of how Ichiran can be a tasty, but somewhat solitary experience…
No matter how lonely the ramen may be, though, Ichiran will certainly warm up your soul (and your stomach)!