09 December 2016

Osaka: Ichiran Ramen

The name may or may not ring a bell, but you've surely heard of it before. This specific Japanese chain has become viral for being "a ramen store perfect for introverts", as they say. As a self-confessed ramen junkie and introvert, allow me to share my thoughts on Ichiran Ramen-- all below the break.

Right before we flew to Japan back in springtime, of course I already drew up a list of food that we must try in their country of origin. Maybe it's the tinge of Japanese blood in my veins, but I will definitely go limb-to-limb to defend my belief that Japanese cuisine is one of the best in the world. Yes, food in Japan is a bit more expensive than what we are used to, but boy was it worth it!

Trying authentic ramen was definitely number one on our list. So I went and searched for the best ramen stall in Japan, and Ichiran seemed to be the consensus. You can only imagine how thrilled I was to find out that there's a branch right behind our hotel in Umeda!

As soon as we arrived in Osaka and checked in our hotel, we headed out to Hankyu Higashi-dori Shotengai. It's one of Osaka's many covered shopping streets, and is somehow like a nightlife district, too. After walking past the long line of stores twice or thrice, we finally managed to zone in on Ichiran's emblem in the midst of all the overwhelming and confusing Japanese signages.

Thank goodness Ichiran Umeda is actually open 24 hours, as they say in their website. Our flight to Osaka was pretty late, so the only thing we could really do for the day was to eat dinner. And having ramen right on our first night was definitely a great way to kickstart our Japan trip!

Upon entering the store, you will see a vending machine. Vendos seem to be a pretty common technique of taking orders in Japan, particularly in ramen joints. We each got an order of the ramen & half-boiled salted egg, which is worth JPY910. If you convert it, it's roughly around the same price as a bowl of ramen sold in the Philippines.

Once you get your stub from the vending machine, you will then have to fill out a form that allows you to tweak certain aspects of the ramen (flavor strength, richness, etc.) according to your liking. Kind of like Ramen Nagi.

Technically, Ichiran is not zero human interaction per se (at least for the ordering part). Especially since we're tourists, we had to ask for some assistance in acquiring an English version of the preference form. But don't be put down just yet! 

Once you've accomplished the form, the server will take it from you. You may then grab a chair, if there is any vacant at the moment. (Talking from experience, Japanese people eat quickly --move quickly in general-- so there's a quick turnover in customers.) There is a monitor on the wall that shows if there are seats available. Once a slot lights up green, it means you can proceed to the dining area and claim your spot.

Now here's the fun part. Every diner sits in his personal cubicle; but if you have someone with you, you can fold the divider between you. In your cubicle, there awaits a water dispenser, a cup for your water, a pair of chopsticks, and an extra order form, just in case. For extra condiments and items like paper towels, you can simply grab them from the back wall.

The mysterious bamboo blinds will open up and a pair of hands will bring first the tamago or the egg. A few minutes later, the ramen bowl will finally appear on your table. You can then enjoy your hot bowl of ramen without minding anyone or anything else.

Ramen is customarily eaten alone in Japan, so it's not uncommon to find "bar-style" ramen shops. I don't know about you, but eating ramen can get a bit messy, so besides being an introvert myself, I definitely enjoyed having a space all to myself. I don't have to be conscious about shoving a big chunk of noodles into my mouth or schlurping the soup as loud as I want (which is, actually, encouraged by the Japanese because it's a sign of how much you love the soup!)

Ichiran is famous, and for very good reason. You can just go with their recommended "settings" for your order, or change it up a bit. Either way, you will definitely enjoy! The default order comes with noodles and tonkotsu broth topped with spring onion, chashu or pork slices, and their special sauce. Simple but exceptionally delicious. The meat is tender, the noodles are al dente (as desired), and the broth is overwhelming in terms of amount and deliciousness (if that's an actual word). It was unlike any other ramen I have ever tried-- and it truly made me think, "this is what ramen really is".

The broth almost fills the bowl to its brim, and that's because Ichiran highly encourages its customers to order an extra half or whole serving of noodles. You'd think that a ramen that "soupy" would be already bland, but no. I was sooooo tempted to go for another round, if not for the fact that it was already nighttime and I wouldn't want to sleep with a very, very, very full stomach. The setup in Ichiran looks like it won't allow people to share on a bowl, but the thing is? You won't have to because it's that good.

Once you've successfully filled your tummy and your heart with a good great bowl of ramen, all you have to do is get up and leave. Not sure if they have a sensor or a camera or both, but the crew just knows when you're done and it's time for them to clean up the space.

I think it goes without saying that Ichiran has made its way to the top of my ramen favorites, and looks like it's going to stay there for a very long time. And I'm not just saying this because I got to try it in Japan. (We did try another famous ramen joint, but that one fell short for me. Will talk about that in a different post!) I'm still hoping that they'll bring Ichiran to the Philippines, but it looks like the ramen hype has slowed down-- and people are now more curious about Japan's cheese tarts (which I will also talk about in a future post).

Top from Aeropostale, chinos from Uniqlo, shoes from Forever 21, socks and coat from Korea, hat from H&M

Leaving you guys with a couple more of photos taken in Hankyu Higashi-dori. I had to let the ramen settle down a little in my belly before heading back to the hotel, lol.


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