Ichiran (“one orchid” in Japanese) started out as a tiny street stall in 1960 in the province of Fukuoka. Tonkotsu ramen, locally called hakata ramen originated there, and tonkotsu ramen is all Ichiran ever served. It differs from other ramen in that its broth is made by boiling pork bones for extended periods of time, giving the broth a white colour, nearly creamy texture, very full flavour and a strong stench people have compared with old socks and smelly cheese. Ichiran pride themselves in having developed a technique (mainly involving regular skimming) that obliterates the smells. Tonkotsu ramen is rich in collagen, which is supposed to be great for your skin.
Ramen is a relatively young Japanese dish imported from China in the mid-19th Century. It only became the popular dish it is today in the 1950s when cheap U.S. wheat flour imports started pouring into the country and ramen stalls popped up right, left, and centre. Tonkotsu ramen was invented in 1947 at Sankyu restaurant in Kurume, when a chef accidentally left a pot of pork bones boiling on high heat for way too long.
Ichiran only opened their first concept restaurant in 1993 and it became a blue print for all roughly 70 restaurants, including a handful of overseas openings in the U.S., Hong Kong, and Taiwan. You order your food at a machine in the reception area, then you pay, then, when a seat becomes available, you’re being led into the tube-like dining hall, which consists of two long, narrow lines of bar-style seating on both sides, where each diner takes seat, facing the equally long, much wider middle-section. This section is separated from the diners on each side by wooden walls which contain tiny hatches that only open whenever the waiters behind the wooden walls serve you food, take further orders, or remove empty dishes. It’s a weirdly fascinating spectacle, when the flaps open and another person’s hands and arms come out going about their business. Through the hole you can also spot other waiters serving other tables at the same time.
We’re huge fans of ramen and must have tried this dish at many dozen places around the world, but hands down, this was the best ramen we’ve ever tasted. Incredibly intense in flavour, everything had perfect texture, taste, and looks.
As you would expect from a place like this everything is based on secret recipes and of course home-made. But Ichiran take quality to a whole new level and often use the word “research” on their website. They say (and we believe them) they tailor the blend of wheat flours to the climate, temperature, and humidity conditions of the day, they check protein content and water temperature meticulously, using proprietary sensor technology.
The noodles are stored in sealed boxes that prevent them from being exposed to air right until they go into the pot. The guests can choose between ten levels of firmness (the traditional way for tonkotsu ramen is to have them very al dente). After the noodles are taken out of the water, they are rinsed five times before being served.
We will definitely come back for more during our next visit to town. 5 out of 5 in our book.
For some more restaurant reviews, feel welcome to have a look at our posts about the local Robot Restaurant, Gruvelageret near the North Pole, Classico, Frankfurt, and the Cotswold House Hotel and Spa, Chipping Campden .
Other fun things we’ve blogged about include our trip to the New Forest & Poole, driving supercars around a race track, powerboating, rock-climbing, off-roading, and or our desert camp and camel ride in the Sahara.