It’s the one dish to nuke your diet so far out of the water you’re going to need binoculars to see where it went.
It’s the one dish that, in my opinion, throws the entire Japanese diet into disequilibrium – one that most would consider the epitome of health and longevity. Ramen singlehandedly manages to shake all preconceived notions of the Japanese diet. It seems to exist to be a reminder that, underneath the glimmer and rosy-hued tint of squeaky cleanliness, an oddity lies, quite like Tonkatsu and Curry Rice, but none more sinful.
I shall call it the Japanese Paradox – inspired from the French Paradox (of a diet high in saturated fats but a lifespan among the top ten in the world).
Think about it. It’s a paradox! It’s baffling! The only ingredients that look remotely like dietary fibre in a bowl of ramen are the slivers of spring onions. That’s all! There should be a fourth level to the food pyramid, above all the sugary, fatty criminals. Ramen should be there – at the top.
But then there is Ichiran. And all I can say is thank heavens it’s all the way in Japan or I would bugger off the side of a building in self-despair and wanton gluttony.
I’m only saying this because, if Ichiran didn’t exist, keeping Ramen up there wouldn’t require much discipline. There just isn’t any other ramen that would make me tell my reasonable eating habits to have a vacation and never come back.
So, the usual situation: Freezing cold weather, and the prospect of having piping hot soup blipping away in the tummy.
The poison of choice: Ichiran Ramen.
I had it on my list, but with no address and barely any research on it. So when we stumbled across it on the way to Harajuku, we immediately spun around and made the detour up its steps at 11.30am before the lunch crowd poured in.
Now there is a process to Ichiran, but it’s not too difficult. Trust me.
1. Vending Machine: Choose your ramen, and any additional toppings you wish to have. (Please pick the tamago (egg). It was to die for.) Slot in your money, collect your ticket, and head on inside.
2. Direction Board of Vacant Seat (it is named as such, do not mock it): Check the board for seat vacancies. Green lights indicate vacant seats. Red indicates occupied seats.
3. Cubicle: Yes, you have a cubicle, do behave. You may unfold the partitioning if you must see your dining partner. Customise your ramen with the order sheet. Ask for an English one if it is not given to you. Choose your Flavour Strength, Richness, Garlic, Green Onion, Roast Pork Fillet, Secret Sauce (chilli), Noodle’s Tenderness. I would recommend one full clove of garlic, and firm noodles. Cross your fingers with the chilli. I liked mine Regular.
4. Hand Order Sheet Over To The Disembodied Hands Behind Your Screen: There are wait staff scuttling back and forth behind the screens. If that unsettles you, the appearance of your bowl of ramen should appease you.
I loved every bit of my bowl of ramen. It had one of the best – if not the best – creamy tonkatsu-based broths I have tasted. My noodles came completely submerged in a generous portion of spicy soup. I was tearing and sniveling, and was probably a hideous sight to behold, but that’s what the partitions in your cubicles are for. They will not, however, give you privacy from the chorus of slurping all over the restaurant, so as with any other choir, you are expected to contribute to the chords.
Also, the tamago is served separate from the ramen, and still in its shell. I will let the picture speak for itself.
I was surprised that you can get additional noodles (buttons to order more are at your cubicle), but if you’re like me and found the broth absolutely divine, then you would have practically inhaled all of it. They do not give you additional broth, unfortunately. I polished off my bowl, and let me tell you that I do not polish off bowls of noodles. Ichiran was an experience of many firsts. I could rave, but I shan’t. Needless to say, this is ramen you mustn’t miss – not even on pain of death – when you’re in Tokyo.
Waddling out of the restaurant full and replete, we smugly squeezed past the snaking queue into the cold, stumbling down steps and feeling mightily invincible with the furnace in our bellies. Like I said previously, you can’t have this daily. Because feeling this luxurious every day would render the mysterious Japanese paradox void, and just be boring ol’ reality instead.
Address: Jinnan, Shibuya, Tokyo Prefecture, Japan