Our first ramen experience in Japan was at Ichiran in Tokyo. We went to their Shinjuku branch as it was the closest to our hotel. I call it an ‘experience’ as it couldn’t have been further away to any restaurant experiences you may have in the western world.
In the centre of the vibrant Shinjuku neighbourhood, just east of the train station, you will find Ichiran-Shinjuku. It is easy to identify it as, chances are, there will be a very long queue at the front. One very very popular place! Forbes actually goes as far as calling it the best ramen in the WORLD!
Eating at Ichiran is a step process! Step 1, queue. Step 2, order from the very confusing, all-in-Japanese machine. It took us a few trials and errors to get our orders right, and, to be honest, we still got some extra sides we didn’t even know we had ordered once we sat. The idea is that you select your ramen base and then all the toppings you want as well as the drinks.
You are then handed a piece of paper where you can select how you want your noodles cooked (soft, medium, hard, etc) and so on, my favourite option is hard noodles!
Once you have ordered, step 3 is to queue, again, to be seated. You will be waiting in front of the galley kitchen where you can see the cooks preparing the orders extremely efficiently. In Japan, the objective of the restaurants is to feed you quickly and efficiently. Forget about a 2-hours French style dinner and banter.
Step 4, take a sit! This is when it gets even more exotic for westerners. There are no tables in Ichiran, you will be seated at a bar with dividers between you and your neighbours. A great way to eat quietly and be left alone. That made for one very anti-social meal with my husband, but it was such an amazing experience that we just embraced it!
Last step, food time! Little hands will appear from behind the curtain in front of you and will serve you drinks, the ramen and its toppings. Now, be quiet and eat that delicious ramen!
Ichiran food was delicious, it is such a surreal and oh-so-very Japanese experience that I would recommend going 100%! You will definitely feel lost in translation there.