Ramen Gone Wild
Ramen is serious business in Asia. Korean grocery stores devote aisles to it, and many of my students name it as their favorite food. On our recent trip to Fukuoka, we discovered the Japanese are perhaps even more zealous than the Koreans in their love of noodles.
First, in Canal City, there is a place called Ramen Stadium, which is a store/museum devoted entirely to noodle soups. You can learn about and sample all the major brands of ramen there.
Ichiran combines Japan’s perfectionism in regard to all things deemed culturally significant with good old fashioned Asian social awkwardness and singlemindedness of purpose. Eating ramen there is unlike anything I had ever imagined. For your reading pleasure, I will now provide you with a recounting of our Ichiran experience.
First, you should get a load of this advertising concept. It sums up many Asian social interactions perfectly.
Dread speaking with wait staff or actually having to deal with other human beings in order to get a restaurant meal? This is the spot for you.
Like many Asian restaurants, Ichiran only serves one dish: noodles in a pork broth. Sounds pretty simple, right? Au contraire, dear reader. Nothing could be more complex. In order to get a bowl of noodles at this establishment you have to express a preference for noodle firmness, mushroom content, thickness of green onion slices, spiciness, desire for sliced pork pieces….the options are myriad.
In order to remain true to its commitment to social awkwardness, you don’t actually place an order at Ichiran with a person. You use this vending machine to state your noodle preferences.
The machine, in turn, spits out a series of tickets. You take your tickets and use a light up board to find yourself an empty seat at a bar like counter. The place has an aura of reverence and secrecy about it, like a confessional booth in a Catholic church. Customers walk out, avoiding eye contact with patrons waiting in line to enter. In order to avoid any possibility of being distracted from your noodle-y goodness, the seats look like this.
The black walls on either side of the frame are small dividing walls so that you don’t have to interact with your neighbors on either side. The bamboo mat rolls up like a bank teller’s window, and an anonymous waiter drops off your noodles after taking your tickets. The personal water tap at each seat insures that you will not need to conduct any type of social encounter while in pursuit of ramen-fueled bliss.
And, in all fairness, the noodles themselves are definitely worthy of your undivided attention. They are prepared with a singlemindedness of purpose bordering on the fanatical. For example, since the noodles are served in a pork based broth, the green onions Ichiran uses are only fertilized with ground pork bones when they are growing. The water is filtered an insane number of times before it is allowed to touch the noodles. There are people in the Ichiran kitchen whose only job is to stir and skim the pork broth as it’s being made. Company policy mandates that someone watches the broth at all times.
There is almost a religious zeal and devotion to the noodle in Fukuoka. In fact, one of the temples we visited purports to be the birthplace of the soba noodle, a staple that has nourished Japanese families for centuries. I guess this makes Ichiran both a spiritual and culinary experience, with throngs of antisocial faithful busily slurping at the altar.
Filed under: Uncategorized Tagged: Fukuoka, Ichiran, Japan, Korea, Ramen, Stuff to Do, Things to Eat