Best tonkotsu ramen

Posted on May 6, 2008 by Aun

I love tonkotsu ramen. It ranks as among my all-time favourite foods. The cloudy white soup, made with crushed pork bones, is sinfully rich and always satisfying. Served with firm, well-made noodles, perfectly roasted slices of pork, and a ni-tamago (a boiled egg with firm whites but a soft yolk), and I’m in heaven. Here in Singapore, I’ve enjoyed regularly tucking into the version served at Tampopo, located in Liang Court. And up until a few weeks ago, I thought that Tampopo’s tonkotsu ramen was pretty darned good.

But then I went to Kyushu. And discovered what really good tonkotsu ramen tastes like.

During my recent slightly-crazy dash across Japan, I was able to spend 2 nights in Fukuoka. It was just one of two places during my 16 day trip that I was able to spend more than one night. While we had two meetings to attend in Kyushu’s capital city, we also had a little bit of free time to explore the city. One of the first things I did, after checking into my hotel, was grill the hotel’s staff on what their favourite tonkotsu ramen stalls were. Experiencing great tonkotsu ramen was certainly at the top of my must-do-in-Kyushu checklist.

I was thrilled when one of the gals I spoke with quickly produced an article that she then xeroxed for me. The article listed the best tonkotsu ramen stalls in town. Of them, she said that her favourite, and the favourite of most of her colleagues, was Ichiran. She told me that while Ichiran was now a chain, the original branch was not far from the hotel. No more than a 10-15 minute walk in fact.

The next morning, armed with a map and a large appetite, my colleague D and I set off to discover Ichiran. While we found it easily enough, we were slightly befuddled by shop’s layout and ordering system. All of Ichiran’s branches have a similar and uniquely striking layout. They are narrow and long. Two long rows of seats are arranged around a central corridor. Each eating station (for lack of a better term) is cordoned off from its neighbor by wooden dividers. In front of each eating station is a red curtain, which hangs low. The open space in front of each customer is just barely big enough for the waiters and waitresses who roam the central corridor to pass food through. When seated, you can’t see your neighbor’s faces. You can’t see the faces of the people serving you or the people eating across from you (unless, like me, you rather rudely stick your camera into the opening). The whole experience feels slightly illicit, sort of like sitting at a peep show. But instead of naked performers, you’re being served up wonderful portions of food porn.

Before finding one’s seat, a customer can order his or her ramen from a vending machine stationed near the door. If you aren’t comfortable with this, ignore it. Ichiran now has order sheets in English. Just ask for one when you sit down. Also near the door is a lit layout display of the restaurant. The layout actually shows you where the empty seats are, which is fantastic when trying to find a place in this fabulously popular ramen shop.

I loved that Ichiran offers customers a huge host of options when ordering. In addition to a variety of extra edible items that you can ask for, you will be asked to write down exactly how you want your ramen prepared. Your ordering sheet will give you options to choose from for the following categories: flavor strength; richness (fat content); garlic; green onion; roast pork filet; “secret sauce” (using red pepper as a base); and noodle’s tenderness. When I visited, I ordered mine with medium flavor; rich broth; regular garlic; weak green onion; with roast pork filet (and a ni-tamago, of course); no “secret sauce”; and firm noodles.

My ramen was amazing. The broth was ridiculously rich and divine. The noodles were delicious and cooked perfectly. After every bite, I had to stop and turn to D, declaring, “Oh my God! This is so good!” It was, hands-down, the most enjoyable ramen I have ever had. It was also probably the fattiest, but hey, you only live once.

Ichiran has branches all over Fukuoka (and also, I’m told, Japan). There is a list of all of its branches on its website. Note though that it is in Japanese. If you want some basic info on Ichiran in English, you can click here. Now that I am back in Singapore, I am desperately hoping someone will bring Ichiran here. I can’t imagine having to wait to return to Japan before having another bowl of this simply stunning ramen.

About Aun Koh

Aun has always loved food and travel, passions passed down to him from his parents. This foundation, plus a background in media, pushed him to start Chubby Hubby in 2005. He loves that this site allows him to write about the things he adores--food, style, travel, his wife and his bouncing baby boy!

What Others Are Saying

  1. Steph May 7, 2008 at 4:20 am

    Ichiran sounds divine! I would love to go there *writes it down on list of places to go to*. The place looks pretty cool too ;) And the ramen looks so good! Your so right about the fat btw, you only live once!

  2. Olivia May 7, 2008 at 8:24 am

    I’ve been to ones in Tokyo and Fukuoka. They taste exactly the same. There are loads of Ichiran stores in Kantou/Tokyo region now. A couple in Osaka and one in Nagoya, too. It’s not bad, but definitely not the best tonkotsu raamen. Convenient, though.

  3. offspring May 7, 2008 at 8:45 am

    i tried the version in tokyo. you must try the salted egg.

    http://my.opera.com/offspring/blog/2008/01/01/photo-ichiran-ramen

  4. Li-Hsian Choo May 7, 2008 at 10:12 am

    This is a bit off topic but I could not find an email to send it to you CH
    http://www.ivillage.com/newsletters/archive/email/0,,crxntmks,00.html?nlcid=sw%7C05-06-2008%7C

    absinthe lollipops!

  5. AppetiteforChina May 7, 2008 at 10:47 am

    Oh my god that looks and sounds amazing. Seems like the point is to shut out the rest of the world and concentrate on the food. Do you know if tonkatsu ramen is easy to make at home?

  6. Keng Ann May 7, 2008 at 11:05 am

    I must agree with Olivia. I was living in Fukuoka for about a year and was told that there is some kind of “cult” following for ramen joint. I started with Ichiran and move on to Ippudo (一風堂), which served ramen & gyoza in a restaurant setting. Finally, I fell in love with this small set up near Akasaka, called Hidechan (秀ちゃん). The soup was strong but not too salty. Excellent. Unfortunately, the staff don’t speak English. (http://www.ra-hide.com/shop/)
    The next time you are in Fukuoka, try some of their local seafood restaurant. The kaisendon (海鲜丼) is fabulously fresh especially the sea urchin roe (うに
    ). Yummy!

  7. jems May 7, 2008 at 7:57 pm

    I had this 6 years back when I went to Fukuoka – the town of Ramen. Needless to say I had ramen everyday :) Back then they already had the order sheets for the varying oil, spring, ramen q level etc. Something I think should really be duplicated here!!!

    Btw, what you had wasn’t Tonkatsu ramen but rather Char Siew Ramen. Tonkatsu is really deep fried pork cutlet.

  8. jems May 7, 2008 at 8:05 pm

    oops sorry, read wrongly. thought you wrote Tonkatsu instead of tonkotsu for pork bone. Please delete the last line on previous comment. Thanks!!!

  9. grasshopper May 9, 2008 at 1:56 pm

    OMG! You’re making me so hungry right now…I’ve to go to Japan!

  10. Kirstin May 10, 2008 at 2:08 am

    Wow. I’ve never been in an eating booth. Do they have larger tables too in case you want to sit with your company? How do the booths make you feel? Comfortable because no one’s watching you eat and you can consider the meal alone, or do you keep wanting you poke you head in the booth next door to rave about the broth?

  11. Eat Me Outta Here May 13, 2008 at 2:52 am

    I am so jealous!

  12. Victoria May 13, 2008 at 7:56 am

    FoOd porn! this one topped it for me today. I guess like the book Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain, its all related somehow! lolo. Great post and pics!

  13. Mike May 13, 2008 at 12:19 pm

    I might’ve missed this, but is there anything significant about eating ramen in Kyushu that you can’t get anywhere else in Japan?

  14. Priscilla May 13, 2008 at 1:55 pm

    I tried the one at Liang Court today, I never had tonkotsu ramen before. I think I’m hooked!

  15. Mari May 13, 2008 at 5:24 pm

    What an unusual dining experience! This is definitely going on my list of things to do during my culinary dream trip to Japan!

  16. j0anne May 13, 2008 at 8:38 pm

    Great post and Ichiran Ramen is definitely one of the best Ramen places in Japan. I love going there for late night suppers. Another place to try is Ippudon Ramen (its within walking distance from Ichiran and near the Roppongi Crossing). If you haven tried it, can consider.

  17. Celeste May 16, 2008 at 7:43 pm

    Ramen~~~ *Drool*

    Hate it that it is so hard to find good Ramen here. Closest I tried that really worth the effort is the one at Gallery Hotel. Wicked soup base, usually see a lot of Jap expats there for lunch.

    Will try the one at Liang Court! =)

  18. Siew May 17, 2008 at 11:14 pm

    Friend and I did a ramen eating spree in Tokyo and went to Ichiran. Loved the experience. Being alone in a station with no one to disturb really got me focusing on appreciating the ramen. One of the best ramen I’ve tasted.

  19. Stephanie May 19, 2008 at 5:18 am

    I am insanely jealous. My time in Fukuoka was spent yen-less (Oh, but I had 60000W on me, lotta good that was!) so Starbucks was the only cuisine I ate the entire one nighter.

    In wandering the streets of Fukuoka, I watched ramen shops open up, serve customers, (get harassed by drunk man), and close up. Your post made me most wistful for that missed-out Japanese experience that I felt I was in on, but not in on.

    I made up for it by slurping down a 2000W ramen in Busan. Well, I am a bargain eater!

  20. Evon May 19, 2008 at 7:48 pm

    I love 一蘭♪ It’s most likely not the best tonkotsu ramen in japan but it’s good enough for a revisit.
    Helping to reply Kirstin’s question, the one at Ueno (Tokyo) has proper tables as well and one can request to sit at those instead. The ohp has information on that actually. (http://www.ichiran.co.jp/pc/hp/tenpo/tenpo2.html). Those that states just #席 has only booth seats and anything with “テーブル” has proper tables.
    (^_^)V

  21. diva@theSugarBar May 20, 2008 at 10:01 pm

    ooo that soup looks wonderfully rich! and i do miss those food ticket machines in Japan. i’ll keep a look out for that place you’ve mentioned. I’m travelling to Japan next summer for a good proper break and apart from sake tasting in Kyoto, how is it possible that I’ll bear to miss out on mind-blowing tonkatsu ramen?
    cheers for the post.
    x

  22. Toshi June 11, 2008 at 11:40 pm

    Head on to Tokyo and if you’re up to it, down to Yokohama. A lot of variations on your standard tonkotsu ramen is around now. And I’ve found some to be interesting. There are a few terms that you need to be armed with, in terms of how you want to order the “style” that you might like.

    I should really put down a list of my favs down somewhere one of these days. Anyways, I’ve just gotten here for my R&R and it’s back to ramen tasting again…

  23. margie June 21, 2008 at 2:15 am

    food porn! like the term! hahahahha

  24. Michelle Chan July 19, 2008 at 8:10 am

    I went to the branch in Shibuya at your recommendation and ordered the spicy one… what a regret. I think I should have just stuck to the original! Try the Shin-Yokohama Ramen museum next time! The kumamoto ramen from KOMURASAKI with the generous bits of garlic is heavenly. It ranks top on my ramen list! The best part is you can buy nama ramen (fresh ramen) with stock at the museum, and cook it at home!

  25. kyle March 24, 2009 at 10:56 pm

    This is a little bit late but you should try ramen from jiro, its very popular here in Yokohama and it cost less (600 yen) for the smallest bowl (a little bit bigger than the bowl in ichiran) anyway check this link http://www.ramentokyo.com/2007/06/ramen-jiro.html

  26. Lucas September 17, 2009 at 1:33 pm

    After reading your fabulous review last year, I gave Ichiran a try the next time I went to Japan. We have some fantastic tonkotsu ramen specialists in Sydney (Ryo’s and Gamushara to name a few) so I was a bit dubious to hear that the Ichiran I went to in Ueno was a franchise and not the real deal original!

    However, I shouldn’t have worried… Loved the ‘customizable’ options. Ordered extra noodles, extra pork, extra soup, extra chilli, heck, extra everything using the vending machine. After sitting down in the very narrow booth, the tonkotsu arrived and I was pleasantly surprised by the heavy broth. In fact, every aspect of the ramen was rich but not overly so – superb balance.

    I definitely recommend foodies try Ichiran’s tonkotsu for the restaurant experience and for the taste itself!

  27. RAMENDEVIL November 18, 2009 at 8:11 am

    An Ichiran branch almost opened 2 blocks from my spot here in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The owner apparently visited my fair neighborhood and fell in love.

    They had a spot and occasionally were seen working in there until about a week ago when they seem to have pulled the plug.

    Rumor has it they’re going to Manhattan.

    Anyway, while they were around they had clippings in their window of the press for the Japanese chain, explanations of proper tonkotsu ramen preparation and serving, and, by way of excusing the delay in opening, a sign that explained they were sourcing locally all ingredients and creating everything from scratch.

    Anyway that hope has been dashed after 2 years of salivating. Your article didn’t help either.

    Thanks a bunch.

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