There is much to be said for the value of authenticity, especially when it comes to food. A few years back, Japanese Ramen joints were popping up in every corner of the city on the crest of a culinary trend. Unsurprisingly, few who sought to ride that wave remain. For ramen enthusiasts, however, there’s a new contender in town, ICHIRAN, whose commitment to serving authentic ramen goes far beyond a bowl of noodles in broth.
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At ICHIRAN they serve only the Tonkotsu Ramen, which is made with a slow-cooked pork bone broth. Dedication to a single style of Ramen allows ICHIRAN customers to taste the rich, savory and authentic flavors of this classic Ramen, with its unique broth and Hakata-style homemade thin noodles, which are made fresh daily. The chart pictured above hangs in the restaurant’s foyer, and I recommend taking a few minutes to familiarize yourself before you are seated, so you will have a better understanding of the hearty treat that awaits you, and what makes it special. These are ICHIRAN’s Five Originals, or five revolutionary elements of Tonkotsu Ramen:
1. Original Spicy Red Sauce (Hiden no Tare, a secret recipe)
2. Aromatic Tonkotsu Broth
3. Solo Dining Booths
4. Order Form
5. Kae-Dama Ordering System
More details about each of these coming up!
Where Japanese Tourists in NYC Go For Ramen
One of two locations in Manhattan, ICHIRAN Times Square is nestled in the former home of Sapporo, the late, great hidden gem of authentic Japanese home cooking that served the best fried gyoza in the city. While we continue to mourn their closing, it’s exciting to know that a tradition of authenticity lives on with ICHIRAN‘s specialty dish. Tonkotsu Ramen is more than just a meal though; it is a cultural experience.
Diners are seated at an Aji Shichu counter with solo dining booths, which is a traditional manner of seating that lets you focus on your ramen. Each communal-counter booth is separated by a hinged wooden panel, so the booths provide privacy (and added Covid safety) when dining alone. If you’re dining with a companion and want to have a conversation while slurping down your tasty ramen, the panel can easily be folded back. After ordering your Ramen, a rattan screen at the front of the booth will be lowered, and then lifted later to serve your food.
At ICHIRAN, all ramen is made fresh to order. Diners fully participate in designing their own meal, so that you take the guesswork out of getting the ramen that will suit your taste. Each bowl of classic Tonkotsu Ramen is customized to your desired degree of added dashi flavoring (saltiness), richness levels (oil amount), minced garlic, scallion, Chashu (sliced pork, which each bowl comes with, unless you opt out, or prefer the vegetarian option), and Hiden no Tare red hot sauce, plus your desired noodle texture (firm, medium, soft, etc).
The step-by-step menu order form can be a bit daunting for first-time visitors, but the servers are very kind and patient when explaining the ordering process. If asked, they will guide you to make the best choices according to your personal taste. This was reassuring for me as I was not only worried about ‘doing it right,’ but wanted to also make sure that the broth was not too salty or too spicy for my palate.
Additional toppings and sides available for an extra charge include premium Yakibuta marinated pork loin, Kikurage mushrooms, soft-boiled egg, dried seaweed, white rice, Osukaran vinegar, extra scallions, etc. Guests can also order extra toppings as well as noodle refills through a no-contact ordering system known as Kae-Dama, which is what the tiny tray marked Dessert (see above) is for.
Your freshly-prepared Tonkotsu Ramen arrives in a large ceramic vessel with lid, to keep it hot. Here is my bowl of ramen after I added my additional toppings. Customers are encouraged to first saver the soup and noodles without the original spicy red sauce, seen in the center of the Ramen. Take a few sips and bites from the side of the bowl, then gradually incorporate the sauce and toppings into your Ramen. This will help you experience the complexity of the various flavors of the noodles and broth. The original spicy red sauce is a dense pepper sauce, but it may sink into the noodles without being stirred in.
How did my first bowl of Tonkotsu Ramen taste? So delicious! The broth is so flavorful, and complex. I think that on my next visit I’ll opt to add more of the spicy red sauce and a bit more oil for added richness. I chose to go light on added Dashi as well, and the broth was not too salty at all, so I think I will choose a slightly higher degree of Dashi next time also (though I know it’s wise to watch one’s salt intake). You can see that they also serve you a huge portion, which you will likely have no trouble finishing, because it is so addictive!
My fellow Foodie Anne and I shared an additional side of the marinated Premium Yakibuta pork (above), which is enhanced with a sweet teriyaki flavor and sliced a bit thicker than the pork that accompanies the ramen. This pork was so tender and extra flavorful. We enjoyed adding it to our soup base. If you are a pork lover, don’t skip this worthy add-on.
Finally, it was time for dessert (which you know we can’t resist) and ICHIRAN has just one featured sweet treat: their house-made Matcha Pudding. To let our server know that we were ready for dessert, we placed the “Kae-Dama” plate on a sensor at the corner of the table. A brief melody alerts your server, and very quickly they arrive with this scrumptious and creamy rich custard, which is made with Matcha Green Tea, for a distinctive color and taste. The pudding is topped with a light Kuromitsu (brown sugar) syrup and bits of fruit-flavor jelly for a textural contrast. It really is exceptional, so be sure to save room in your tummy for this regional delight.
We would be remiss if we did not let you know that a three-serving package of Tonkotsu Ramen is available at the counter to take home for just $29.00 (atmosphere not included)!
ICHIRAN is Located at 152 W 49th Street, Just Steps From the N or R Trains at 7th Avenue, NYC. Visit Their Website Here.