The optimized experience of eating at Ichiran Ramen

Ichiran is a chain of restaurants serving tonkotsu ramen, known for their delicious spicy soup but mostly for their unique ordering system and interior design, meant to maximize your focus on the sole act of eating and enjoying the ramen.

You can order, pay, eat, and order more the ramen without talking with anyone. See the separators and blinds? It’s your own little ramen world.

From their official website
From their official website

I used to live near the Ueno Station branch and it was the only ramen shop that I went to regularly (in my pre-CrossFit days 😉 ). It seems to have grown in popularity in the past year or two, and I was surprised to see this line in the early afternoon one Saturday.

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So the stall design is pretty famous but in I want to share a few more details.

While waiting in line, you fill in your preferences for spiciness of soup, hardness of the noodles, amount of garlic, etc. This used to be in Japanese but they’ve added English and Chinese versions.

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You buy tickets inside, with the vending machine. Suica and Pasmo accepted, of course.

There’s only one type of ramen — customized with the menu above — but you can add extra toppings. If I feel like splurging, I’d get a hard-boiled egg, which is cooked just so, to draw out the taste of the soup. Yes, it’s possible.

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After sitting down, the waiter takes your order slip and closes the blind. You never see their face but you have a few seconds to peek inside.

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After the blinds close, there’s nothing to do but read their origin story.

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To order more noodles or other toppings, you use this order slip printed on the chopstick bag. There’s a pen and bell at each unit, too. The two-phased approach lets you fine-tune what to add to your ramen as you eat, which is cool, but what’s more interesting is their pitch that this takes away the social stigma of being seen ordering more noodles (or beer, I guess) for ladies.

Honestly, the soup is so fatty that I’ve never felt the need to add more noodles however it’s true that if I wanted more, I would not feel comfortable flagging down the staff in a normal ramen shop. #facepalm

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And last but not least, my favorite design detail — the tissue boxes within reaching distance from each stool. Eating hot things make your nose run, dontcha know.

Also, note that there are coat hook and hangars behind each stool.

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At the end of the day, I go for the soup, but also to enjoy the opinionated design of the experience.