The Ramen Shaman: Ichiran (Shimokitazawa)
Oh Ichiran. I was very anti-you for a long time because of your bizarre seating arrangement. It just seems so weird that we, the customers, have to sit at a private booth, in silence, without speaking to the chefs -- instead ordering by placing our ticket next to a sliding wooden curtain and filling out a sheet with our preferences like strength of the soup base and amount of oil. But one day in Shimo-kitazawa I stumbled across one of Ichiran's many branches and, feeling a hankering for some tonkotsu, surmounted my prejudices and walked in. Plus I was really, really hungry.
Here's what I'm talking about. This is my tiny booth at the counter with walls on either side and private water tap. The little wall in front slides up and that's where you communicate with the server (well, with their hand) and receive your ramen.
But in true Ramen Shaman form I broke through Ichiran's wall -- metaphorically speaking -- simply by being utterly clueless. I placed my ticket, the curtain slid up, a hand appeared and took it, then it pointed at the sheet of paper in front of me. I mumbled something because I didn't understand, and after a pause he realized he was dealing with either a foreigner or the mentally challenged. Up went the curtain, all the way, and when he saw me his eyes got real big and swapped my card for an English one. Ichiran 0, Ramen Shaman 1.
That bit of awkwardness resulted in this magical elixir. You know those Hi-Potions from Final Fantasy VII? No? (at least now you're not surprised that I moved to Japan). This stuff is even better. It's liquid gold.
Now I know why people always include Ichiran in their list of Tokyo's best tonkotsu shops -- they put crack in it! Why didn't I think of that? The broth is sweet, creamy, salty, umami, and probably MSG-y, all at once. It's a near-perfect blend of addictiveness in a way that only a tonkotsu can be. Ichiran is a flavor bomb that leaves you wanting more. Ichiran 1, Ramen Shaman, 1.
There was a second bit of awkwardness. I had the foresight to purchase a kaedama (an additional serving of noodles) at the ticket machine before sitting down. The kaedama ticket was taken along with the ramen ticket. So when I was ready for my kaedama... I didn't know how to get it. I took a gamble and presses a button near the curtain. It slid up partway and... I waited. The server waited. "Uh, kaedama?" I said. The hand pointed at a colored space on the table. Huh?
I just kept uttering "Uhhhhh..." until he pulled the curtain up all the way again and tried to convey something to me. There was a tiny little metal tray on the table and he kept pointing to that, then the colored part of the table. I was utterly lost. He said something in Japanese that I didn't understand so I just repeated "kaedama?" Again he tried to tell me something, then finally just said "ok".
After he left I saw a little diagram on the sheet of paper that spelled out, in pictures, how to order a kaedama. For some arbitrary reason I was supposed to place the tray on the colored area to indicate that a kaedama was desired. Oh, of course. Ichiran 2, Ramen Shaman 1.
Anyhow, I should have just put this picture up and left it at that. What can I say? I'm a convert. The best part is if you make a right turn out the front door within 30 seconds you can be playing that awesome taiko drum game at an arcade... to start working off the pounds.
2-14-10 1F Kitazawa Setagaya-ku