I have been to Tokyo a few times and each time I make it a point to start my trip eating Tonkotsu ramen and end my trip eating Tonkotsu ramen. I experienced this amazing dish on my first trip to Japan. Before then ramen, to me, was basically that stuff you add water to and throw in the microwave. Eating the stuff in Japan was a wake up call. If you have never tried Tonkotsu ramen, done the right way, then you are really missing out on one of life's soul foods.
What is Tonkotsu ramen? Tonkotsu is a ramen served in a pork bone broth. The broth is usually milky off white and thick, served almost too hot to be eaten right away, with slices of pork, scallions, and an assortment of oils and salts. In some ways this ramen is considered a kind of fast food, but not like the fast food we are used to as Americans. It is thick, heavy, delicious, and if eaten on a cold day, one will want to go to sleep right after. At least, that is how it is done in Japan.
In Texas, that is another story altogether. Texas has a relatively low Asian population. Places like Austin and Houston have a significantly higher population than other parts of Texas, but as a whole the population is small. As such, the demand and expertise for authentic Asian cuisine is lacking. That doesn't mean that there aren't ramen shops in San Antonio, where I am from. But the ramen from these places is as far from authentic as you can get. I have found some that I like for sure, but I always go away feeling disappointed that I cannot find anything like what I experienced in Japan.
So when I came to New York, I was excited to try what they think of as authentic ramen. There is a much larger population of Asian Americans and expats here in New York, as you can imagine, so the demand for good Asian food is much higher. Being the skeptic I am, I wasn't expecting completely authentic food, but I was definitely hoping for better than what we have in Texas. Ichiran in Brooklyn was the place I chose to try first, and I am glad I did.
Ichiran did not disappoint. This place looks like any other Asian food restaurant from the outside, but on the inside is where it gets a little interesting. Ichiran seems to want to keep the authentic experience of ordering ramen intact and they have done that wonderfully. It all starts with an order form where you circle everything you want in your ramen (in Japan you would usually have a kiosk to order from). You only get one type of ramen though, but you can customize it in a bunch of ways to make it your own.
The place is small, a little cramped, and completely private as you eat if you want it. Just like in Japan. The photo to the right is a little cubicle where you sit and slurp down your piping hot ramen. You never see the person serving said ramen, and there is a divider keeping you from the person next to you (the divider folds up if you are eating with someone). The staff is polite, helpful, and does a great job dealing with new people unsure on how to navigate this restaurant as it can be a little confusing at first.
The real star of the show, however, is the ramen. Despite there only being one ramen to choose from, what you get is completely amazing, and completely authentic. I never expected such a taste from a place in the U.S. and I am glad that I was wrong.
I have really nothing to complain about with Ichiran, the whole place is well worth it, however if I had to dig for complaints, I guess it is a little pricey at almost $19 before any add ons, but I think the price is well deserved anyway. You also have very little options as far as different ramen types, and no real options as far as drinks. They have matcha and a few Japanese beers but that's all. Also, it can get busy, and the restroom situation is a little annoying as there are only two unisex single toilet restrooms. The restrooms were clean, however, and I just had to deal with a bit of a line. I guess they were also really afraid of running out of toilet paper too because...
That's it. I loved this place and I will try to go once more before we leave because it is just that good. If you want to try it for yourself, this is the address: 374 Johnson Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11206. I suggest going after lunch time as it gets a bit busy.