イキラン, or Ichiran to us gaijin, is a no-frills ramen restaurant which runs heavy on flavour and charm. As soon as you enter the small bar-style eatery, you are greeted by all staff, regardless of what task they are doing, offering a friendly welcome in almost-unison. You are quickly beckoned to any available seats, among the many friendly locals and engrossed salarymen enjoying their hot bowl after a long day in the office.
The menu is simple, with just enough English on them to ensure you are free to order confidently. And once you order, from any of the smiley staff around, you will begin to feel really immersed in the cosy but crisp interiors of Ichiran. An old TV adorns the corner, the day's newspapers spill out of a small rack on the wall, satisfied patrons wave goodbye and exit gracefully. The whole restaurant is open for your eyes to penetrate; you can see the skilled artists at work in the kitchen creating the udon noodles, stirring the fiery soups, cutting mountains of vegetables and, of course, greeting new customers!
A jug of iced water with glasses will appear in front of you, to pre-empt the heat and spice you are about to consume. The food is fresh and quick, you won't be left in the dark for any time. And when you have that first taste of quintessentially Japanese ramen, thick with miso and aromatic goodness, you will honestly wonder why you have ever eaten anything else.
The bowl is a journey, you question whether you want it to end, without doubting for a second you will reach the conclusion. There will be temptations to lick the bowl, there will be a feeling of climax and food-dizziness. After it's over, your dream state will relinquish, the bowls are quickly dispersed of and it is almost like they never existed. Except for that satisfaction in your stomach and that indescribable sensation on the tip of your tongue.
Your stay in Ichiran will seem to come to a natural end, and you can leave to explore the lights and action of Fukuoka with your wallet barely any lighter and your tastebuds much more learned. One day perhaps, you will return.
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