Though it sits at or near the top of every foodie’s “must-eat-in-Japan” list, ramen is arguably a form of fusion cuisine. While generations of Japanese ramen restaurateurs and fans have evolved the beloved noodle dish in countless delicious ways, ramen itself originally came to the country as a Chinese culinary import.
Recently, though, we discovered a restaurant that adds a third country’s gastronomic traditions to the mix. Within walking district of Kyoto’s Gion quarter, the center of geisha culture, you’ll find ramen restaurant Icchan.
Neither Icchan’s name nor exterior suggest that it’s anything other than a completely run-of-the-mill ramen joint, but a quick look at the menu reveals it offers something you can’t get anywhere else in Japan...jerk chicken ramen.
The Japanese restaurant scene is pretty internationalized, with every major city boasting plenty of Indian, Thai, Chinese, and Western European eateries. Jamaican food is a bit harder to find, though you’ll sometimes see jerk chicken as a side dish in pubs. We’d never heard of it being used as a ramen ingredient, though, so we quickly ordered a bowl of Icchan’s unique noodles for 800 yen.
The jerk chicken ramen is pretty distinctive in the appearance department too, with the unorthodox toppings of bright red tomato, yellow bell pepper, and green lime bringing to mind the tricolor Rastafarian motif. Taking a sip of the broth, though, revealed a tasty chicken stock flavor that wouldn’t be out of place in any standard Japanese ramen restaurant.
However, chewing on a simultaneous mouthful of noodles, pepper, and tomato was a completely new experience. It wasn’t a bad one, though, since the broth has a clean finish that compliments the flavor of the vegetables without any harsh clashing on the taste buds.
Moving on to the star of the show, the jerk chicken itself is fantastic. The mixture of spices and herbs is delicious, and not only is the meat tender, soaking in the ramen broth keeps it moist throughout, avoiding the edge-area dryness that sometimes sets in if jerk chicken gets too charred in grilling.
We quickly settled into a rhythm, alternating bites of noodles and toppings with sipped spoonfuls of broth. With each bite, it felt like we were swimming across the seas, going from Japan with the broth to the Caribbean with the chicken, and then back again.
After several trips back and forth, our bowl was empty, and we sauntered away from Icchan for a digestive walk to Yasaka Shrine, which is just a little over 10 minutes away, to soak up the traditional Japanese atmosphere with the taste of Jamaica still lingering on our lips.
Icchan / いっちゃん
Address: Tokyo-to, Sakyo-ku, Minami Monzencho 542-1
Open 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m., 7 p.m.-11 p.m. (Tuesday-Saturday), 11:30 a,m.-2 p.m. (Sunday)
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