On her recent trip to Kyoto, our reporter Mai ate a sparrow. And not, like, in a patty, paté, or some other unrecognizable form, but as an entire small bird grilled on a skewer.
So you might now be wondering if Mai ate anything else terrifying on her trip, and indeed she did: ramen. However, it wasn’t the ramen’s ingredients that make it scary, but its preparation.
At first glance, Menbaka Ichidai might seem like any other ramen joint. Sure, the exterior is a little fancier than most others, but some of that is thanks to the restaurant being recently renovated, with the spruce-up having just been completed in the spring.
But then you notice the towering inferno coming up from the ramen bowl wall decoration next to the entrance, because while the restaurant’s official name is Menbaka Ichidai, it’s also known as “Fire Ramen.”
Ichidai is quick to point out, though, that the “fire ramen” nickname doesn’t mean that its ramen is spicy. In fact, there’s only one type of ramen on the menu: the house specialty Negi Ramen, loaded with sliced Kyoto-grown green onions, for 1,350 yen.
See, when people call Ichidai’s noodles “fire ramen,” they’re speaking literally because they really do light the whole thing on fire just before you eat it.
As she placed her order, Mai took a seat at the restaurant’s stainless steel counter. The choice of materials isn’t for some sort of industrial chic or stylishly minimalist aesthetic, but for safety reasons. A flammable surface made of wood simply won’t do, and there’s even a shelf underneath the counter, near your knees, where you’re asked to keep both your beverage and personal belongings during the ramen firestorm.
After ordering, Mai was given a thorough list of instructions by the restaurant staff, as though she were about to ride a roller coaster or some other amusement park thrill ride. Photography and filming are prohibited during the fire, but since the staff knows this is something customers are going to want a visual record of, they’re happy to use your phone or camera and record video for you.
"Please fold your arms behind yourself and lean back,” the server said as he set a bowl of ramen in front of Mai. “Please remain seated, and try not to scream loudly.”
But the intensity of the fire ramen is no joke.
As the server dropped a measure of flaming oil into Mai’s ramen, she could feel a rush of hot wind flume up from the bowl. The “keep your arms behind you” rule now made perfect sense, since the flames were easily in arm’s reach.
But as powerful as the flames were, once they dissipated, the ramen still looked delicious, without a trace of char or singeing.
The green onions were crisp, fragrant and flavorful, while the soy-based broth was unpretentiously tasty. The noodles are a touch on the firm side, making for a nice texture that complements the green onions, and the sliced chashu pork is lean and meaty, not chewy or fatty.
All in all, Menbaka Ichidai is a compelling combo of unprecedented, thrilling presentation and traditional, comforting flavors, and is definitely worth a visit if you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind ramen experience.
Menbaka Ichidai / めん馬鹿一代
Address: Kyoto-fu, Kyoto-shi, Kamigyo-ku, Minamiiseyacho 757-2
Open 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m.
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