So you’re in Japan, and of course, ramen is on your bucket list of things to experience. You can’t miss out on ramen — in fact, there’s a good chance you’ll want to try out multiple ramen shops while you’re here.
One of the first things you may notice is the mysterious machine covered with buttons at the entrance to many ramen shops. This is the famous “food ticket machine” used throughout many restaurants in Japan.
What is the food ticket machine in Japan?
It’s a vending machine where you simply put your money in and push the button for the item you wish to purchase. A ticket comes out — take the ticket to your seat and hand it to the staff.
It essentially replaces the initial ordering interaction you would have had with the restaurant staff. I personally think it enhances the ramen experience because you get to see all the options upfront. Everything from the types of ramen, the toppings you can add, and even if you want extra noodles.
Although there is often a problem, especially on the older, non-digital machines: the language barrier.
So not only will we give you some keywords to look out for when trying to use the ticket machine to order your bowl of ramen, but we’ll also go into how to customize your ramen after the order.
Words to look for on the ramen ticket machine
You will find many of the best ramen shops don’t have fancy digital touch screen ordering machines that can switch to English in a pinch. Instead, you will have to navigate a series of sometimes hand-written Japanese text to find the ramen you want.
You can dive much deeper into what ramen is in our in-depth guide here. But real quick, here’s what to look for on the buttons:
Pick the type of ramen
- Miso Ramen 味噌ラーメン or みそ ラーメン = soybean paste
- Shio Ramen 塩ラーメン or しお ラーメン = salt
- Shoyu Ramen 醤油ラーメン or しょうゆ ラーメン = soy sauce
- Tonkotsu Ramen 豚骨ラーメン or とんこつ ラーメン = pork (pork bone broth/lard based soup)
- Negi (ねぎ) is green onion (scallion)
- Tamago (卵 or たまご) is egg
- Moyashi (もやし) is bean sprout
- Nori (海苔 or のり) is seaweed
- Wakame (ワカメ) is another type of seaweed
- Menma (めんま) is bamboo
- Ninniku (にんにく) is garlic
- Seabura (背油) is pork fat
- Rāyu (ラー油) is chili oil
Some shops will ask you if you want thick or thin ramen noodles:
- hoso-men 細麺 = thin noodle
- futo-men 太麺 = thick noodle
Customize your ramen
Ramen is one of those dishes that has such an incredible variety that you may not need to customize it, but many ramen joints give you the option of making some tweaks to the ramen you order. Things like firm/soft noodles, more oil, lots of onion, etc. Next, we’ll show you some phrases to help you order your perfect bowl of ramen.
First, there’s always the choice to let the cooks make the ramen in its normal way. To leave it at that, if the staff ask you if you’d like any changes, just say “futsu de.” This means normal.
Otherwise, if you’d like to make some changes, use the phrases below to make sure you get what you want. And keep in mind, not every ramen restaurant will offer the ability to change things, or they might not be able to change all of these.
- Firmer noodles, please. “men o katame de onegai shimasu.” (men oh ka-ta-may de oh-nay-ga-she-ma-sue)
- Softer noodles, please. “men o yawarakame de oneagi shimasu.” (men oh ya-wa-la-ka-may de oh-nay-ga-she-ma-sue)
- Less lard (oil), please. “abura o sukuname onegai shimasu.” (ah-boo-la oh sue-koo-na-may oh-nay-ga-she-ma-sue)
- More lard (oil), please. “abura o oome onegai shimasu.” (ah-boo-la oh oh-may oh-nay-ga-she-ma-sue)
- Thicker soup, please. “aji o koime onegai shimasu.” (ah-gee oh ko-E-may oh-nay-ga-she-ma-sue)
- Thinner soup, please. “aji o usume onegai shimasu.” (ah-gee oh ooh-sue-may oh-nay-ga-she-ma-sue)
A quick note about thicker/thinner soup. Technically, aji is taste (or flavor). So it’s really saying “I’d like a stronger flavor.“ But this mostly translates to how “thick” they make the ramen broth (based on the type of ramen you chose).
Ichiran: How to order
Ichiran, with its world-famous ramen dining experience, is an introvert’s dream. Its specialty is not only great ramen but privacy while you dine (an added bonus during the COVID-19 pandemic). You sit in a cubicle facing the kitchen staff, but there is a low curtain so you don’t see them. It is as if dining alone.
The way you order and customize your ramen is slightly different at Ichiran too. In short, it goes something like this:
- Choose your ramen at the vending machine
- Choose a seat
- Using the paper menu, customize your ramen
- Enjoy your ramen in private
Step 1: Choose your ramen
Just like at most ramen shops you’ll buy the ticket for the baseline type ramen you want. Nothing out of the ordinary here. Just be careful with your choice, you do have the opportunity to customize it later. No need to dwell on it at the machine.
- Put your money in (enough to cover what you want)
- The buttons light up, pick the one you want – if the button for the item you want does not light up, you may not have put enough money in (or perhaps they are out of stock)
- Take the ticket (don’t forget your change)
Step 2: Sit down
I know it seems weird this is a step, but most Ichiran will have a little board next to the vending machine to show you which seats are available — so I wanted to make sure you let you know about it.
Find a seat, and you’ll see a little piece of paper and a pencil awaiting you.
Step 3: Customize your ramen
Here’s where things get interesting. At Ichiran, at your “table” when you sit down, there’s a small paper menu of sorts with a bunch of options to choose from. Using the pencil, you circle the customization you want. Things such as garlic, onions, noodle texture, spiciness, and more.
They have all the options available, circle what you want, and then hit the button at the corner of your table. The staff will take your paper and then you just wait. Your ramen is on its way.
Step 4: Enjoy the private dining experience
The part you’ve been waiting for. Break open those chopsticks and dig into your perfect bowl of ramen.
And if you want more noodles, put the small silver plate on the sensor at the front of your table. Doing so will automatically call the staff to get noodles for you without having to speak with them.
It’s quite ingenious.
You can also see the official ordering guide from Ichiran here, in English.
And there you go. Whether you want more green onion, softer noodles, or extra braised pork (chashu), this step-by-step guide should help you request your perfect bowl of ramen — not just at Ichiran, but most ramen joints throughout Japan.
Enjoy every slurp!