Move over boxed bento lunches, it’s time to try boxed ramen.

If you’re in the mood for a good, hearty bowl of tonkotsu (pork-bone broth) noodles, you can’t go past Japanese ramen chain Ichiran. With solo booths at the counter and an unusual delivery system — where your order is delivered right in front of you from behind a bamboo curtain — dining here is an experience in itself, but the hearty fare they serve up is so cheap and reliably delicious that crowds return for their ramen again and again.

Now, the hugely popular ramen chain is stepping up their game with the opening of a premium restaurant in Tokyo’s swanky Ginza district, which comes with an extra special surprise: the jubako don.

▼ Ginza Ichiran opened to the public on 10 October.

In Japan, jubako are multi-tiered boxes used for serving food, usually seen during special occasions like New Year’s, where they’re used for osechi meals, or when entertaining guests at high-class inns or restaurants.

In the ramen world, jubako are virtually unheard of, but Ichiran Ramen has been experimenting with the unusual serving style for a while now at some of their branches in their hometown of Fukuoka. Now, for the first time, Ichiran diners in Tokyo will also be able to enjoy slurping their noodles from boxes, only at the Ginza Ichiran branch, where the dish is so revered it’s being honoured on a gold-lettered sign out the front of the store.

▼ The multi-tiered box logo can be seen in between the words “Ginza” and “Ichiran”, and beneath it is “重箱丼” (“jubako don”).

We were keen to try the new Ginza-exclusive dish, so we made our way to the store on opening day and headed down the stairs to the restaurant, where roughly ten people were in line ahead of us. Looking at the ticket machine, we could see the jubako don sitting in a prime spot at the top of the menu board.

We ordered the jubako don for 1,180 yen (US$10.86), and received an order sheet for customising our noodles. Seeing as we wanted to taste the dish in its purest form, we decided to forgo our customisation options this time, leaving the form blank.

After a 20-minute wait in line, a booth finally opened up at the counter, and when we sat down, it took just moments for our box to arrive through the bamboo curtain.

We’d never seen a “don”, or “bowl” quite like the rectangular, multi-tiered jubako don that sat before us. This wasn’t a cheap plastic serving dish, either, as it was made from ceramic by a specialist company in Arita, one of Japan’s most famous pottery towns. It looked beautiful as it glistened in the light, and elevated the feel of the meal inside before we’d even laid eyes on it.

We carefully removed the lid, and were delighted to see the glorious, golden broth glimmering around the beautifully placed ingredients. The multi-tiered box layers turned out to be an illusion, as they didn’t actually come apart, but that point was soon forgotten as we delved into the tasting.

Looking at it closely, we could see the close resemblance between this dish and the Ichiran ramen usually served in round bowls. However, the noodles and broth are said to be specially made for this branch, so we were keen to find out what the flavour profile would be like.

The first thing we noticed was the noodles. Like a fine daiginjo sake, which polishes the rice down further than other sake varieties to achieve a more refined flavour, these noodles use a more finely polished wheat than those at regular Ichiran Ramen stores. Slurping them revealed their slick, shiny texture while the mouthfeel was moist and supple. It was clear that these were premium noodles.

The broth was equally refined, with an aged pork flavour that was rich and delicious. The original spicy red sauce gave it a kick that cut through the richness while deepening its flavour, combining beautifully with the premium noodles.

Another Ginza-exclusive is the special chashu pork included in the dish. These thick pieces of meat are made from carefully simmered pork ribs using “Itoshima Ichiran Forest Hand-Grilled Pork” carefully selected by Ichiran craftsmen. These pork pieces are so high-quality that they melt the moment they hit your tongue.

The noodles, broth, and ingredients were all excellent. And to top it all off, the unusual black bowl it’s served in does well to present it beautifully too. It’s a little awkward when it comes to slurping up the rest of the soup, but surprisingly, the corners help to gather up all the smaller noodles as you get to the end of the meal.

After finishing the dish, we were incredibly impressed with the meal and the new take on serving and eating ramen in a jubako added to the memorable experience. It’s a highly satisfying dish that’s different to the usual bowl of Ichiran, and one that fans of the ramen chain will definitely want to try.

Now that Ichiran have given us a premium ramen and a pork-free ramen, we can’t wait to see what they have in store for us next. Perhaps a blue broth or piranha noodles? Whatever it is, we’ll be here waiting for it, after we get over our tapioca bubble tea ramen obsession.

Restaurant information
Ginza Ichiran/銀座一蘭
Address: Tokyo-to, Chuo-ku, Ginza 8-3-11 Wako Bldg. B1
東京都中央区銀座8-3-11 和恒ビルB1
Open: 10 a.m. to 3 a.m. (next day)
*Closed occasionally for maintenance

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