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Saturday, August 13, 2005

Ichi Ban Boshi, Sydney

When I first heard about the tonkotsu ramen at Ichi Ban Boshi, my attention was immediately commandeered.

"Everyday they have this special noodle soup they make for lunchtime," a fellow foodie confided.

"They use a whole pot full of pork bones and simmer it for hours and hours and hours. The stock is simmered so long, it becomes rich with collagen, and..."

I lean in excitedly.

"...they only make 15 bowls of it a day.”

A limited-edition menu item? A gastronomic exclusive? The competitive foodie in me emerges with salivary glands in overdrive.

Tonkotsu means pork bone and is not to be confused with tonkatsu, which is crumbed and deep-fried pork fillet. Tonkotsu is alleged to have come about by accident when, in 1937, a chef forgot all about a pot of pork stock he was simmering. The pork bones broke down completely, adding a thick fatty viscosity to the soup and creating a new flavour sensation to the previous ramen variants of soy, salt and miso.

Today Fukuoka (in the northern past of Kyushu Island) is celebrated as the traditional home of tonkotsu, although this rich and fatty noodle soup is somewhat available throughout Japan.

It quickly became clear that this soup, tonkotsu ramen, must be mine. The fact that its availability at Ichi Ban Boshi is limited makes me want it even more. I'm not a sucker. I just like getting my own way.

So on the Big Day I make my way to Ichi Ban Boshi in the Galeries Victoria. I'm there at 11.40, determined to beat the lunchtime rush and any sneaky foodies who are going to deny me the sensory pleasure of my latest edible research project. If there are only 15 bowls of this stuff, damnit, I'm gonna be batter number one in the dining line-up.

I've glimpsed this busy noodle shop on my occasional visits to the giant Japanese-owned bookshop Kinokuniya, which is the only other tenant on this floor. Usually the place is packed with diners, but at this early hour, Ichi Ban Boshi is relatively empty with only half a dozen diners.

I am seated quickly at a foodcourt-style table with plastic laminate tabletop sitting on lightweight aluminium legs. It's bright and airy, with natural sunlight streaming in through the glassed wall facade and the abundance of white decor bounces both natural and artificial light throughout the eatery.

After a few minutes of pretending to look at the menu (I know exactly what I'm after) the demure and petite Japanese waitress comes to take my order.

"One tonkotsu ramen please," I request, trying to hide my excitement at the realisation of this latest edible quest.

"Umm... so sorry. Tonkotsu ramen not ready yet. Still cooking."

I am aghast. What? This wasn't part of the plan!

"Ok..." I ponder my options. "When will it be ready?" I enquire.

She goes to the kitchen and comes back. "About one hour," she says.

Ack. One hour! But I am determined. And so I apologise as I scrape back my chair and promise to come back in one hour. "I'm sorry. I really want the tonkotsu ramen," I explain.

I'm sure that puzzled bemusement flashes across her face but I don't care. I am a Foodie. I will have no gastronomic regrets if I can help it. What is but sixty minutes in a lifetime of potential gustatory disappointment?

So I head to the cookbooks and food section of Kinokuniya, eye on the watch, minutes slowly ticking past. After thirty minutes I head back over again and ask another waitress whether the tonkotsu is ready.

"In 15 minutes," she says, after a brief conferral with the chef in the kitchen.

Oh, I'm getting closer!

I head back to Kinokuniya and browse the outer area of display books. My increasing paranoia is playing on me now. What if a large group of 15 appears from nowhere, all intent on ordering and consuming the entire day's rations of tonkotsu? What if the waitress was lying to me, and it's been ready since 11am and they're ladling it out now to other diners as I wait, its precious supplies dwindling with each passing minute?

I present myself again to the entrance. By now it is 12.25pm and the inside is packed with diners. There is a queue of over a dozen people now and I nervously wait my turn.

I don't care about asking now whether the tonkotsu is ready yet or not. I am so close, it must be ready by now.

"One tonkotsu ramen please," I say, and to my relief, the waitress simply nods as she scribbles it onto her notepad.

And then finally, after another protracted wait as I nurse my green tea and complimentary glass of water, the tray of tonkotsu ramen is finally delivered at 12.53pm (oh the joys of digital camera time-stamping).

I half-expect a chorus of can can dancers to accompany my dish with its arrival. Perhaps a rousing display of acrobatic exuberance by a pyramid of cheerleaders with blinding pearly white smiles. Or even the ceremonious gong of an ancient Japanese bell to herald the departure of the first tonkotsu ramen of the day from the Ichi Ban Boshi kitchen.

But the waitress has already disappeared, and the two American tourists sitting next to me are probably wondering what's with the kook who keeps photographing everything in sight.

The bowl is not much to look at. There’s a small mound of ramen noodles visible in the yellowy slightly viscous-looking soup. A thin slice of pork. A handful of finely chopped scallions. And a delicate rectangle of toasted nori rests on top.

The first spoonful, though, is unlike any I've ever tasted.

The collagen taste is immediate. Not that I'm all that familiar with the taste of the infamous Hollywood lip-fattening product. But the soup is thick, fatty and leaves a lingering film on the tongue. It tastes like a concotion made entirely of blended bone marrow, that rich delicacy I delight in sucking with childish joy from the remnants of my osso bucco.

The thin slice of pork is a celebration of fat as well.

The pork is soft, tender and almost falls to pieces as I bite into it. The ribbon of fat adds another calorific hug with each mouthful.

I can almost feel my cholesterol levels rising with each successive slurp. The soup is so rich and fatty I can feel it coating my tongue, oozing down my throat and settling down on the comfortable sofa that is my expanding stomach.

The tiny dish of finely chopped pickled ginger offers some relief but really, I could have done with an entire kilo to cut through the grease.

I feel slightly queasy but also strangely nourished. My lips feel plumper already. But then so do my thighs, I think.

The slurping continues and before I know it…

I feel like I’ve consumed an entire day's calories in one sitting and for the rest of the afternoon I feel somewhat bloated with the sensation of over-excess.

But I've tried it. And sure, it was rich, but hey, so is foie gras. It was decadent, it was Japanese and (insert smugness here) I got one of the fifteen limited bowls of it!

The other day I chatted to R as I shared my latest gastronomic conquest.

"They only make 15 bowls a day," I explained. "You should've seen what I had to go through to finally get it," I boast.

"Oh yeah, the collagen soup," she said. "I’ve had that before. I just walked in one day and ordered it. It was great."

15 bowls of tonkotsu ramen are available each day at the Town Hall branch of Ichi Ban Boshi. Time of availability varies, but tends to be about 12.15pm-12.30pm.

Due to popular demand, the tonkotsu ramen is now also available at the Bondi Junction branch.

You can check out photos of Ichi Ban Boshi's various dishes here.

And for ramen noodle fans, check out the World Ramen site for your unadulterated slurping pleasure.

View Larger Map

Ichi Ban Boshi (menu)
Town Hall branch, Sydney
Level 2, The Galeries Victoria, 500 George Street, Sydney
Tel: 02 9262 7677
Open Monday to Sunday 11am - 9pm

Bondi Junction branch, Sydney
360 Oxford Street, Bondi Junction
Tel: 02 9369 3980
Monday to Friday 11am-3.30pm, then 5pm-9pm
Saturday to Sunday11am-9.30pm

Southport branch, Gold Coast Queensland
Shop 1 Cecil Hotel Complex, Scarborough Street, South Queensland
Tel: 07 5528 2112
Open Wednesday to Monday 11am-9pm (closed Tuesdays)

Related GrabYourFork posts:
Ichi Ban Boshi, Sydney (Feb08) and (Aug05)

Japanese ramen - Ajisen Ramen, Haymarket
Japanese ramen - Menya Japan Noodle Bar, Haymarket
Japanese ramen - Ramen Kan, Haymarket (Aug 05), (Nov 04)
Japanese ramen - Ryo's Noodles, Crows Nest (Mar08), (Aug07) and (Jul07)
Japanese ramen - Tokyo Ramen, Hornsby
Japanese ramen - Zenya Noodle Bar, Eastwood
28 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Anonymous on 8/13/2005 11:59:00 pm


  • At 8/14/2005 11:31 am, Blogger deborah said…

    i understand. ive had but a slurp of this ramen, and my lips were plump for the rest of the afternoon.

  • At 8/14/2005 3:01 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hey.. AG,
    I need some bad..!!!
    I wanna have some ramen.. too..!! like yesterday..!! how i envy you...!! i would have done the same too..!!

  • At 8/14/2005 6:30 pm, Blogger Kelly said…

    Oh AG, you had me laughing out loud by the time I got to this bit: "What if a large group of 15 appears from nowhere, all intent on ordering and consuming the entire day's rations of tonkotsu?"

    Glad you succeeded in your mission! And thanks for this very entertaining post :)

  • At 8/14/2005 11:52 pm, Blogger Reid said…

    Hi AG,

    Congratulations! I'm not sure if I'd be waiting around nervously for that amount of time so you're to be commended.

    We have a ramen shop here that specializes in that collagen rich stuff. I did a post on it a while back and the ramen is one of the best that I've had in ages.

    Here's the link:


  • At 8/15/2005 4:21 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I love ichiban boshi, the strand arcade always seems so much more quaint. In summer, love the hiyashi chuka.

  • At 8/15/2005 10:25 pm, Blogger Anthony said…

    A sleep trance, a dream dance,
    A shared romance,

  • At 8/16/2005 5:49 am, Blogger boo_licious said…

    Wow, that is one great post. I love the way you describe your pursuit for this yummylicious ramen.

    I must go look for this ramen as it sounds wonderful.

  • At 8/16/2005 11:51 am, Blogger Fish Fish said…

    Hah!! AG, I can totally understand how a foodie would take all the trouble and patient just to wait for a bowl of great food. My sister just don't understand how come I would drive for 1 hr just for a bowl of decent noodle. ^_~ The moment after so much blocking, and you finally get to taste it... The feeling is wordless. Yum~~~

  • At 11/24/2005 3:47 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I had Tonkotsu the other day at Ichiban Boshi. I love the stuff and wish it was more widely available. Its such a delicate but rich flavour at the same time - Pure luxury.

  • At 8/02/2006 1:02 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    suggest that u try out ryo's noodles @ crows nest. i reckon his ramen is prob the best in sydney and comparable to some of the best hakata style/sapporo style ramen bars in japan. if u like the stock at ichiban-boshi, i think you'll absolutely love ryo's pork stock :-)

    apart from traditional ramen, ryo san also does great "fusion" ramen. his ramen bolognese and the seasonal specials combines a number of western and chinese cooking styles with traditional ramen ingredients. i'm not kidding, this is addictive stuff :-)

  • At 1/27/2007 6:17 pm, Blogger rameniac said…

    this might be my all-time favorite post on your site!

  • At 3/25/2007 5:12 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    this afternoon I decided to have some ramen because of the cold and windy weather. usually I would go to Menya but today, I changed my mind to Ichiban-boshi at Galleries Victoria. I never have the chance to eat here particularly because of the long queue. today was no different, I had to wait 45 minutes just to be seated.

    I knew tonkotsu ramen is their specialty, but I don't want to feel bloated after I ate that. so I ordered basic Tokyo ramen instead. the boiled egg is so soft and melt-in-your-mouth. later I promised myself to come back and have Tantanmen (spicy ramen with minced pork) and Karaage Ramen (deep-fried chicken ramen) on my next visit.

    oh, I have to mention that funny-looking spoon with the jaggy edges. its purpose is to hang onto the sides of bowl, quite handy, eh?
    at least, it's better than the gigantic 'spoon' at Menya. :)

  • At 7/04/2007 5:07 pm, Blogger quizzycal said…

    I just wanted to say how great I think your blog is! I live in Sydney and your reviews and entries are great ideas for eating lunch in the city. You write so amusingly and entertainingly (Grammar much?) Keep eating =P

  • At 8/03/2007 10:36 pm, Blogger red bean said…

    The first time I went there with a friend, it was early lunchtime and we didn't know you had to line up, so we just walked straight to a table!

    The second time, we waited 30 minutes. Its a really popular place, because every time I go to the bookstore the whole balcony is packed with people waiting.

    I ordered the Tokyo Ramen- and its true the pork just falls apart, and the plain boiled egg is just delicious for some reason. Even the corn kernels were so sweet, I tried to scoop them all up. I couldn't finish the soup because it was really salty. I'm more used to pho I think.

  • At 8/22/2007 3:04 pm, Blogger Sydneyguy said…

    tonkotsu ramen is so hard to get!!
    People who go there, please remember to get a TICKET!!
    Also those who go there and dont want to eat, the menu says everyone there must spend at least $8 there to sit down!! I knew places in Melbourne were like this but this is the first place in Sydney that i know of that has this practise

  • At 8/24/2007 10:51 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Hendra - I don't think I remember a jagged spoon but I haven't been back in a while. The giant wooden spoons are a little tricky to manouevre, but I love their aesthetic so much I came back with a dozen of them from Japan!

    Hi Izzy - Awww thanks. I'm glad you're enjoying GrabYourFork. Sydney is blessed with so much good food and yes, don't worry, I intend to keep up my appetite!

    Hi Red Bean - I haven't tried their Tokyo ramen yet, and yes, don't you just love melt-in-the-mouth pork slices and creamy boiled eggs?

    Hi Sydneyguy - Keep trying. The tonkotsu ramen is definitely a sensation worth persisting for :)

  • At 8/29/2007 9:58 pm, Blogger red bean said…

    This is completely shameful, but I've been into Ichi Ban Boshi at a dead time and ate my home made sandwich and drank bottled water. Haha.

  • At 8/29/2007 10:42 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi red bean - And no waitstaff came to take your order? I usually head to foodcourts if I'm looking for a place to "picnic". And I usually make an effort to clean up the crumbs :)

  • At 9/01/2007 9:58 pm, Blogger Monique said…

    I just couldn't stop laughing while reading your post. I can totally relate! When I saw it on the menu, I knew I had to try it, but then I asked the waitress and she told me it wasn't ready yet. But I guess I'm not enough of a foodie because I just ordered the spicy ramen instead.

    Now that I've read your description perhaps I don't have to taste the thing anymore... I don't know if I can take the extra fat around my belly! =P

  • At 9/05/2007 5:43 pm, Blogger Sydneyguy said…

    i wish it was that easy to get that special dish, they sy its not ready, so what are you suppose to do, sit there and wait for it? hahha and then if u go there like 2pm then u have to wait a while to sit down!! Its the first time im using this blogging think, can you email HELen so i can ask you some questions please!!

  • At 9/12/2007 6:01 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Monique - lol. Glad you enjoyed the post. I had fun writing writing it. I'm a sucker for a "special menu item", but hey I still recommend you try it. No words could describe that calorific experience of decadence ever!

    Hi Sydneyguy - Patience is a virtue. My email address in on the side panel. If you have any blogger-related questions, I suggest you check out Blogger Help. It's a brilliant resource and undoubtedly far better at explaining anything than I am!

  • At 12/04/2007 12:11 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I went there in Nov 07 and said ok to a share table because I thought it be quicker. The girl who was doing the seating was totally nuts. She refused to give us a table until a 'share' one was available, so she seated everone behind us (who opted out of sharing) even though they had the same amount of people as us. Its as if I was saying PLEASE OH PLEASE LET ME SHARE MY TABLE

  • At 12/05/2007 4:30 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I tried the Tonkotsu Ramen after reading this review and it was everything AG said it was. I had to line up for one hour though and I was afraid I would miss out. I did notice however no one else was eating it around us so I wonder whether it was due to luck that i managed to get a bowl.

    I only had a sip of the 'soup' it came in because in my opinion it isnt really soup but MSG, seasoning, and salt water. It was was very 'sweet' in a savoury way- very nice.

    I do think that they could have given a bit more than a slither of meat and a piece of seaweed though. I dont often eat Japanese though, maybe they like to go for simplicity...

  • At 12/05/2007 11:04 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Lani - Sounds like you had a memorable start to your meal! Hope you enjoyed your meal anyway.

    Hi Lahra - It isn't really soup, but more a thick stock made from the simmered down pork bones. I think this dish is meant to be all about the stock: Japanese simplicity as you suggest.

  • At 9/05/2008 3:13 pm, Blogger Dreams through the noise said…

    Hmmm tonkotsu... I've been to Ichiban boshi quite a few times but have never tried their tonkotsu ramen, I'll have to try it next time!

    Also if you love Japanese food then there is this great Takoyaki stall in Chatswood near the station that only appears on Thursday. Its the best takoyaki I've tasted in Sydney. Not only do they have takoyaki, but they also have ebiyaki and kaniyaki. They used to have a shop on Sussex street too, but alas it is long gone.

  • At 9/14/2008 12:54 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Dreams through the noise - Thanks for your comment. I have gone past that takoyaki stall before but I didn't have the chance to have any :( And it's a shame that that shop in Sussex Street closed. I just loved the whole window-watching spectacle :)

  • At 3/23/2010 9:56 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    you got it wrong about the Bondi Junction Branch, they have always had tonkotsu ramen there. Way before gallerias victoria and they make more than 15 bowls!! The old joint on oxford st was the best.

  • At 3/24/2010 2:03 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Anon - Thanks for the info. I never ate at Oxford Street but it sounds great. Has been a while since I've had the tonkotsu here - may have to come back for another visit!


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