Tenka-ippin (which means the best in the world), is a chain of ramen (Chinese-style noodles served in a hot soup) stores founded in Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture. The name is sometimes abbreviated to "Tenichi," although there is another ramen shop named 'Tenichi' different from Tenka-ippin. It is one of the ramen shops in Kyoto. The founder is Tsutomu KIMURA. He started the business with a street stall in around 1971 and by developing through a trial and error process a unique tasting ramen that was loved by the students of Kyoto, the shop grew popular. Today, they operate shops nation wide. They have their own factory in Shiga Prefecture.
Their head shop is at 94, Ichijoji Tsukuda-cho, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto City. It is about 10 minutes walk from Eizan Electric Railway's Chayama Station (Kyoto Prefecture). It is in sightseeing guidebooks and fans visit the shop from every region of the country.
When Kimura first opened his ramen stall, he sold Torigara Baitan Ramen (ramen with a whitish chicken-bone soup) common in Kyoto (what Kyoto people call kotteri, or thick type, ramen). However, he asked his fellow street stall ramen sellers about different recipes for the soup and by pawning his belongings one after another, he managed to raise enough money to continue experimenting, finally inventing a totally new kind of soup.
In most shops, the cook asks customers if they want garlic or not when ordering. However, depending on the shop, ramen with garlic is served automatically unless the customer specifically orders it without garlic. The customer must take care when ordering, as in some cases the 'thick type' kotteri ramen (described below) is served automatically unless another type is specifically ordered. The 'garlic' mentioned above does not mean ordinary 'grated garlic' but so-called 'ninton (garlic pepper)' (Some shops have 'grated garlic,' but it is not available in most shops.).
Thick type' and 'plain type'
Basically, diners at Tenka-ippin shops are able to choose between two types of ramen soup, 'kotteri' or 'thick' (they sometimes call it 'stamina' at shops in Nagoya and other places) and 'assari' or 'plain.'
(Other dishes on the menu are described below.)
The 'kotteri' soup, made from chicken and vegetables, is thick with collagen and is often likened to a potage. It is said, though not proven, that this thickness comes not only from collagen but also from rice flour, which is known to be added from the ingredients label on the soup bag for takeout ramen.
In the shops, there are posters of soup in a pot with the logo, 'health food.'
For those who do not like the 'kotteri' soup, ordinary ramen with 'plain' type of Torigara Chintan Soup (a soup with transparent chicken-bone broth), so-called Chuka Soba, Chinese noodles, is also available. Many people avoid the 'kotteri' type and some regard it as a different sort of noodles from ramen. The 'assari' ramen are Tenichi's standard and, depending on the shop, may have oil on the surface, similar to ordinary Kyoto ramen. This 'oil' is not the lard that is often associated with thick soup.
When the restaurant first opened, they only served 'kotteri' ramen.
Other food on the menu
In January 2004, they introduced a sort of 'miso ramen' (ramen with soup made of soy bean paste) with vegetables, called 'Aji gasane,' where diners are able to adjust the thickness themselves.. With the introduction of 'Aji gasane,' the miso ramen called 'Number 4' was discontinued. In addition, 'Aji gasane' cannot be ordered as part of a combination meal at most shops.
There is also a ramen called 'Number 2,' which is half kotteri soup and half assari soup mixed together (it is also known as 'Street stall ramen,' 'Mild' or 'Kossari'). Although it was not officially on the menu (the name comes from the kitchen code with 'Number 1' meaning 'kotteri,' 'Number 3,' 'assari' and 'Number 2,' mixed), many shops have recently started including it.
Even in cases when it is not on the menu, it is served if a customer orders an 'intermediate' or 'Number 2.'
A few shops serve ramen with 'super thick' soup which is not included on the official menu. It is made by boiling down kotteri soup in a small pan. However, it is not officially permitted by Tenka-ippin head office and only a few shops serve it.
Changes in service
Some shops have 'tare' (in this case, condensed soup or soup stock) on the counter so that diners are able to adjust the flavor themselves. In addition, diners are able to add the aforementioned grated garlic with chili pepper (ninton) as well as aromatic fermented 'karashi-miso' (miso with chili pepper).
Although Tenichi are chain stores, as the soup was basically prepared by each shop until around 1985, the flavor of the soup varied depends on the shop, the day and even the time of the day. When making the soup, the pot was filled with ingredients and then the soup was poured directly into the ramen bowl, resulting in minute bits of ingredients floating on the surface, although they later began to filter the soup. Today, the soup is prepared at the central kitchen of 'Takku Foods, Ltd,' an affiliate company of Tenka-ippin, before being vacuum-packed and delivered to the shops, where they adjust the thickness and flavor before serving. This adjustment of the flavor (or more precisely, the volume of soup stock used and the method of heating) is up to the discretion of shop's cook, which is a big reason why the flavor varies depending on shops (although to a lesser extent than before) even with the central kitchen system. Today, shops are either directly managed or run as a franchise and prices can differ between the two. The food at franchises also differs, with more dishes on the submenu and some of them offering a lunch buffet.
At first, at directly-managed shops such as the central head shop in Kitashirakawa, green onion was served in a blue plastic colander and customers were able to help themselves. Recently, this service has been discontinued, even at the central head shop in Kitashirakawa, and available at only a few directly-managed shops. Some shops provide the diners with all-you-can-eat soft-boiled eggs.
For about one year from 2007, diners were able to choose wavy noodles as well as the basic straight noodles. In addition, as of 2009, visitors are able to choose thin noodles (although they are limited in quantity and are not available at some shops). The noodles used for 'Aji gasane' and 'Reimen' (cold noodles) are specific to them and thin noodles are not available.
While Kikusuimaru KAWACHIYA and Yasutaka TSUTSUI have appeared in commercials in the past, Becky's version is now on the air (after being the poster child for 'Aji gasane,' she continued by starring in the commercials). The founder and president of Tenka-ippin Tsutomu KIMURA also often appears in the commercials. Ex-Grand Sumo wrestling champion, Koyo MUSASHIMARU appears in the local commercials aired in the Hawaiian islands.
They hold a campaign at each shop on every October 1, known as Tenichi Day. A voucher for one bowl of free ramen good for one month is given to customers when they order noodles or a set menu including noodles. For one week from the day after Tenichi Day, there is an instant lottery. The prizes in 2005 included cell-phone straps and 100-yen discount vouchers. Other gifts in the past included small models of the bowls used in the shops.