World-famous Japanese ramen chain Ippudo is going all-in on the vegan trend. After perfecting its vegan tonkotsu recipe, the restaurant is now working on more plant-based creations and may even turn one of the outlets into a dedicated vegan shop.
Ippudo is making a big bet that veganism is here to stay. The restaurant chain—a global sensation since its launch in Japan in 1985—is experimenting with more plant-based noodle dishes. Vegan ramen lovers could even potentially visit a 100% plant-based Ippudo chain in the future, according to a recent Nikkei report.
Perfecting vegan tonkotsu ramen
Ippudo first dipped its toes into plant-based in February, when it launched its first vegan tonkotsu ramen. Tonkotsu broth is traditionally made from pork and represents the chain’s most iconic dish to date.
According to Nikkei, the whole idea to create a vegan version came when the chain received feedback from managers that customers were frustrated at the lack of choices. Not just for vegans, but for those with dietary restrictions or religious requirements.
At the time, Ippudo had started work on a vegetarian ramen recipe, and some of its locations were already offering a veggie-based broth. But to recreate the milky-white tonkotsu was a challenging task.
Years in the making, the culinary team at Ippudo worked with Japanese food processor Fuji Oil to create the perfect plant-based tonkotsu recipe. Instead of pork bones, they used soy milk, kombu, and porcini mushrooms. These ingredients give the rich umami flavour akin to real pork bone tonkatsu. Noodles were made without eggs, and used whole wheat flour instead.
Chefs at Ippudo even replicated the braised pork belly slices—chashu—that tops each ramen bowl. Ditching pork, they made a replacement out of kidney bean paste. This dish launched to huge fanfare.
After perfecting the recipe, 45 of Ippudo’s outlets began serving up this vegan ramen. It was a limited trial, but Ippudo fans loved it. Consumers who had never visited Ippudo before came flocking to the restaurant to try the dish out for the very first time, winning the chain new customers, too.
Japan’s vegan market
It all comes amid surging demand in Japan for plant-based foods. The trend was slower to catch on compared to more mature markets in the West, but Japan’s vegan food scene is now exploding. Vegan konbinis are popping up in Tokyo, and one burger chain, Great Lakes, has decided to ditch meat and dairy altogether.
The country’s biggest home furnishing and lifestyle store, Muji, rolled out four meatless alternatives last year.
“Our estimates show the Japanese market for plant-based foods will grow at an average annual rate of 27% in the coming years,” Hajime Mizukami of TPC Marketing Research told Nikkei.
While Ippudo hasn’t yet released specific details over its plant-based plans, one thing is clear: there’s no reason to not go all-in.
Lead image courtesy of Ippudo.