Monday, October 29, 2012

Tokyo Ramen Show 2012

It is the time of the year for the annual mega-event in Tokyo -


As a ramen fan, how can I miss it? 

Patiently queuing up...
This year in 2012, the Tokyo Ramen Show is held over 2 stretches of days - 26-30 Oct and 31 Oct - 4 Nov 2012. Over each period, there are 20 selected ramen stalls gathered from all over Japan serving their best ramen to fans coming from Tokyo and beyond. Some of the stall are special collaboration stalls setup by famous ramen brands, offering ramen that are only available during limited period of the show. By coming to the Tokyo Ramen Show, not only you can try ramen from different parts of Japan, but also menus that are not available usually.

The show was very well-organised. When you arrive at the venue, you first line up to buy your ramen ticket (800 yen each). With that, you can subsequently to exchange for a bowl of ramen. All the stall are lined up horizontally in one row, and a queue extends from each stall, with fans patiently queuing up. The bowl is slightly smaller than a normal bowl, so that you can try more varieties. There are ample seats that you can take your ramen to too after you've collected your bowl. 


For the popular stalls, the queue could be at long at more than an hour. However, there are also shorter queues that you can get your ramen in less than 10 minutes. 

There are too many choices to choose from! Assessing that I can eat at most 3 bowls, I picked 3 types of ramen of different taste (and different lengths of queues) to try for this visit.

The first bowl - White Soy Sauce (白醤油) Ramen, a collaboration by 3 different stalls, Shinka, Bigiya and Nawate, all disciples of a famous ramen brand "Setagaya". The soup of this shoyu ramen is excellent - simple but deep with chicken and seafood flavor. The queue for this store was not too long, about 15 minutes.


The second bowl - Special Sapporo Miso Ramen. This is a collaboration by 3 of the top miso ramen stalls in Hokkaido - Menya Saimi, Ramen Iri and Menya Tsukushi. The soup is jointly blended by the 3 owners. It was rich and creamy! The queue for this stall was one of the longest among the 20 stores.


Last but not least - Combination Tonkotsu Ramen. This is a collaboration between 2 ramen brands that have ventured overseas - Keisuke Tonkotsu King in Singapore and Nagi in Hong Kong. The soup is a blend of the tonkotsu soup from both stores. I think it means something when the organizer chose to feature a brand that expanded to Singapore! However, the queue of this store wasn't that long.


Had an excellent spread of something simple, strong and creamy. Personally I like the White Soy Sauce Ramen best, as the soup was the most delicious among the three.

Shall I visit the show this coming weekend too? 
I'm extremely tempted to do so!


Sunday, August 26, 2012

Ikkousha in Fukuoka!

I just wrote about Ikkousha being crowned the Ultimate Ramen Champion in Singapore last week. 

What a coincidence!

Just in the following week, I have a chance to travel Ikkousha's hometown, Fukuoka. While I couldn't write about Singapore's Ikkousha now, of course I should visit the real authentic Ikkousha in Fukuoka.

And here I am, in Ikkousha @ Deitos Hakata, right on top of the JR Hakata Station.

Irasshaiimase!

This Ikkousha outlet is located in the Hakata Noodle Street, a food street with 12 noodles stores from different parts of Kyushu. Besides ramen, it also has shops offering udon, soba and Nagasaki champion.

Maybe I am a little early for lunch

Frankly I was not aware of Ikkousha when I was in Tokyo, but walking around the streets of Fukuoka, I spotted quite a number of them - They are a famous regional brand from Fukuoka!

Checking Ikkousha's homepage, they have 9 outlets in Fukuoka alone, and 1 more in Kyoto. In addition to the Ikkousha brand, there are also other brands such as Gensuke (offering seafood-tonkotsu ramen. unfortunately closed in Singapore), Genkun (offering tsuke-men), Genou (offering tsuke-men too) and Keishi (offering seafood-shoyu ramen). Last but not least, the group also has a noodle manufacturing company, supplying noodles to the group and beyond. 

Overseas and beyond Singapore, they have also expanded to Jakarta, with 2 stores now. 

Outside the Deitos store, there is this board that was created to share with their customers that they are now expanding to the world!

世界進出 - Expanding to the world!

Attracted by the huge pieces of char siew, I tried the Char Siew Ramen (850 yen).

Giant char siew!!

The ramen is topped with spring onion, black fungus and 4 thin slices of char siew that spill over the edge of the bowl. True to the Hakata style tonkotsu ramen, narrow and white noodles are used, and the soup is creamy with the rich smell of pork bones. The soup is boiled over strong fire in a large traditional Japanese pot, thereby giving it its creamy texture. However, this way also introduces the "pork bone smell" that some might not like. The sauce (tare) used is said to have used 4 different types of local soy sauce, a handful of spices and a few types of seafood.

Personally I like this bowl of ramen. While it does not gives a strong impact in a single area, it is tasty and mild that kept me eating on and on. The char siew is soft and compliments the soup and noodles well. Compared to the outlet in Singapore, I felt that the soup is slightly thicker here in Fukuoka. 

There is a direct flight from Singapore to Fukuoka, so to those of you ramen fans out there, you might want to visit Fukuoka and taste Ikkousha and also other famous Hakata ramen!


View Ramen Walker's Ramen Map in a larger map


Ramen Data - Ikkousha @ Hakata Deitos
Address: 1-1 Hakataeki-Chuogai, Hakata-ku, Fukuoka (Inside Hakata Ramen Road, Deitos 2F)
Types: Tonkotsu Ramen
Price: 650 - 1050 yen



Sunday, August 12, 2012

Ikkousha - 2011 Ultimate Ramen Champion!

After a year of operation, the winner of the Ramen Champion project is finally decided!

A media event was held on 7 August to announce the winner as well as the next phase of the project. I was invited to the event too, but unfortunately I'm overseas and have to give a miss to this wonderful opportunity to witness the winner and get to know the ramen community in Singapore.

The winner of 2011 Ramen Champion is.... (drum roll)

IKKOUSHA (一幸舎)!!

It was reported that Ikkousha topped the competition, selling 100,531 bowls of ramen in the past year. No. 2 is Bario, who sold 65,529 bowls. The difference is pretty huge. Wonder how were the sales of the rest of the concepts.

(Note: Their normal ramen costs $13, so their sales over the year would be about S$1.3mil just for the small stall! Is that consider a lot?)

I didn't have the time to blog about Ikkousha, but I have eaten it many times. Personally I liked Toyama Black best, but Ikkousha will be my number two. Its tonkontsu soup is tasty but not too heavy, unlike the other stalls in Ramen Champion that people might find them slightly too salty.

The result reinforced the type of ramen that Singaporeans tend to like - Tonkotsu! We already have Santouka and Ippudou that is widely popular in Singapore, and now Ikkousha is crowed the ramen champion.

Where there is a winner there is a loser. Of the first batch of Ramen Champion stalls, 2 of them, Tetsu and Gensuke, and  will not be continuing on for the next year. While the soup of Tetsu was good, I personally does not quite like eat tsukemen because the soup tends to get cold fast. Maybe many Singaporean felt the same. For Gensuke, I have not been there before. It seems that it is supposed to be a Halal ramen concept created by Ikkousha using chicken broth. Perhaps the ramen crazy has not caught up within the Muslim community in Singapore?

The next phase of Ramen Champion will commence from 7 Aug 2012 to 30 Jul 2013 with a total of 8 brands. The 2 new entrants are:

Menya Aoyama (麺屋 青山) - A tonkotsu ramen stall with its specialty being its ajitama egg. The egg seems to be marinated in seasoned fresh cream

Taka no Tsume (鷹の爪) - A stall with its specialty in spicy ramen. "Taka no Tsume", or the eagle's claw, is also the name of a type of chili in Japan that is known for its hotness. Something like our chili padi in Southeast Asia.

Seems that they have brought in 2 concepts to suit Singapore's palate - Tonkotsu and Chili ramen.

Another interesting finding is that these 2 ramen stalls seems to be related to a company in Japan called Menya Kouji Group (麺屋こうじ), that is responsible for producing a group of ramen stalls in Japan. The CEO of Menya Kouji Group, Tashiro Koji, seems to be also the COO of Komars Group, the company behind Ramen Champion in Singapore. Mr Tashiro himself have been trained as a ramen chef under Taishoken, and have opened several successful ramen shops in Japan. It is fun when the dots connect!

I will not be able to try these ramen in Singapore, so please share with me your comments if you have tried them? I will also try to make my way to their stall in Japan... although both are a little far in Chiba prefecture.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Kisshokichi - Kobe Beef Ramen (神戸牛らーめん 吉祥吉)

This week's ramen adventure brings me to Kobe, where I happen to be doing some regional visits.

The first thing that come to mind for Kobe is of course, Kobe beef.
And something came to my mind... are there any ramen shops that offers Kobe beef ramen?

I did some search on the internet, and I found one in the Sanchika underground mall, near the Sannomiya station of Kobe!

There is a trend of having "ramen avenues" inside shopping or underground mall over Japan. The Sanchika underground mall opened its "Ramen Road (麺ロード)" in Nov 2011. It is not that big with only 4 shops, but they are said to be the selected ones from Kobe.

Sanchika Men Road
The stall offering Kobe Beef Ramen is called Kisshokichi (吉祥吉). Kisshokichi is a restaurant that offers Kobe beef are reasonable prices. It has 6 restaurants in Kobe serving Kobe beef is different styles such as steak, shabu-shabu and buns, and this ramen concept is a new addition in the group.


I order the Kobe Beef Ramen (850 yen), the standard recommendation of the stall.


So, where are the Kobe beef elements in this ramen? It is used in 3 parts:

- Soup. The soup is made from Kobe beef bones. High-end beef bouillon! 
- Slices of Kobe beef 
- Minced spicy kobe beef miso

The soup and ingredients has relatively strong flavours, so I think spring onions and bean sprouts are added to balance the tastes.

It was an interesting bowl of ramen because the tastes are beef-based, rather than the usual pork, chicken or seafood flavours. However, it is hard to tell that  the grade of the beef or how "kobe beef" made the ramen exceptional. Overall, it is not bad but not exceptionally great.

If you happen to be in Kobe and would like to try something different, this will be something interesting!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Menya Sou (麺屋 宗) - Special Uma Shio Soba + Sakura!

It is the sakura season now in Japan! Personally I think that it is one of the most beautiful moments of the year. I visited the Meguro river and took a stroll along the bank lined by sakura. Beautiful!

Sakura at Meguro river
It was nearly lunchtime and I was looking for something to eat. 

And just when I was looking around, I spotted this signboard of a ramen store! What a coincidence. 

Following the signboard, I reached Menya Sou (麺屋 宗). Situated along Yamate Dori near the Nakameguro station, it is a small ramen joint with only about 10 counter seats. The main outlet of Menya Sou is at Takadanobaba, and this Nakameguro outlet is its 2nd one.


The note on the left of the picture shows the opening hours of the store. But the information that is more important is the number of servings that they serve per session. Over lunch, there is a limit of only 50 servings, and 100 for dinner!

Menya Sou is an award-winning ramen joint - It was selected by the readers of magazine "Tokyo Weekly" as the ramen of the year in 2007 and 2008, among other awards. Its specialties are shio ramen and tsukemen (dipped ramen)

I ordered the shop's recommendation, Special Uma Shio Soba (980 yen)


The ramen is topped with a whole tamago, bamboo shoot, 3 pieces of char siew, mizuna, spring onion and shredded chili. The char siew is grilled over charcoal before it is served, and I guess it is thinly sliced to suit the simple shio soup. The menma is hand-shredded, so it is much longer than the usual menma served. Something special. 

The soup is a combination of clear chicken soup and seafood stock, together with 2 types of salts. It was tasty and light, matching the toppings that are also simple.

Menya Sou also prepared 3 types condiments for us to add to the ramen and play with the flavours - pepper, plum vinegar and its original "sou space". In particular, the plum vinegar (the red one in the center) is for the shio ramen. I added some to my soup - it made the soup more refreshing and even more drinkable. I finished the soup until its last drop!

Pepper, Plum Vinegar and Sou Spice

Another thing that I noticed was the ramen bowl. The bowl used seems to be more sophisticated than those used in other ramen shops.

It was only later that I found out why. The owner of Menya Sou is Yanagi Munenori (柳 宗紀), who is the grand nephew of Yanagi Sori (柳 宗理), one of the iconic industrial designer in Japan and was passionate about promotion of local crafts. The shop uses designs of Yanagi Sori, which include some kitchenware as well. No wonder the bowls look good!

A bowl of ramen that I will recommend for those who like shio ramen. I will try to visit their main store in Takadanobaba next time!



Ramen Data - Menya Sou NakameguroAddress: 3-5-55 Nakameguro, Meguro-ku, Tokyo
Types: Shio ramen, Tsuke-men
Rating: 9/10

Saturday, April 7, 2012

AFURI Harajuku - Yuzu Shoyu Noodle

Visited one of my favourite ramens in Tokyo again for this week's ramen fix.

AFURI has 2 outlets in Tokyo, one in Ebisu and another in Harajuku. I visited the one in Harajuku, which is about 3-4 minutes walk from the JR Harajuku station. There was a short queue outside, and I waited for about 10 mins before managing to get in.

Clean and simple shop
One of the specialty of Afuri is its char siew, which is charcoal grilled before it is served. This gives the char siew a nice smoky fragrance, and some burnt on the surface that makes it look good.

The shop only has counter seats, so I can see my char siew grilling right in front of me. Smells good!

Grilling...
Afuri's standard is its Yuzu Shio Ramen, but I ordered the Yuzu Shoyu Ramen for a change. There are also 2 types of noodle to choose - the normal narrow noodles and a special "shinku hirauchi" noodles. The latter has more texture and is more chewy.


The presentation was mouth-watering. What I like about them is also that its a bowl that is simple yet flavoursome, unlike some others that while it is delicious their richness made you feel full halfway eating them.

Since harajuku is a often-visited tourist area, it will be easy to drop by too. Some ramen shops are really difficult to find!




Ramen Data - AFURI HarajukuAddress: 3-63-1 Sendagaya, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Types: Yuzu shio noodle, shoyu shio noodle, tsuke-men
Rating: 9/10

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Menya Musashi opening in Singapore!

I was in Singapore for a short visit and happened to walk past Raffle City.

And guess what? 

I just about Menya Musashi Kanzan in my last post, and there I saw near the taxi stand announcement that a Menya Musashi will be opening in Raffles City! What a coincidence.

The opening date is still not clear, and I couldn't find any trace of the news on the internet yet. The website of Menya Musashi is quite basic and it might be the style of the owner to remain low profile.

I would like to share some history about Musashi to prepare everyone for their entry.

Menya Musashi is one of the legendary ramen brand in Japan. Its owner, Yamada Takeshi, together with Ippudo's Kawahara Shigemi and Nanttsutei's Furuya Ichiro are said to be icons of the ramen industry that led to its popularity now.

It is interesting to note that we are going to have all these 3 in Singapore soon! Maybe it is a reflection that we are growing into a culinary capital of the world.

Yamada had an interesting background. According to what others have written about him, he was originally from the apparel industry. After graduating from high school, he started his own apparel company and grew to become an entrepreneur. However, the company went under after the burst of the Japanese economic bubble, and he was debt-ridden. As he was thinking about starting a small push-cart hawker business to earn a living, a conversation with his friend led him to explore using dried saury (秋刀魚 or サンマ, a type of narrow and long fish that is typically in season in autumn) to make ramen soup. This eventually became the signature of Musashi's ramen.

Musashi's flagship outlet is in Shinjuku, about 4 minutes from the JR Shinjuku west exit. In addition, it has 10 more "noren-wake" outlets in Tokyo by Yamada's disciples, each with its own unique characteristics while maintaining the tradition of its roots.


I'm not sure will the Musashi in Singapore be serving what is available in the Shinjuku outlet, but the key characteristics of Musashi are:

Soup: Animal + Seafood Double Soup. The soup is made from a mix of 2 types of soup: Animal-based soup made from chicken and pork bones, and seafood-based soup, made from dried saury and other ingredients such as kelp  and prawn oil.

Noodles: medium-thick flat noodles, which are suitable for shoyu ramen.

Chic Japanese Interior: Attention is paid to the interior of the shop, which is mostly in a strong Japanese theme in dark colors. This might be due to his background in the apparel industry.

Looking forward to see the response of Musashi's opening in Singapore! Meanwhile I'll go and try out a few of its outlets here in Japan.

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