Sunday, June 27, 2010

Menya Shinchan - Tonkotsu Seafood Tsuke-men & In Conversation with Tajima-san

This week's ramen adventure brings me back to Menya Shinchan.
Still my favourite store in town so far.

And... I had the privilege to speak with Mr Tajima, the owner-chef of Shinchan!!
More of that later.

I had the Tokotsu Seafood Tsuke-men ($13), one of the dipped noodles served at Shinchan.

It comes with a large bowl of dipping soup, and noodles served in a plain bowl of water.
Most of the tsuke-men that I've eaten so far serve the noodles dry. I guess its Shinchan's way to keep the noodles moist and not stick together.

Closing up on the noodles, for the tsuke-men, it uses thick noodles, which goes well with thick soups. A tiny bit of sesame is sprinkled on top of the noodles too.

The soup is made from a blend of tonkotsu, chicken and seafood soups. It is very creamy and rich if you drink it by itself, but it is just right if you dip the noodles into it.

The lump in the middle that is floating on top of the seaweed is fish powder (魚粉). Usually made from crushed bonito flakes, it directly adds more seafood flavours into the soup. It is intentionally placed on top of the seaweed so that you can add if you want to, or take it away if you don't prefer too strong a seafood taste. I had the ramen half-way before mixing the fish powder in, to taste the ramen in 2 different ways. I think I prefer the taste after the powder is mixed in, making it even more fragrant.

Another topping but it can't be seen on the picture is the chunky char siew that is swimming in the soup. The char siew is intentionally cut into chunks for this tsuke-men to match the rich soup. Char siew here at Shinchan is tender and I like it.

All in all, this is a well-made bowl of ramen that I'll definitely be coming back for.

Back to my encounter with Mr Tajima.
Since Shinchan is my favourite store in Singapore, I was longing for a chance to speak to him
And finally I have done so!

Tajima-san, with me next to him

He shared with me how he started Shinchan about 4 years go, the journey that he has been through, and some of the intricacies of his ramen. Some of the things that I found interesting or that I've learnt are:

- He eats ramen everyday! Might be obvious because he works there, but it still amazes me.

- 3 types of noodles are made daily in-house (not sure if anyone noticed that the room at the end of the stall has a little tag "noodles factory" on it) for its various types of ramen. Thicker noodles need more time to mature, while the thinner ones have to be consumed within the day or it will become too dry to be used.

- 3 types of soup, tonkotsu, chicken and seafood, are made daily and blended at various ways to produce the different flavours.

But of all the sharing that I've heard, the most inspiring story is actually the process of how some of his ramen evolved with the help of his customers.

Mr Tajima said that initially Shinchan's ramen does not really taste good. However, there are several loyal fans and ramen experts among his customers. These customers come back time after time, and sometimes even almost daily, to taste his ramen and give feedback.

"Hmm... today the soup lacks punch"
"For this ramen, you should add more of XXX into it"
etc etc.

Through listening and interacting with his customers as well as improvisation, his ramen improved slowly to the level that he is at now.

2 of the ramens that went to this path are the signature Shinjiro ramen, as well as this Tonkotsu Seafood Tsuke-men that I've just tried. Mr Tajima shared that especially for the latter, it went through the most number of iterations before reaching this stage, and he thinks that it is the most polished bowl of ramen that he has developed.

Because of this little history of Shinchan, he is always thankful of this customers. Without his customers' feedback, he said that Shinchan won't be what it is today.

Thank you Tajima-san for sharing with me this story!
Behind every bowl of ramen, there is a story to be told.
Will definitely be back for more of your ramen.

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