Sunday, August 7, 2011

Keisuke Tokyo (けいすけ東京) - Tokyo Shio Ramen

Taking a break from going to Ramen Champion, I visited Keisuke Tokyo today for my ramen fix.
It is one of my favourite ramen places in Singapore, but it is a little off the places that I usually go to so I don't frequent it that much.

Just happened that I was at Suntec, I decided pop by instead.

And they have further made some improvements since my last visit!

After sitting down, the attentive waitress passed me this order form to fill up.

Make your own RAMEN !!

Looking further down the form makes me understand what it exactly is for. After choosing the ramen that you would like to order, you can further customise your ramen using this form by indicating:

- Strength / thickness of the soup (3 levels)
- Amount of oil on the ramen (4 levels)
- Hardness of the noodles (4 levels)
- If you do not want any toppings due to preference (e.g. bamboo shoot, etc.)

Customisation

While it seems to be possible to customise our ramen at some of the other ramen joints in Singapore, this is by far the most structured way in letting customers customise their ramen. I am further impressed by Keisuke's sophistication!

They seem to have added one more type of condiment to the existing ones - bonito flakes.


With this and others like spicy beansprout and chopped onion, there are even more room to play with your ramen.

I ordered the Tokyo Shio Ramen with egg ($13++) today.

Good presentation

Clear Shio Soup

I won't delve too deeply into the ramen today. But in short, it was a good bowl as per the usual Keisuke standard.

Last but not least, there was another surprise for me this visit...

Keisuke is going to open their 2nd outlet named "Tonkotsu King" in Tanjong Pagar on 8 Aug (Monday)!


The new shop is located at Orchid Hotel in Tras Link, near Tanjong Pagar MRT station.
Let's see if I have the time to pop by for lunch on Monday.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Menya Iroha (麺屋いろは) - Negi Ramen, Ramen Champion, Iluma

Visited Ramen Champion today to continue my quest to finish all the 6 ramen brands.

And there I'm, greeted by a queue!

Really? I have to queue to enter?

The advertisements at the MRT station screens sure did work to bring in the crowd. Iluma is usually pretty empty and when I was at Ramen Champion on its opening day it was quiet too. Happy that ramen is creating another storm in Singapore!

Today, my feet bring me to Menya Iroha (麺屋いろは).

Another queue, but I'm happy to wait

Iroha comes from Toyama Prefecture (富山県), a prefecture in central Japan on the side of the Sea of Japan. A place that is little known by people overseas. Some adventurous tourist might have been to the Kurobe dam and Tateyama mountain, which are located in Toyama.

location of Iroha HQ

Iroha seemed to have received many accolades - It achieved top sales for 2 consecutive years in Tokyo Ramen Show 2009 and 2010, selling 13355 bowls of ramen over 5 days. Assuming a bowl of ramen was sold at 700yen, they would have earned about S$150k just in that 5 days. It also received an award from the prefecture governor of Toyama as an outstanding enterprise.

Iroha has several specialties, and one of them is the Toyama Black Soy Sauce Ramen.
I ordered the Negi Tama Ramen (leek & egg ramen, $13) version of this specialty today.


The toppings of char siew (x2), egg, chopped & shredded leek, seaweed, bamboo shoot and a sprinkle of black pepper sit on top of curly noodles and the signature black soup. Presentation was good, and the colors contrast well on top of the black soup.

The soup base is made from a mix of seafood (dried fish, kelp, etc.), chicken and vegetables. The black color is due to its secret black soy sauce, which is said to be made in such a way that it maximises the "umami" of the sauce while keeping salt content low. Together with the seafood and chicken broth, although the soup looks salty, but surprisingly it is light but full of flavour. I think that it goes down very easily and you won't get sick of it.

The egg, I must say that it is so far the most runny among the 6 stores in Ramen champion. Some of them are too well-done.

Runny yolk

Another part that I enjoyed a lot is the char siew. A harmless looking piece, but it was very tender. The fatty part of the char siew literally melted inside my mouth. Was impressed by how well it was done.

Last but not least, the leeks, intentionally hand-shredded to preserve the crunchiness according to Iroha's website, complemented the noodles well. I enjoyed the feeling of chewing the noodles amid the crunchy shreds of leek.

Although shoyu ramen is usually not my top favourites, Iroha's black shoyu ramen scored high in my list. From the immediate reaction of my taste buds, it is so far the best among the 6 ramens in Ramen Champion.

Reading through Iroha's website, there seem to be items that they were not able to bring it to Singapore. Really want to try them...
1) Noodles - The noodles in Japan are made using deep-sea water taken from the Toyama bay, which is supposed to have positive health effects. The flour used are made from the whole grain flour that is more nutritious. Whats more, they have also kneaded lotus roots into the noodles to give it more chewiness.
2) White prawn soup (白エビだしスープ) ramen - An item on Iroha Japan's menu, the ramen's soup is taken from dried shells of white prawn, a premium ingredients even used in sushi. Sounds delicious.

I think that we should count ourselves lucky, because looking for an Iroha is not easy.
They don't even have an outlet in Tokyo yet!
Their 9 stores in Japan are in Toyama, Ishikawa, Hakata, Kyoto and Kanagawa. And there we have it here in Singapore.

Will definitely go back and try their other offerings.



Ramen Data - Menya Iroha @ Ramen Champion, Iluma
Address: 201 Victoria Street, 4F Iluma, Ramen Champion
Types: Shoyu Ramen (Black Soy Sauce), Spicy Miso Ramen
Price: S$11-18
Rating: 9/10

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Tsukemen TETSU (つけめんTETSU) - Ramen Champion, Iluma

Following my last visit to Ramen Champion, today's visit brings me to ...


Tsukemen TETSU!


Tetsu is one of the pioneers of tsukemen (dipped noodles) in Japan. While tsukemen was not new in the ramen scene, it used to be served cold - cold noodles served in cold soup - to be eaten in summer when the weather is too hot for a bowl of hot ramen. However, there are people (like me) who doesn't like soup cold. Started in 2005, Tetsu was one of the first ramen brands to serve tsukemen hot. Its popularity soon caused many to follow.

In a short 6 years, it has quickly expanded to about 10 outlets around Japan, including iconic locations such as Roppongi Hills in Tokyo, Landmark Tower in Yokohama and the station mall in Kyoto.

I ordered the "Very Rich Special Paitan Tsukemen", the standard item on their menu, plus an addition egg.
In Japan, they are famous for their rich seafood-tonkontsu soup, but I think they have modified their menu to cater to the Singapore crowd who might not like the seafood taste.


The thick dipping soup is made from chicken and tonkotsu soup, and a clear layer of oil coats the surface of the soup. Char siew, bamboo shoot and chopped leeks swimming inside the soup. Noodles used are normal, straight noodles.

I like the taste of the soup and it holds onto the noodles well. The char siew was also tender although I would hope for more. The part that I would hope that it can do better is the egg, which came fully cooked an not runny.

Half way into the noodles, the soup turned a little cold. And it is where you can try the first-of-its-kind service in Singapore, that is unique to Tetsu...

The hot stone! (焼き石)

see the stone in the middle?

You can approach the staff at the TETSU store to give you some "Yaki-ishi", and they will then deliver to you a piping-hot stone into your soup. It sizzles for about 5-10 seconds, transferring the heat into the soup. Your dipping soup is hot again now!

And when you are finished with the noodles, the experience is not done yet.

You can bring the soup to the TETSU counter again, and look for a thermal pot labeled "Dashi Soup". The purpose of the soup (made from bonito flakes I think) is to dilute the thick soup, so that you can down the delicious soup till its last drop. When diluted, the soup has an added seafood taste and the fragrance of katsuo.

Soup for drinking, not dipping

All in all, the overall experience at TETSU was good. It was enjoyable eating the ramen, with the dipping, hot stone, dashi soup and all. It was slightly disappointing that the egg wasn't runny, and I personally think that they could bring in the bowls they use in Tokyo to Singapore too, just like Bario and other stores. It will make the noodle much more appealing, and reinforces their branding too. The shape of their bowl in Tokyo resembles the logo of Tetsu.



Ramen Data - Tsukemen TETSU @ Ramen Champion, Iluma
Address: 201 Victoria Street, 4F Iluma, Ramen Champion
Types: Tsukemen
Rating: 8.5/10

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Bario (バリ男) - Ramen Champion, Iluma

The ramen scene in Singapore as been quiet for a while with no new entrants, and I had some trouble looking for what to write.
But all of a sudden, 6 ramen champions descended onto Singapore at one go!


Taking over the previous location of a Japanese theme restaurant park Ebisuboshi-Shotengai, a ramen-only restaurant park called らーめんチャンピオン (Ramen Champion) opened on 1 July 2011, bringing into Singapore 6 renowned ramen stores from Japan. Such concepts are not uncommon in Japan - for example there is Tokyo Ramen Street at the Tokyo station and Ramen Museum in Yokohama. But having one in Singapore is another thing. I'm not sure is this the first of its kind outside of Japan.

The 6 ramen stores in Ramen Champion are Taishoken (大勝軒), Gantetsu (がんてつ), Bario (バリ男), Tetsu, Iroha (いろは) and Ikkousha (一幸舎). They came from different parts of Tokyo and have a good mix of styles, such as shoyu, tonkotsu, miso or dipped-noodles. They have respectively won many accolades in Japan, and I'm really happy that they are here!


The restaurant uses a card system for ordering like some of those in Singapore.

Owner of Bario, Mr Iwasaki

The interior of the restaurant is similar to that of Ebisuboshi Shotengai. The induction cooker on some of the tables reminds me of the shabu-shabu restaurant that was there. I was there on a Saturday lunchtime - considering that it was the 2nd day of operation, the crowd was a bit thin. Its a pity because on this first week of operation, the owner of the respective brands' owners are all present in Singapore.

The next question is - which one should I eat?

As a man (achem...), I've chosen to try Bario, which means "super guy" in Japanese according to the owner. Well this is more of a joke. The real reason is that I've heard a lot of good things about Bario from Japan.

Your ramen is ready

After ordering your ramen, the stores at Ramen Champion hands you a tag that will ring when your ramen is ready. A good way to keep our waiting time down while being able to enjoy it hot.

Bario offers Jiro-style (二郎系) ramen - ramen in ultra large portion that comes with a mountain of vegetables. Another place in Singapore that you can have this in Menya Shinchan.

I ordered the signature ramen ($13) from Bario.
And it does come with a bang!


The ramen is topped with a mountain of bean sprouts and cabbage, with a few blocks of chunky char siew. The bean sprouts have their tips picked off, keeping the more juicy and crunchy part. It is a sign of its attention to details.


The char siew is really chunky, with the surface / skin charred but the inside still soft and juicy. It was good, but the only thing is that it was slightly salty for me.


The noodles are thick, flat and curly, giving the bowl of noodle a chewy and rugged "manly" feel just like its name.

At first I was dreading that I might not be able to finish the big bowl, and I have to leave behind some food to the horror of the owner. But it was good that I had no problem finishing it.


And... you shouldn't stop there and should finish the last drop of soup!

Why??


Because you will be rewarded with this compliment -

Thank you. You are a man

For ladies (or beginners), the portion could be quite big for your to finish. You might want to start with trying the half-sized ramen, unless you are very hungry.



Ramen Data - Bario @ Ramen Champion, Iluma
Address: 201 Victoria Street, 4F Iluma, Ramen Champion
Types: Jiro-style Ramen
Rating: 8.5/10

Friday, April 22, 2011

New York Time's Article on Ramen / Ramen Tour

Found this article on NYTimes that was published last in 2010 about ramen in Tokyo.

The writer went around Tokyo trying various ramen, with an American ramen blogger as a guide!


It is really interesting to see that there are so many non-Japanese raman fans like me. And they are passionate enough to blog about them too. Some of those featured in the article are Ramenate!, Ramenadventures and Ramentokyo.com.

The article featured Ivan Ramen, a ramen shop in suburban Tokyo setup by an American chef that I wanted to try for a long time. He puts it perfectly that -

"A good bowl of ramen is balanced perfectly: the soup, the noodles, the toppings, everything works together. So when you’re eating it, even though it’s all these disparate ingredients together, somehow they feel as if you’re eating one thing.

Glad that I am aware of and have tried most of the ramen shops mentioned in the article, e.g. Nagi, Ikaruga, Mutekiya, Keisuke, Jiro, etc. Out of all these I personally prefer Ikaruga (I've yet to write about it though...), exactly because of the reason stated in the article that it is a very well-balanced bowl.

I received a link a while ago about a organisation in New York organising a ramen exploration trip to Tokyo.


The date of the trip was just shortly after the earthquake so I guess it has been cancelled unfortunately. But this reveals the niche popularity of ramen in the US. Amazing cultural power of food.

Not sure if there are such demand of a ramen tour from Singapore...
Maybe the new survey on my blog will find out?

Happy Good Friday!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Hachiya (蜂屋) Ramen Pack & Making Char Siew!!

When I went to Japan, I received a ramen pack from Hachiya (蜂屋), a renowned shoyu ramen store in Asahikawa with over 60 years of history.

As usual, the pack contains only noodles and the soup.



So, its time for me to try my cooking skill again!
I've attempted to make tamago last time, so its time to try the next key ingredient...

Char Siew!!

Starting with some pork belly, I followed a recipe, tying the chunk of pork up, boiled, pan-fried and stewed it.

And, beyond my expectation, it was quite tasty!

Homemade char siew!

The piece of pork belly that I bought was quite small, so it was hard to slice it up.
The char siew didn't came up as a round piece as I would have wanted.

But, it was actually easier than I thought, compared to making the perfect runny tamago.
Will definitely try it again soon, recording the process in more details.

Well, back to the ramen.
With the homemade char siew and some boiled spinach, here's my dinner...



Itadakimasu!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Rokurinsha (六厘舎) @ Tokyo Ramen Street, Yaesu, Tokyo

A very happy new year to everyone!
May 2011 be a delicious and filling year for all the ramen fans all over the world!

As with every year, I'm having my holiday in Tokyo over the Christmas and New Year holidays.
And what will a ramen walker do? Ramen-eating!

The first ramen adventure in 2011 brings me to Tokyo Ramen Street, located at the underground mall linked to the JR Tokyo station.



It is a labyrinth under the Tokyo station - there is a complex network of underground malls and linkways under the station linking the various buildings and neighbouring subway stations. It took me a while before I found it, near the Yaesu side of the Tokyo station, tucked away in one of the end of the underground mall.


This Tokyo Ramen Street is still not very much a street yet - there are only 4 ramen shops now, compared to other similar concepts in Japan.

My destination today is Rokurinsha (六厘舎), a hugely popular shop which is known for being a pioneer in the tsuke-men (dipped ramen), starting several new trends and styles. At peak hours, the queue could be over an hour!

The queue continues around the corner...

A little bit of background on Rokurinsha. It started in April 2005 first in a residential area in Ozaki of Tokyo. With its signature "super-rich soup and super-thick noodles", it fast gained popularity and fame, winning the best tsuke-men of the year award in 2006 and 2007.

Surprisingly, it was so popular that its 100-people-long queues received complains from the residents in the neighborhood. It tried various ways of crowd management such as altering the queuing method and so on, but with no solutions in sight, the Ozaki store was closed in Aug 2010. This news was even report on the newspaper!

So as of now, while they are looking for a new location for their main outlet, the outlet at Tokyo Ramen Street is its only place you can eat their ramen.

Back to the ramen - I ordered the Ajitama Tsuke-men (dipped ramen with egg, 950 yen), their signature dish.


Spotted this note on the chopsticks stand while I was waiting for the ramen to come (it took a while because the thinker noodles takes longer to cook). A stellar example of Japanese service excellence.

"We have aprons and hair clips that you could use. Please approach our staff if you require it"

Finally my tsuke-men is here after about 5 minutes. It looks good!!


Made from a large amount of chicken, pork and seafood ingredients, this soup is very thick, creamy and tasty, which clings on well on those thick, bouncy and chewy noodles. Slices and cubes of char siew that mingled in dipping soup was tender and melts in your mouth.

Noticed also the powder that floats on the piece of seaweed. You might have seen it in my previous entry about Menya Shinchan or other ramen outlets in Japan, but it is said that Rokurinsha is the first store to have invented it. The powder is the powdered form of bonito flakes. By dissolving the powder into the soup at our own liking, it will add more punch to the soup with the seafood flavor.

Taking a closer look at the noodles too - it looks about 1.5 times that of the usual thick noodles.


And it is not it after you have finished all the noodles.

While I was eating my ramen, the person next to me finished his. Without leave, he called the staff, who added some soup stock to dilute the thick dipping soup. The staff told him to add some yuzu powder as well.



Interesting! It is similar to how the dipped sauce for soba is diluted with soba-yu (water used in boiling the soba) after the meal.
I tried to do the same after my ramen is done. The flavorsome soup is now drinkable until the last drop, and the citrus taste of yuzu made it refreshing.

All in all, it was an excellent bowl of tsuke-men that is worth the wait, especially for its taste.
The location is pretty accessible and easy to find, such that tourist like us can drop by when we are in Tokyo.
My advise would be to avoid the busy hours (I went there at around 3pm) as the queue could be really long.

However, the only gripe that I have is that the dipping soup gets cold when my noodles are about 70% done, because of the repeated dipping of the cooled noodles. Personally I prefer the soup to be hot throughout.

The Tokyo Ramen Street will also be adding on another 4 more outlets of equally famous stores in Apr 2011. Great news for overseas ramen lovers!


View Ramen Walker's Ramen Map in a larger map

Ramen Data - Rokurinsha TOKYO @ Tokyo Ramen Street
Address: B1 Yaesu South Exit, JR Tokyo Station
Types: Tsuke-men
Rating: 9/10
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