Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010 Ramen Trend

I did a sharing recently about my amateurish observation on the ramen scene in Singapore as a ramen blogger. It was quite well-received!

As 2010 is coming to an end, I thought that it will be timely to share the top 3 ramen trends in Singapore on this blog too.

The first obvious trend is the continuous influx of Japanese ramen brands to Singapore.

Just in 2010 itself, 6 ramen brands came from Japan into Singapore - Nanttsutei, Keisuke, Sanomaru, Ippudo TAO, Kusabi and Kura. This excludes the expansion of ramen brands that are already in Singapore (e.g. Santouka, Baikohken, Marutama) and home-grown ramen stores. Compared with about 2-3 years ago when ramen is pretty hard to find, it is now very much within reach of everyone; most of the major malls in Singapore will have 1 ramen store. Good news for ramen fans like me!

But competition is definitely getting stiffer. There should be more new entrants to the market in 2011, and the existing players have to continue to maintain their quality and offer new products to retain and grow their customer base.

Next, we now see the formation of 2 "ramen clusters", i.e. areas with a high concentration of ramen outlets - one in Orchard and one along the Singapore River.

Just like how fashion brands like to open their flagship store along Orchard, ramen brands also clustered along Orchard road to maximise their exposure and establish themselves. With more than 12 ramen outlets along Orchard, you can drop by one easily when you crave for it when you are shopping.

The Singapore River area is where many Japanese expats live, and ramen outlets thrive there I presume with the higher demand. Its also a good place to be for a chill out session with your friends at one of the pubs, and then ending the day with a bowl of ramen - the Japanese way!

Last but not least, with increasing competition, the ramen brands in Singapore have evolved and try to cater more to the local Singaporean taste.

With our liking of all things spicy and with chili, thats what they've given us!

Can you guess where are they from?

Influx of Japanese ramen, formation of ramen cluster and localisation of ramen.
These are the 3 trends that I observed this year.

As a ramen fan, these are great developments - more to choose from, easier to find, and more new products to spice up the ramen scene.
Looking forward to see how these trends will evolve in 2011!

Friday, December 24, 2010

White Miso Ramen - Kura (久楽) Plaza Singapura

This weeks' ramen adventure brings me to Kura (久楽) at Plaza Singapura.

Japan Food Holdings, the company behind the ubiquitous Ajisen Ramen and other Japanese restaurants, opened a multi-brand Japanese food concept call "Tokyo Walker" in Plaza Singapura in November.

Sounds like the name of my blog? Yes it does!
They, just like me, were "inspired" by the series of popular magazine " Walker" in Japan that reports about cool happenings in the cities in Japan.

Interesting that the restaurants inside are not totally Tokyo ... Champon is a dish from Nagasaki, a Udon restaurant is from Osaka...

... and Kura is a Hokkaido ramen franchise!

Kura serves miso ramen in 3 types of misoes - red, white and spicy.
Interestingly, while Kura comes from Hokkaido in the north of Japan, its founder, Okuhara Souji, came from Okinawa that is all the way in the south.
He went to Hokkaido and started trial and error of creating his ideal bowl of ramen.
That explains why Kura doesn't call themselves Hokkaido-style ramen, but rather Okuhara-style (奥原流) ramen.

I've also wrote an email to Kura in Japan, asking them if there are anything in particular that they have customised their offering for the Singapore outlet.
Glad to hear that they have chosen to offer exactly what they are offering in Japan to deliver us the authentic taste.

I ordered the white miso ramen ($12.8) this time.

The ramen has a variety of toppings - char siew, tamago, chopped leek and onion, tenkasu (天かす), minced meat, seaweed and a dash of spicy miso paste. This gives the ramen a range of taste and texture when you eat it together with the yellow curly noodles. The white miso soup base, with a mix of pork and chicken stock, tasted good but might be slightly salty for me.

What it could have done better is how they serve it. When the ramen is delivered to me, the seaweed was already soft and sinking. Similar to other concepts that are brought in by franchise, the presentation is far from what the photo shows... making it looks less delicious as it should.

Overall, it is a good bowl of ramen, much better compared to its neighbour. But among the many other ramen stall in Singapore, it might not be the among the top in my list.

View Ramen Walker's Ramen Map in a larger map

Ramen Data - Kura @ Plaza Singapura
Address: #04-01 Plaza Singapura
Types: Miso
Price: S$12.8
Rating: 6.5/10

Monday, December 6, 2010

Ramen in Jakarta! Marutama Ramen - eX Plaza Indonesia

This week's ramen adventure takes me to Jakarta!

Guess what I've found?

the orange basketball...

Marutama Ramen!!!
Didn't know that they have expanded to Indonesia too.

Curious to find out how it fares compared to the Singapore outlets that many Singaporeans like, I have chosen to have lunch here instead.

Marutama ramen already has 2 outlets in Jakarta - one in eX Plaza Indonesia and the other Sentral Senayan I.

I spoke to store manager about the ramen scene in Jakarta. Currently, there are still only 2 ramen chains in the market - Marutama and another one call Ramen 38 (Sanpachi). While the number of shops is still small, its definitely getting popular there.

Interestingly, the manager was trained in Singapore's Marutama, and was well-versed with the other ramen competitors in Singapore!

Back to the main topic, the decor of Marutama's Jakarta outlet is exactly the same as that of Singapore.

stylish and dim interior

The Jakarta menu has some interesting difference, which I guess is to cater to local taste.

For the ramen, you have a choice of whether you want it spicy or not, and whether you want your char siew to be pork or chicken char siew. The Indonesians must like spicy stuff more than Singaporeans (we don't even have this distinction here), and of course they have a larger muslim population too.

... and there are more chili to come.
After you've ordered your ramen, the will give you a small plate of chili padi too. Interesting.

I've ordered the Ebi Ramen (69,000 Rupiah, about $S10), which is a dish not available in most outlets in Singapore.

The soup tasted almost the same as those made in Singapore, but I have a slight feeling that the Singapore branches are better and have a clearer taste. The noodles and char siew were good. The only area that I wish that it could have been better is the prawns. The prawns used were not that fresh.

I'll try to go to Ramen 38 next time I'm in Jakarta.
From Marutama's manager, the best outlet of Ramen 38 is in Kamome Building!

View Ramen Walker's Ramen Map in a larger map

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Keisuke Premium Tonkotsu Ramen @ Keisuke Tokyo

This week's ramen adventure brings me back again to Keisuke, because I was told that...

Keisuke's signature prawn ramen is gone!!

I made my way to Keisuke on a Saturday afternoon, and I noticed something was different.

The photo on the left was taken in March 2010 when Keisuke first opened, and the one on the right last Saturday. Can anyone spot the change?

left - in March, right - in October

Not that the center section of the door curtain was raised...
But, the logo of Keisuke has change!! From

"海老らーめん けいすけ" to "Ramen Dining けいすけ"

The reference of "prawn" was totally removed from the logo of the restaurant.
Thats a major change.
And when I looked at the menu, the reason was obvious.

Keisuke has done a complete overhaul of their menu, and there are no more prawn related items on the menu anymore. Not its signature prawn ramen, nor the prawn wanton, prawn gyoza, prawn fried rice.

The menu is now re-made into that of a typical ramen restaurant - having a spread of the conventional tonkotsu, shoyu, shio and miso ramens, with tonkotsu as its signature. The price range of its menu has also been significantly reduced - from offering its ramen from $14.8-20, it is now $11-14.8.

It might be reflecting Singaporean's liking in Tonkotsu ramen, which is the mainstream here now. It might also showed its rivalry with its same-floor neighbour Nanttutei, which offers tonkotsu ramen at such a price range, and always has a long queue outside.

I tried the new signature ramen, Keisukei Premium Tonkotsu Ramen ($14.8++).

Although its a new item, it retained Keisuke's DNA - its aesthetics. The ramen is visually pleasing - the red bowl and creamy broth is topped with pinkish char siew, green spring onion, blackish seaweed, yellow cheese, while cabbage and reddish-brown spicy minced meat paste.

You can choose the thickness of the tonkotsu soup - strong or light. I chose the strong one and it tasted rich and delicious. The char siew is large - took up almost 1/3 of the bow by a single piece - and is ham-like in its texture. The cheese topping melts when you soak it into the soup, and clings onto the noodles when you pick them up. The tonkotsu soup, cheese and noodle go amazingly well together. After finishing half a bowl, I mixed the spicy minced meat paste into the soup to create the 2nd taste. I've also added extra toppings of bean sprout and onion, which are placed on the table to be used.

seasoned bean sprout and fresh chopped onion

... took half of my wife's egg too

The soup is now more spicy, which I guess many Singaporean will like.

This visit to Keisuke is both poignant and happy. I was encouraged when Keisuke entered the market and tried to offer something differentiated. Its prawn ramen was sophisticated and well presented. The iconic bowl that it used now sits only as decoration on the shelves, and the staff is still wearing uniforms with the old logo. However, the market didn't accept it. It seems that Keisuke overhauled its menu because too many Singaporeans compared it with prawn mee.

On the other hand, I'm also glad that it has flexibly adapted to the market while not loosing its style. The ramen is still one of the most aesthetically pleasing and sophisticated among those in Singapore. It is also a sign that the ramen scene here is getting increasingly competitive, spurring players to change and adapt. We will see more good ramen shops coming our way.

With this change in menu, I recommend the ramen fans in Singapore to revisit them and try their ramen. I was personally satisfied, and will be making my way back to try the rest of the flavours :)

Sunday, October 31, 2010

New Menu at Sapporo Ramen Miharu - Tori-dashi Ramen

I visited one of my regular ramen joints, Miharu, and what a surprise!

There is a flyer on the wall with a big red word "NEW MENU" on it.

They have created a new item on their menu, Tori-Dashi Shio Ramen (鶏ダシ塩らあめん, S$12), or "chicken stock salt ramen" when translated directly in English.

Miharu is known for ramen with rich miso-based broth, so it is interesting that it has created a light ramen on it repertoire. It might be a coincidence that signature dish of the most popular ramen store (by my research), Marutama, is also chicken-based. The ramen scene in Singapore is getting more competitive with many new entrants, so long-established incumbents like Miharu has to adapt too.

Back to the ramen... of course I ordered the new item to try it out.

looks like a yin yang mark ...

The first thing that jumped out of this ramen is the generous topping of spring onion. The green spring onion took up almost half of the bowl. The clear chicken stock was layered with sesame, adding a flagrant smell to the ramen. It was also topped with a portion of menma, seaweed and 3 flavoured quail eggs. Interesting - it is the first time in Singapore that I saw quail eggs being used in ramen.

... a closer look at the quail eggs.

What I like about this ramen was its chicken stock - it is light and clear but yet delectable. It is supposed to be made from chicken from Shiretoko (知床), an area in the east of Hokkaido that is recognised as an UNESCO World Natural Heritage site. In addition, every mouthful of the noodle will come with some spring onion and sesame, which adds a different texture and taste to the noodle.

The quail eggs, unlike the normal egg, was harder and the yoke wasn't runny. I guess because of the small size of the egg, it is hard to control the runniness. Still prefer the usual larger eggs, which Miharu does well in.

And lastly, after I've finished enjoying the ramen until the end, I still feel a little unsatisfied. I realised why after a while... that this ramen has no char siew or meat at all. It will be better if it has 1 or 2 pieces of char siew, or the fillet of the Shiretoko chicken.

All in all, it was a good bowl of ramen, especially suitable if you long for a light bowl after a heavy meal the previous day.

Monday, October 4, 2010

2010 Q3 Unofficial Ramen Ranking Results!

Three-quarter of the year has gone, and its time to release the Q3 unofficial Singapore ramen ranking!

I'm glad that there are more than 100 votes now! The results should be statistically significant :)

The top 3 ramen places in Singapore by popular voting are:

1) Marutama Ramen
2) Santouka
3) Ippudo

It seems that the results have stabilised.

The top 3 positions are still taken by Marutama, Santouka and Ippudo. Marutama maintained its lead over the other 2, while Santouka shook off Ippudo's tie in Q2 and moved up to the 2nd place.

Nantsuttei was emerging sharply in Q2 right after its opening, but the momentum has lost steam since, and it was unable to catch up with the top 3.

And the other stores are pretty far behind.

Coincidentally, Martutama currently has the largest number of outlets in Singapore (excluding the ubiquitous Ajisen). A combination of taste and accessibility might be linked to its popularity here. Wonder what will happen if I put Ajisen on the ranking....

Looking forward to the full year result at the end of the year!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Ippudo TAO @ UE Square - TAO Kuro

This week's ramen adventure brings me to Ippudo TAO at UE Square, along Mohamed Sultan Road.

It took over the space previously occupied by Ah Yat Seafood... the ramen empire is taking over the abalone world!

Ippudo TAO is Ippudo's second outlet in Singapore. And it is not a simple replicate of its first outlet like the others. It is a new concept store borne out of a collaboration between Ippudo and a Japanese drum group TAO, both originating from Kyushu. It is a collaboration between ramen and art.

How apt this is!
Ramen, an art form itself (to me), is collaborating with another art form.
And art has it commercial angle too, and this collaboration will further push TAO's branding and awareness.

A little bit more on TAO, it is a internationally renowned Japanese drums (Taiko, 太鼓) group that has been performing around the world, including Europe, America and Australia. You can see a video about TAO here.

This collaboration is also not a one-off effort too. For the purpose of this new concept, Ippudo and TAO actually set up a joint venture company to promote the new concept worldwide. The first outlet was opened in Fukuoka in April 2010, and the 2nd one here in Singapore in August. A 3rd outlet was opened in Ginza, Tokyo recently in September.

Isn't it amazing that we got it even before Tokyo?

The restaurant has booth indoor and outdoor seats that offer a different feel. The interior of the indoor part is modern, using a black-red-and beige color scheme, giving it an atmosphere of a restaurant bar. The music played is some upbeat music.

Whereas on the outside, the setting is simpler. The seats have a view to a screen projecting TAO's drum performance on it. With the drum beat energetically pounding in the background, this section of the restaurant gives it a more Japanese atmosphere, which I prefer more.

... well but at sat indoors this time :)

wall decoration

This wall decoration of drummers I guess echoes the theme of the restaurant. What is interesting is that it is made up of hundreds of small discs hanging of a nail. It must have taken a lot of effort to assemble this.

random shot - new napkin

Time to go into the food...

Ippudo TAO's menu differs from the Ippudo's in 2 ways.
First, it offers yakitori as one of its key items.
As I'm a fan of yakitori too, I ordered my favourite tsukune to try.

Served in a stone plate, the tsukune was grilled well and it was delicious.

What's more, it came with a tool to help the helpless foreigners to take out the meat from the skewer! I've been to quite a number of yakitori store, and I don't remember so far that I've come across this. Good job!

Although I prefer to bite the yakitori off its skewers, I took a try. And indeed it is quite easy to use.

The 2nd difference is in its ramen. Ippudo's Shiromaru and Akamaru has taken a side-step, and the key ramens here are called TAO Kuro (Black) and TAO Aka (Red). Both of them are still based on tonkotsu soup that Ippudo is good at, arranged in a new way to represent the spirit of TAO.

I ordered the signature TAO Kuro, with an additional egg.
(Still have gripes about them not having egg as a default topping...)

TAO Kuro has a tonkotsu-shoyu soup base and topped with pork-belly char siew, black fungus, spring onion, uma-dama (special blended miso ball), and charred fragrant oil that gives it the "kuro" look.

Taking a closer look...

It uses not the typical narrow noodles of kyushu's tonkotsu ramen, but a thick, curly and noodle that is bouncy and catches the soup.

Similar to the other Ippudo ramen, TAO kuro is a well-made and delicious. I particular like it thick taste and also the noodles that matches the dish well. I have not yet watched any performance by TAO so I'm not sure if it has expressed TAO's spirit, but its definitely a good bowl.

This Ippudo, I guess due to its location, has no queue too!
Many a times I was trying to go to Ippudo after work, but once I see the long queue I was put off. (Sorry that my love for ramen doesn't go as far as queuing up for 30 mins after a long day at work..). For the Ippudo lovers out there including myself, it is a way to have the same good taste without the queuing.

And I'll sit outside next time to see TAO's performance on the screen!

The Ippudo and TAO JV aims to expand this concept to more territories.
And its expansion plans involves opening of a theater restaurant in Broadway of NY!
Who could have imagined that a theater restaurant will one day serve ramen!?!
Looking forward to their opening in the future.

View Ramen Walker's Ramen Map in a larger map

Ramen Data - Ippudo TAO @ UE Square
Address: 207 River Valley Road #0-55-56, UE Square
Types: Tonkotsu

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Making Ajitama (味玉)

This week's ramen adventure brought me to... making my own ajitama (flavoured egg)!

I went around the net to look for some recipes on the net, and found these few that I referenced the egg-making journey from.

(In Japanese)


The ingredients are:

Egg (of course!) .............. 6 pcs

For the sauce where the eggs will swin in:

Ginger ...................................................... several pcs
Garlic ........................................................ 2 cloves
Green parts of leeks ............................... 2 stalks
Soy Sauce ................................................. 50cc
Mirin ......................................................... 50cc
Water ........................................................ 100cc
Sesame Oil, Chili Oil, Dashi Stock .......... a little

First, chop up the garlic, ginger and leeks. I guess these will give additional flavour to the sauce.

Next, add the ingredients for the sauce (water, soy sauce, etc) into a tupperware. It already looks delicious at this stage!

The sauce bath is now ready! Moving on to making the soft-boiled egg, which I guess will be one of the most tricky part of making ajitama.

Following the instruction, I started boiling the egg from room-temperature water...

... and prepared a ice bath to cool down the eggs for easy peeling after the egg is boiled and also to stop the cooking process.

About 4 minutes after the water started boiling, I took the eggs out and cooled them in the ice water bath.

Next comes the peeling of the shell.... and it was hard!

I guess some of my steps in preparing the egg was not right, and several of them became casualties along the way...

Because the eggs were half-boiled, the eggs were very soft and delicate. As I was peeling off the shell carefully, the egg white broke off for a few of the eggs, and the semi-cooked egg yoke oozed out. Oops!

I must try out other methods to make this step work...

Well, moving on, the survivors are put into their soaking bath. This looks good!

The recipe recommends to soak it for 3 days.

It was a long wait, and I was eager to find out how my first attempt in making ajitama went.

Took it out every day to see how they are doing.

This is after day 2... the eggs picked up quite a bit of color!

On day 3, it is ready to be eaten...!

It has totally taken on the color of the sauce, and looks like what it is served in the restaurants.

... and the moment of truth to see how it the critical part of the ajitam - the yoke - went.

Hmm... it is not as flowy than I've expected.

But nonetheless it look pretty good, and it tasted good as well!

According to the receipe, the yoke will harden in the process of soaking in the sauce. I think I have to control the length of boiling and the soaking time accordingly to make the yoke harden in the right way at the end.

Will be trying to make ajitama again and perfect it!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Ramen ranks No. 2 in the ranking for the most loved Japanese food by tourists!

Just caught a report released by the Japan National Tourism Organisation (JNTO) about a survey conducted to 15,355 foreign tourists to Japan.

On the question of "Which was the most satisfying food that you've had in Japan", ramen came in as No. 2!! Very interesting results from the perspective of a ramen fan.

Sushi was No.1 with 42.1% of vote. Pretty much expected, as Sushi is usually the first thing that comes to a foreigner's mind when we talk about Japanese food. And the sushi in Japan is definitely good too! Even chains such as Tenka Sushi serves decent sushi.

Ramen is No.2 with 20.8% of the vote, closely followed by sashimi at 19.8%. In 4th place is Tempura, 11.1%, and Udon at 8.9%. This is an encouraging result (for me), as ramen is a much younger cuisine than sashimi, tempura and udon. I doubt many foreigners will know what ramen is 10 years ago, while sashimi, tempura and udon are fairly common.

Isn't it amazing that ramen rose so fast through the ranks of Japanese food?

Some other interesting results are:

- For Taiwanese, Ramen is actually No.1! The ramen culture must have already been widespread there.
- For Singapore, the percentage of the top 3 of Sushi, Sashimi and Ramen are pretty close.
- German loves sushi? About 63% of them answered that it was the most memorable.

I'm sure in years to come, it will become as popular, if not more, than sushi!
Looking forward to the 2010 survey to see how the result will change.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Crab Ramen - Keisuke Tokyo (けいすけ東京)

Visited Keisuke Tokyo a while ago, and found that they have updated their menu with a few new items - the basic-styles of Shio Ramen and Shoyu Ramen.

But what caught my eyes among the new edition is the Crab Ramen (S$15.8)!
This should be the only place in Singapore that is serving this ramen (except for the $30+ ramen at Aoba and Kaiko that has half a crab on top of it... not sure how many bowls of those do they actually sold), so I gotta try it out.

Kani Ramen

Topped with a large piece of char siew, 2 halves of an egg, naruto, menma, onion, shreds of chilli and seaweed, the ramen is arranged in the usual keisuke aesthetics. The aroma of the crab can be smelled immediately when the ramen is dished in front of me. The soup stock is very thick and dense, which I guess was meant for it to serve as more of the sauce of the "dry noodle", for it to hang onto the noodles.

According to an interview that owner-chef Takeda had with Zaobao, the soup is made by first frying the crab. The fried crab is crushed and blended with onion and carrot, and the mixture is again fried. Chicken broth is the mixed with the paste to create the soup.

I also noticed that for the Crab ramen, the flat noodles is used instead of the usual rounded ones.

All in all, its another good bowl of ramen. It will be suitable for those who likes it rich and thick.

In the interview, Takeda-san also shared that he will be releasing new items on his menu every 2-3 months for this Singapore outlet. Looking forward to his new creations for Singapore.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Kusabi (くさび) - Tokumaru Shoyu Tonkotsu Ramen

This week's ramen adventure brings me to Kusabi at Central, the latest edition to Singapore's ramen scene.

... taking over Kyoto Sabo’s space

Kusabi (くさび) comes from the Fukushima prefecture of Japan, about 2 prefectures north of Tokyo. It is a relative unknown prefecture in Singapore, but from the ramen world, it is home to one of the famous ramen styles call Kitaka Ramen (喜多方らーめん). But Kusabi does not serve ramen of that style.

The word "Kusabi" means "a wedge" in Japanese, which is a tool that is used to fill up a gap, and it is what the store hopes that its ramen will do. Kusabi was voted as the #5 ramen places in Fukushima prefecture in the 2008 Yahoo Japan ramen ranking. But it seems that it has slipped off the ranking in 2009.

The interior is brightly-lit, clean and neat. The staff were friendly and polite too, most probably trained in the Japanese way by the owner. Something that I found interesting was the chopsticks that it uses. The tip is made in such a way that the noodles doesn't slip by having grooves at the front of the chopsticks.

Spiral groove

Kusabi serves tonkotsu-based ramen with shoyu, miso or fish oil. Its also serves dipped noodles (tsuke-men, or つけめん), which boasts a 1.5 times serving of noodles, as well as a series of ultra-spicy (Gekikara, or 激辛) noodles, with 3 levels of spiciness to choose from.

A key selling point of Kusabi that is different from other ramen places seems to be the use of fish powder (魚粉/魚節, or Gyofun). Made from fish flakes (e.g. bonito flakes) crushed into power form, here in Kusabi it is kneaded into the noodles and concocted into fragrant oil to add a seafood / fish flavour into the noodles. Especially for the noodles, the taste that is kneaded into it is supposed to seep out and enrich the taste of the soup, creating a different taste as you progress in your ramen. It is the only place in Singapore that offers this type of noodles now, but in Japan it seems that several other ramen shops use this technique too.

I tried the first item on the menu, the Marutoku Shoyu Tonkotsu Ramen ($19), which is actually a set with a bowl of ramen and an extra set of toppings.

The ramen is topped with a generous amount of shredded leak and chopping onions, as well as char siew, seaweed and bamboo shoot. The extra serving of toppings include 2 halves of aji-tama, 4 large pieces of char siew, seaweed and bamboo shoot.

The tonkotsu shoyu soup is well-made, with the right saltiness and flavour that I like. I slurped in a mouthful of noodles, and indeed there is a slight fish flavour that comes with it. As I progress through the ramen, I tried to sense if the taste of the soup changed ... but I guess my tongue is not sensitive enough!!

I tried its gyoza ($6) too. It was large and juicy with a lot of fillings. Not bad.

All in all I had a good experience at Kusabi and would like to go back again to try the other flavours and some of its signature side dishes such as the Pork-wrapped Rice Ball and the Nita-rice ball. Its a store worth trying, and next time I'm in Central, there is another choice that I can choose from in addition Santouka and Marutama.

View Ramen Walker's Ramen Map in a larger map

Ramen Data - Kusabi @ Central at Clarke Quay
Address: 6 Eu Tong Seng Street, #01-68/69, The Central @ Clarke Quay
Types: Tonkotsu
Price: S$13.5 - S$19
Rating: 8/10

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Ramen Walker Feature @ WAttention

Not sure if some of my readers have already caught it....

Ramen Walker has done a ramen feature for the latest edition of the free magazine WAttention, which was released today!

 On one of the racks at JTB

The 4th item on the front page, "Slurping Life" :)

WAttention, a word made from combining "Wa" (= 和, meaning things that are Japanese) and "Attention", is a free magazine that talks about Japanese culture and traditions to the Singapore audience. I was fortunate enough to be contacted by WAttention a few months ago to have me as the guest writer for a feature of 13 ramen places in Singapore. The shops selected by WAttention covers most of the prominent ramen places in town.

Featuring places such as Shinchan, Keisuke, Tampopo, etc

As it is a good opportunity to share with more people about ramen, I took it up, ate my way through many ramen places, and recently completed the feature!

There are limited spaces that I could write for each shop so the description may not be that detailed, but it was fun finding out about the ramen store, speaking to some of the owners, and penning down my observations. For example, I managed to speak to Mr Tajima, the owner of Menya Shinchan, that I wrote about in a previous blog entry, and Mr Tsutsumi, the franchise manager for Sanomaru, who shared with me his challenge during the set-up stage. These encounters would not have been possible if not for this opportunity.

Anyway, an interesting assignment that helped me discover more interesting facts about the Singapore ramen scene. And it is exciting to see it coming out in hardcopy too!

Will continue to slurp away this delicious delicacy of Japan.

Last but not least....

Grab one copy of WAttention!!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

2010 1H Unofficial Ramen Ranking

Time flies and June has come to an end...

... and its time to release the results of the unofficial ramen ranking, chosen by all of you ramen fans in Singapore out there, as at 1H 2010!

The top 3 ramen places in Singapore by popular voting are:

1) Marutama Ramen
2) Ippudo & Santouka
3) Nanttsutei

Marutama is still holding on the 1st position after another 3 months. However, while they led by a large margin in the Q1 results, the gap between Ippudo and Santouka is closing quick.

Miharu has dropped out of the top 3, and replacing it is the fast-rising Ippudo, that jumped to share the 2nd spot with Santouka.

Another ramen chain that saw a sharp increase in votes is the newly-opened Nanttsutei, at No. 3. I guess it is pretty accurate as I always see a long queue when I go Parco Marina Bay.

Its a close battle for the top 3 spots, and I'm very interested to find out who will emerge No.1 at the next quarter.
There are also new entrants to the market such as Sanomaru and Kusabi too. Will they create ripples in this ranking?!?!

Looking forward to the results 3 months later!

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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