The Ultimate Ramen Champion Singapore 2011, Illuma, Bugis
The Ultimate Ramen Champion Singapore 2011, organised by Komars Holding, is a fantastic opportunity to nom authentic ramen from all over Japan under the guise of voting, like on a Japanese gameshow, for the ULTIMAAATE RA…yup. (It is so authentic even the write-ups are in Japenglish. Loveit.)
You are also given a card to chalk up orders at stalls (to Singaporeans, this is “very Marche-like”). After ordering, restaurant server wireless pagers are handed out so you can go hunt for more food or drink and have a seat until they beep for you.
While taste is somewhat subjective, we revisit to issue of whether the context of the dish and the chef’s intention should count for anything. Singaporeans have been complaining/giving feedback on blogs, hungrygowhere and Facebook that the ramen, broth, eggs have been done wrongly at various stalls. Is there right and wrong in ramen-making? If so, who determines the standard – should Singaporeans’ opinions count if they diss a ramen the way it is done and appreciated in Japan?
Ikkousha from Hakata, Fukuoka – chef Kosuke Yoshimura. They are pretty hardworking folk and stay open almost to closing time. Their star dish is the Hakata Ajitama Ramen (S$13) – the yellow noodles are thin and made with less water than usual; the chashu too is sliced thinly to partner the experience of the noodles.
Hakata Ikkousha is a ramen shop which carefully selects its ingredients especially local produce pork bones, pork, wheat and soy sauce. It doesn’t have the strong smell of pork bones. It strike a combination with the thin flat cut noodles and is garnished and topped with extremely tender chashu pork and seasoned boiled egg.
Bario from Tokyo – chef Makoto Iwasaki.
It was none other than Mr. Tsujida, the head of one of the best shops in town, for Jirokei (Jiro style) ramen. The Guardian UK recently listed Jiro in its “50 best things to eat in the world” list. The soup is nothing like standard milky-white Kyushu-style tonkotsu, while the noodles, made from bread flour of all things, are thick and heavy.
There’s a lot of macho-posturing at this stall, from the heaped fatty garlicky flavourful bowl with its futomen (thick bread flour noodles) and hunky chashu that practically melt in your mouth, to the t-shirts with “man” encased in a Superman-referencing logo, to the incitement to more chilli and garlic. Do not eat if your boyfriend is a vampire.
It is strange that many reviewers say they are unable to finish a full bowl of Bario Ramen (S$13). The crunchy beansprouts are such a nice complement to the fat-ladden (they literally mash the pork fat (abura) through a sieve into your bowl) hot broth that it is remarkably easy to finish.
It would be remiss to complain that the ramen here is too heavy and stodgy and garlicky since that’s exactly what Jiro-style is all about – not nancy tasting bowls for cubicle rats who’ve been nibbling on snacks at their desk the whole day but the sort of strong filling stuff in a greasy-spoon that workingmen in dusty overalls might appreciate after a hard day’s labour. In any case, there’s also debate in Japan whether Jirokei can be categorised as a type of ramen.
Gantetsu from Sapporo helmed by chef Masaki Yorozu.
“Gantetsu” in Japanese means stubbornness, the popularity from its stubborn chef’s recipe, and awarded winner of year for 3 conservative (sic) years, in Sapporo. The mixed of Miso to achieve the flavored and fragrant widely accepted in all over Japan, by celebrity Chef Masaki. The noodles are surprisingly, classic wavy yellow, perfectly boiling timing to branded the 6 hours broth soup.
Their speciality, Special Miso Ramen (S$15), is comfortingly conservative – yellow curly noodles cooked in a light but remarkably layered broth made from miso blend, pork, chicken and seafood, is topped with pork slices, egg, seaweed and (butter?) corn.
Taishoken from Tokyo – chef Iino Toshihiko. When I showed the chef here a photo of founder Kazuo Yamagishi in the first edition of David Chang’s “Lucky Peach“, he said that that was Yamagishi when he was 73 years old and, with some excitement, attempted to explain the photos hanging from his store frame. From what i could gather, the famous Yamagishi whom David Chang went all schoolgirl giddy over now sits at the front his store welcoming customers. (Assumedly this is after he checks the broth before service starts.)
Taishoken is one of the most famous ramen shops in Tokyo, and thus the world. Kazuo Yamagishi is famous for having invented “tsukemen”. A broth made from pork, chicken, and anchovies is boiled down until it is extremely concentrated, is served, along with additional seasonings (primarily shoyu or miso) and toppings, in a small bowl beside a plate of ramen noodles.
In tsukemen, the chef seasons up a really concentrated broth. The noodles are served separately and you pick the portion you want and dunk it into the broth (dipping sauce, really) until each strand is coated with flavour before carrying it to your mouth. This allows you to enjoy the noodles al dente with each bite rather than have your soaking noodles get progressively more soggy as the meal wears on. Repeat until all the noodles are gone. Then go back and ask for some water to dilute the broth and drink it as soup. A deconstructed experience.
Failure to understand the process seems to have led to many complaints about the soup be too salty to be drunk. A waste of an opportunity to taste the mori soba (S$11) here: very delicious shoyu-based broth boiled with pork, anchovies and sweet vinegar – the thick, nuanced flavour went very well indeed with the noodles which retained their nice bite throughout.
Tetsu from Tokyo – chef Kazunori Komiya.
TETSU is widely reknowned as one of the top spots in Tokyo to get your dip on ramen. The original TETSU location is located in the Sendagi area, a quiet neighbourhood not far from Ueno in northeastern Tokyo. TETSU has become a fixture in ramen roads and theme parks, and numerous venues offer these famous noodles.
Their specialty is the Very Rich! Paitan Tsukemen (S$11). Unfortunately, the tsukemen broth didn’t quite have the complexity of Taishoken’s and also fairly bereft of substantial content.
Menya Iroha from Toyama – chef Kiyoshi Kurihara. Specialty is Negitama Ramen (S$13.50).
Menya Iroha, 2009-2010 Consecutive Champion in Tokyo. Specialize in two types of ramen, the black shoyu and traditional miso with chili mara ramen.
Pork slices were nice and fatty but the broth seemed less complex than neighbouring stalls.
Now that everyone thinks he is a critic, we tend to move much less humbly through life. Like the fools of yesteryear, our lack of knowledge does not stop us from pronouncing judgment over everything as if only our opinion is arbiter between good and bad. And because we decide that anything we don’t know isn’t worth knowing, we decline to exercise our faculties of curiosity or critical thought, and thus we wallow in our base ignorance. More’s the pity since there is such a great world out there to be explored.
David Chang’s first issue of “Lucky Peach” on ramen is quite an eye-opener – so much more to understand about the dashi, the tare, the double soup style broth, the alkalinity and water content of noodles, the different recipes and timings each store has for their molten (or less than runny) eggs etc etc.