Sunday 8 September 2013

"The Best of Ramen" feat SoLiTa's "Ramen Burger"

I LOVE RAMEN. I can’t fully explain to you why I love ramen but I do know that when the best broths, noodles, bases and toppings are mixed together in the cauldron-like bowl, some kind of alchemy occurs and the result is magical.

Much to my on going annoyance, the sad fact is, it is nigh on impossible to get the “proper stuff” in the UK (places like Bone Daddies, Shoryu and Tonkotsu, all in London, may come close).

Bone Daddies Tonkotsu
Out of the capital, even the best I’ve had in Britain has been only slightly better than your average* Pot Noodle! (*Assuming there is such a thing as an “average” Pot Noodle?)

As a result, when travelling in Asia I try to slurp down as much of the stuff as my belly will allow… no mean feat as I usually arrange my ramen meals between mealtime, meals. I like to call this, “hearty snacking”.

On my last trip to Asia, I reckon I tucked away twenty or so bowls of soupy noodle goodness – each one consisting of almost identical ingredients, yet managing to be distinctly different.  Below I present the best of the ramen I tasted in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.

Singapore’s Best Raman: Keisuke Tonkotsu King (near Tangjong Pagar MRT)

The PR for this restaurant says how Keisuke Tonkotsu King is named after founder ‘Keisuke’ Takeda, who won the title “Ramen King” at the 2011, ‘Ramen Champion Series’ against 30,000 ramen chefs.

Keisuke Tonkotsu King - Tonkotsu Ramen
He may be a “king” but his small restaurant remains a homely, no frills ‘authentic Ramen house’ - where there are seemingly never ending queues! I had their classic Tonkotsu Ramen with its gloriously rich pork bone broth – you can also opt for ‘red spicy’ with chilli oil and ‘black spicy’ with pepper.

Keisuke Tonkotsu King - Tonkotsu Ramen
All ingredients were great quality including the pork ‘chasyu’, spring onion, black fungus, boiled egg and bean sprouts – what really made the soup stand out was the depth of flavour in the broth (served at the ‘correct’ piping hot temperature) and the perfect springiness in the noodles. The best bowl of ramen I have  ever had! Heaven in a bowl.

My runner up for the Best Ramen in Singapore: Nantsuttei Ramen (Millenia Walk).

Nantsuttei Ramen - Negi Ramen
Nantsuttei Ramen is another ramen chain whose founder, Mr. Furuya Ichiro, has also won a few ramen championship titles. I had their rich creamy tonkotsu Nantsuttei Negi Ramen achieved through crushing and boiling the pork bones for 24 hours.

Nantsuttei Ramen - Negi Ramen
The noodles are made fresh each day in house – the noodle chef tells how the day’s weather, humidity and temperature of the flour and water creates subtle noodle nuances. Their pork loin ‘chashu’ was a wonderfully moist, I’m guessing as a result of it having been simmered in their house shoyu. I also liked the generous serving of fresh shredded negi and their signature ‘black garlic oil’ (ma-yu). My one niggle being, a slightly overcooked ‘ajitsuke tamago’ (flavoured boiled egg).

Kuala Lumpur’s Best Raman: Ippudo Ramen (Pavillion Mall)

In Japan, Ippudo’s 40-odd outlets serve upwards of 20,000 discerning customers every day (they also have outlets in Singapore, Sydney and NY as well as across Asia). ‘Chain restaurants’ of this type are not seen with the same distain as UK or American franchises – quality is always maintained. Their ramen often wins various ‘ramen championships’ and after being crowned ‘Ramen King’ for three consecutive years, founder Shigemi Kawahara earned his place in the ‘Ramen Hall of Fame’ - it’s all taken quite seriously.

Ippudo Ramen - Akamaru Ramen
I opted for their Akamaru Ramen a classic ‘Hakata-style’ ramen with a creamy tonkotsu broth enriched by an ‘umami-dama’ miso paste. The noodles were thin but had a great chewiness to them. Good quality, flavoursome belly chashu, bean sprouts, kikurage & spring onion competed a close to perfect dish.

Ippudo Ramen - Akamaru Ramen
The buzzy, welcoming atmosphere at Ippudo is another good reason to go – as are the Steamed buns with braised pork and the Calpis with soda.

My runner up for the Best Ramen in Kuala Lumpur: Menya Musashi (Jalan P Ramlee)

Menya Musashi- Kanzan Ramen
Despite the fact that their ‘theme park’ Samurai décor puts me off a little, Menya Musashi (another highly rated Japanese chain with branches throughout Asia) knock out bowl after bowl of the good stuff (greedier customers come for the multiple free noodle refills). 

Menya Musashi- Kanzan Ramen 
I opted for Kanzan Ramen with two pieces of moist roasted pork, ajitama, spring onion and black fungus. Another place that favours the thinner noodles, these too retained a springy bite and sat in a rich, creamy, deep porky, piping hot broth. The Choregi Salad however, was pants!

For the sake of including something different, to attract Muslim customers or those that simply prefer a ‘lighter dish’ many Ramen places in KL make a version with chicken broth. Kyo-ei Ramen (in the Pavillioin mall) specialise in this style, I opted for the Kyo-Chan Ramen, which despite having a chicken base comes with a pork topping.

Kyo-ei Ramen
Like most of the decent places they also make their noodles onsite – theirs are quite thick (more akin to the Chinese ‘pan mee’ style) and lacked the al dente texture that myself and many ramen fans seek. I read one amusing comment on a blog post or review site where someone had said, ‘they look like they have been made by cats’. ‘Strange’ broth and noodles aside, everything from the pork, egg, bamboo shoots and narutomaki seemed sub-standard compared to other places in Asia.

SoLiTa's Ramen Burger

As you can see, I like to think I am something of a ramen aficionado (a ‘ramen geek’) – so when I saw that one of my favourite local restaurants, SoLiTa, In Manchester’s Northern Quarter, were launching a ‘Ramen Burger’ – my interest was more than a little piqued!

Ramen Burger - Noodle Bun
For those that don’t know the ‘Ramen Burger’ is the recent brainchild of ramen obsessed ‘ramen blogger’ turned ramen chef, turned ramen burger inventor, Keizo Shimamoto (@GoRamen on twitter) – in his hometown of Brooklyn queues of hundreds of people have been going crazy for this latest food craze!

Wanting to be the first in the UK, SoLiTa’s own “Dr. Burgenstein” Franco Sotgiu, seems to have cracked the secrets to perfecting the ‘ramen bun’.

SoLiTa's Ramen Burger
The SoLiTa version of the Ramen Burger features one of their standard 6oz chuck steak & bone marrow patties with shredded spring onions and a spicy Sriracha, mirin and soy sauce. I had my doubts but after tasting, this is no gimmick.

6oz Chuck Steak & Bone Marrow Patty
I can honestly say I love the noodle bun more than the typical bread buns – it was great how the meat juices soaked into the noodles to give that meaty noodley combination of regular ramen.

For a more ‘authentic’ ramen experience, I’d perhaps like the some experimentation to replace the spicy sauce with one that has more of a miso taste… but, on reflection, that could be a bad idea because I could see myself becoming seriously addicted and that would not do my diet any good!  

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