Some time last month I was invited to Ultimate Ramen Champion 2013 and it was so exciting to see the many different varieties of Ramen from Japan now available to tantalize the Singapore tastebuds! The whole event at Bugis+ started with distinct Japanese vibes and we got to know a little more about the chefs competing for this year’s championship.
IKKOUSHA defends its title of Ultimate Ramen Champion for Year 2012 – 1st August 2012 to 31st July 2013. The reigning Champion moved 118,500 bowls of ramen to emerge the clear winner. Come second is Gantetsu, who sold 64,300 and they were followed by Bario who sold 60,600 All in all, the 8 competing brands sold a total of 423,300. That’s how popular ramen is in Singapore and my love for ramen is another testament to that.
One of the most exciting things about this event was that I would be introduced to the new contenders for the 3rd edition of Ultimate Ramen Champion, get to taste each one and see if my predictions come true.The 2013 edition sees 3 new competitors from Tokyo: Muso, Menban Yamagishi Kazuo and Buta God. Together with last year’s contenders: Gantetsu, Bario, Taka No Tsume, Keishoken and Riki, these 9 stalls will strive to sell as many bowls of ramen as they can until 31st July 2014.
I think it’s competitions like that which will raise the food standards in Singapore and showcase the uniqueness of Singapore as an international food haven. The power of vote is in your hands but let me share with you my thoughts on the different ramen I tried and which one was my favorite.
First up is the Muso Special Cha Cha Ramen. This ramen created by Chef Masaaki Kawamura ( 川村雅昭) was crowned #1 in the Ultimate Ramen Champion held in Tokyo as well as the one held in Hong Kong. Of all the Ramen I tried that day, I think this one had the nicest broth. The Chashu meat was cut thickly but it is still very tender and soft. You can see pork fats swirling in the broth which may not look healthy but it’s nevertheless really tasty.
The signature ramen from the Bario stall is the Ajitama Ramen. Their broth is typically cooked for at least 12 hours before it is ready to serve and I love the huge helpings of bean sprouts for that extra texture. Listed 50 best things to eat in the world by The Guardian UK, the noodles are thick and the Ajitama (flavoured egg) is marinated deep into the soft, liquid yolk. Chef Makoto Iwasaki (岩崎诚) revealed that to get the best soup base, they use pork bones and add 7 types of spices. I find the noodles quite different from the usual ramen noodles and it reminds me a little of the type of noodles you get when you eat ‘lor mee’. This ramen was the only one that came with garlic and chili condiments and after adding this to the ramen it had a lovely spicy local flavor to it.
The King Chasu Ramen from Gantetsu hails from Sapporo, Japan which is also known as the city of Ramen. The most distinct item in this ramen is the huge seaweed on the side. The broth is mild with a hint of shredded ginger and flavored with their own special miso recipe. Unfortunately, this was the least favorite ramen of the lot for me. While it tastes pretty good on its own, it pales when compared to the other strong contenders I was tasting that day.
One of the ramen I was looking forward to trying that day is the Spicy Takana Ramen from Ikkousha. Chef Kousuke Yoshimura (吉村幸助) exclaimed that “A good bowl of ramen is one with a tasty broth and well-made ramen; one that is made with love.” and I could definitely feel his love and passion for his ramen. Reining Ramen Champion winner for 3 years in a row, making their Hakata-style ramen the most celebrated in Singapore. I think that most Singaporeans like very thin ramen which is their signature noodle type. Such noodles cook very quickly and allows the noodle to absorb the soup which gives it an enhanced taste. Their soup is also cooked for 12 hours with the pork bones changed every few hours to increase the richness in taste. I personally love the tender and lean meat slices. With so many good competitors this year it’ll be interesting to see if Ikkousha can win the hearts and tastebuds of Singaporeans again.
Next, I tried the Special Ramen from Memban Yamagashi Kazuo. As their name suggests, they take utmost pride in maintaining the traditional ramen recipe from “Master of Ramen” Kazuo Yamagishi (山岸一雄). If you believe that a great chef comes from many years of dedicated experience then this special ramen concocted with a twist from their 80 year old Chef might be what you are looking for. They not only focus on finding the right balance between the soup and shoyu sauce required but also takes care in storing their ramen noodles at the right temperature to maintain quality throughout.
I’ve saved the best for last because this last one is also my personal favorite ramen that day. Nikumashi Ramen from Buta God is literally a god-send for tonkotsu (pork) lovers. Created by Chef Mamoru Kanaya (金谷衛), the broth is beautifully flavored with the natural sweetness from the marinated pork belly slices. The meat is thinly sliced and in generous portions. They’ve also added bamboo shoots to further enhance the taste. In Tokyo, this ramen is served with a raw egg but to cater to the local tastebuds, their findings revealed that most Singaporeans prefer poached eggs and altered the original recipe to suit the local palettes. I’m in love with their perfect noodles that are thin but not too springy. Do try the soup and noodles as it is, then mix the egg into the broth thoroughly for yet another dimension of taste. It’s just so yummy! Their secret to their broth is in the ability to control a strong flame to boil the pork bones until they achieve the required taste without burning the pot.
It was an honor and a pleasure to be able to taste all the different unique ramen and to exchange tasting notes with Ultimate Ramen Champion Producer Koji Tashiro san as we explored the various ramen choices. It was interesting to note that the contrasts in opinions that Singaporeans have compared to the Japanese tasters. The chefs worked really hard that day, gathering feedbacks from us as we ate and even with their limited vocabulary of English, they tried their very best to convey to us their intentions and techniques when we asked.
If you’ll like to try these ramen out and find out which one is your favorite, just head down to their outlets at Bugis+ or Changi Airport Terminal 3. I highly recommend to go to the Bugis+ outlet for greater varieties.
Ultimate Ramen Champion
201 Victoria Street
#04 – 10
Tel: 6238 1011