Ramen Boy: Ippudo, Santouka, Miharu, Tampopo and Noodle House Ken

Ippudo’s thin Hakata style ramen noodles.

Ok, I’ll admit that the ramen boy title is a bit misleading. I’m no ramen expert. I’d my first bowl of ramen only after coming back to Singapore. I’ve grown to like it though, more than any Japanese noodle. Luckily for me, Singapore is becoming quite a ramen city. Ramen shops have been sprouting up around Singapore, the latest being Ippudo, the famous Japanese ramen chain. It’s their second branch outside of Japan, their first being in my beloved New York City. Which I think speaks volumes on how Singapore is becoming a major gastronomic destination.

Pork Buns. Ippudo

But enough navel gazing, back to Ippudo, I joined June and her brother on a Sunday night during their soft opening to try the much hyped ramen. 9 p.m. and there was still a pretty long line, gratefully it was relatively fast moving.  June’s brother could hardly contain his excitement when we were finally seated. He was almost gleeful with anticipation to taste Ippudo’s ramen again. I like ramen but I’m not really a fanatic, so I wasn’t really infected by his enthusiasm. But after our pork buns came, I started to buy into it. The pork was tender and the bun, pillow-y soft, which contrasted with the crisp snap of the lettuce. It had a really flavorful sauce and… mayonnaise! Which made such a delicious flavor combination. It reminded me of the Samurai burger that MacDonald’s served in Singapore a very long time ago. (That comparison to MacDonald’s is a good thing, the burger remains one of my favorite food memories.)

Akamaru Modern. Ippudo

Our ramen arrived and it was quite a sight. My Akamaru Modern had a reddish-orange blush, a slick of black garlic oil and vivid green from the scallions, all set against the milky fat emulsified off-white broth. I was excited to eat it.

Hakata mini pork dumplings. They were indeed tiny. Ippudo.

It was good. But I expected more. Maybe it was the hype, or maybe it was because I’m a ramen noob. Maybe I just couldn’t grasp the intricacies, nuances of their ramen. It felt as if the ramen was lacking something but I didn’t know what.

Meltingly tender pork cheeks and fixings for the ramen. Santouka

As I started looking at my photos and writing this post around lunchtime the following Monday, I felt the sudden urge to eat ramen again. I needed another gauge. I called up a chef friend who has been urging me to check out a ramen place that serves theirs with pork cheek, one of our favorite meats.

Char siew pao with teriyaki sauce. Santouka

He picked me up and we drove to Hokkaido Ramen Santouka at The Central. They offered pork buns as well and we just couldn’t say no to that. This rendition had two slices of pork belly, a much more defined sauce and better fixings. The pork wasn’t as meltingly tender as Ippudo’s and I wished that there was mayo. But overall I preferred this one at Santouka.

Tokusen Toroniku Ramen, Shio. Santouka

It’s difficult for me to describe ramen broth; I don’t feel I have the right vocabulary, having been introduced to it so recently. So bear with me as I try.

My shio (salt) ramen with the fixings mixed in. Santouka

Imagine flavor being like a car and how fast it’s going as its intensity. My bowl at Ippudo was flavorful, but there was so much going on that everything got a little drowned out, a little diffused. It was like a car traveling fast but constantly making radical turns. There is speed but it doesn’t really get anywhere. Santouka’s broth though was like a car steadily accelerating on a straightaway. It started off not as aggressively as Ippudo’s, but the flavor was definitely more focused. The beautiful pork taste was well defined, and it lingered in my mouth.

My favorite noodles. Miharu

I also preferred the noodles at Santouka. They were a little thicker and chewier. More Q as the Chinese like to call it. Noodles at Ippudo were straight and thin, made in the Hakata style. But my favorite noodles are still from Miharu. They are yellow, curly and have just the right diameter, which makes for a substantial noodle that has the perfect chew.

Miharu

Miharu

Gyoza, Miharu

Gyoza innards, Miharu

Kyushu ramen original. Tampopo

But the highlight of Santouka is the pork cheek, which is meltingly soft and flavorful. I usually prefer my pork cheeks with more of a bite, a crunch to them, but these in the context of ramen worked.

Isn’t that a beauty? My favorite piece of pork. Tampopo

However my favorite ramen pork accompaniment is from Tampopo. Tampopo sometimes gets a bad rep. Some of it might be justified but take a look at the picture of that piece of pork. Doesn’t it look fucking good? It is. I love the alternating layers of fat and meat. I’ve always had very solid pork from the place. Their tonkatsu is pretty good as well. It’s crisp on the outside and succulent on the inside. It makes up for the fact that I can’t get enough of that rolled pork in the noodles. I always wish I had one more slice.

Black pig shabu ramen. Tampopo

Tonkatsu. Tampopo

One of the things that Ippudo does right is that they’re generous with their slices of pork like Noodle House Ken. There were quite a few pieces submerged below the soup of my Akamaru Modern.

Lots of pork at Noodle House Ken

You might have noticed that I never declared a favorite ramen joint. It’s not a cop out. As a food writer I firmly believe in putting your balls where your mouth is. (Ha ha ok that didn’t come out right.) What I wanted to convey is that writers should have the guts to stand by what they write. One of my pet peeves is reading a blog that reviews restaurants, only to state a disclaimer that all taste is subjective.

The thing I’ve learned while eating my way though Singapore’s ramen shops are that there is a multitude of ramen styles available. It’s like comparing apples to oranges. It wasn’t apparent to me at first. I thought ramen was ramen. But each region of Japan has its own variation. What makes it so fun and exciting is that I can eat across Japan, experiencing and celebrating all that ramen diversity within a few square kilometers in town, here in Singapore.

Check out all the different styles of ramen here.

Ippudo Singapore

#04-02/03/04 Mandarin Gallery

333A Orchard Road

Singapore 238867

Open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily.

Tel: 6235 2797

Hokkaido Ramen Santouka

#02-76 The Central

6 Eu Tong Sen Street

Singapore 059817

Open from 11 a.m. to 9:45 p.m. last order daily.

Tel: 6224 0668

Miharu Sapporo Ramen

#01-11 The Gallery Hotel

1 Nanson Road

Singapore 238909

Lunch from noon to 2:45 p.m.; Dinner from 6 p.m. to 9:45 p.m. last order. Closed on Wednesdays.

Tel: 6733 8464

Tampopo

#01-23/24 Liang Court Shopping Center

177 River Valley Road

Singapore 179030

Open from 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. last order daily.

Tel: 6338 3186

Noodle House Ken

#01-17/18 Orchard Plaza

150 Orchard Road

Singapore 238841

Lunch from noon to 2 p.m.; dinner from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. Monday to Friday. Saturday lunch from noon to 3 p.m.; dinner from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. or till sold out.

Tel: 6235 5540

14 responses to “Ramen Boy: Ippudo, Santouka, Miharu, Tampopo and Noodle House Ken

  1. Oh is Hokkaido Ramen Santouka situated at a corner, facing the SG river?

    Your next article can be about the interesting Black Pig concept ; )

  2. Totally concur on Ippudo’s pork bun. Here’s my take on the broth v Santouka’s. I feel Santouka’s soup is monochromatic whilst Ippudo’s, though not particularly outstanding, is more complex.

    Ok, Santouka’s pork bun, here I come…

  3. Linus: Yup I think that is the one.

    Ice: I think the broth at Santouka is monochromatic as well, which is why I like it. It’s so porky! Very focused and well defined.

    I just made pork buns over the weekend! Used the recipe from chef David Chang’s new Momofuku cook book but ditched the hoisin and sriracha in favor of teriyaki and mayo like Ippudo’s.

  4. Merry Christmas and have a wonderful Christmas celebration :D

  5. You too Fen!

  6. hello! I found your blog after all. By the way, I agree vehemently with your blog-title – Salt is important! :) Hehe. All cheesiness aside, your ramen pictures are driving me nuts!!! (I love noodles.)

  7. Hey Zee

    And I found your blog too!

    Was great meeting you last night. Thought it was funny that none of the dedicated food bloggers took any pictures of the food! Are you going to post about the dinner?

    What other kind of food do you like?

  8. Just wanted to let you know that this is a VERY well constructed blog. I could learn a thing or two.

    I found your blog while doing a Google Image search for Japanese Styles of Ramen, and what linked me here was your stunningly hi-rez photo of the Hakata Ramen at the top of this page. Amazing.

    I’m watching you now, as I’m also a lover of food, and I’d really appreciate any advice or a recipe or two so that I may attempt to make my own Hakata Style Ramen at home.

    Thanks, and keep up the good work.

  9. Hi Ryan

    Thank you for your kind words, it’s really encouraging to get comments like yours.

    I’ve never attempted to cook ramen, but I’ll let you know if I see any recipes.

    My advice is to just eat as much ramen as you can. I’m quite new to ramen but it also makes it exciting as there are so many different styles to try!

  10. Will do. I’m trying to plan a trip to Japan where I can just go nuts and eat like crazy.

    Also, I made a blog post for you in my own blog, telling my very very VERY few readers to check you out. Haha!

    http://ryandom.wordpress.com/2010/04/22/the-importance-of-salt/

  11. During my recent summer break (I’m studying in Perth now), I came home to Singapore and got introduced to the wonders of ramen by my friends. It all started out at Ken noodle house before I became crazy for ramen. I ventured to Santouka, Ippudo, the lousy one at paragons basement, the lousy one at ions basement, and a couple others.

    This is all I have to say.

    Ken noodle hands down is the best. Shio butter makes me *jizz*, and the special cold ramen is just so slurpalicious.

    The shio’s broth is so simple yet elegant with all the usual ingredients and lots of leek and lots of corn to make it somewhat a tad sweet-er and with a slab of butter thrown in…. Shio-k butter mmmhmm. Grind as much sesame seeds as you can and you’ll be begging for me. Not kidding. Though it’s been said that I get a little to over excited and passionate over my food (and exaggerated when it comes to describing the shiokness).

    The noodles reigns king too. Wonderful chewy tasty sexified noodles. I read somewhere its imported from japan from a small cottage industry and i LOVE it. The moment I strike lottery here, its a flight back home for the weekend straight to my favourite ramen-ya, then to my girlfriend! haha kidding! but seriously.

    Good day!

  12. I apologize for the horrible writing and grammatical mistakes I’m rushing to go fishing. Cheers :)

  13. Hi Alex!

    Thanks for dropping by! Loved that you used the word “jizz” and shio-k! haha. I think this is one of the most articulate comments ever written on my blog. Thank you for taking the time to write it.

    I think you just re-ignited my appetite for ramen and a trip to Noodle House Ken is in order.

    So what are you fishing? Love to fish but never really have the chance to do it in Singapore.

    Hope you have a great time and land a big one.

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