Sunday, October 30, 2011

Ramen: Not just your "noodles in soup" (Ramen Champion, Trial 2)

Following my research on Ramen Champion @ Bugis Iluma and our first trial for Who's the Ramen Champion?, I've learned to stereotypically explaining ramen as "noodles in soup" does not do justice to represent what ramen really is. Although at my level of skills, I am unable to put "ramen" in words, I think it's best for one to explore "ramen" in their food adventures, or hopefully with the photos and comments below.

I actually went to Ramen Champion three times in this two weeks, but not planning to write them in order, because I want to put this two ramen side by side for a comparison. This covers part of my 2nd and 4th visit.

The one type of ramen that most Japanese/ramen restaurants in Singapore never have on their menu is the tsukemen ramen. Tsukemen literally means "dipping noodles" - yes, ramen don't just come in soup! The soup broth is prepared so thick that makes "dipping" the best way to taste your noodles.

First up, we have Tetsu's version of tsukemen - the Very Rich! Paitan Tsukemen! Describing the soup as "very rich" is an understatement. I'd like to call it "concentrated" - as if it has gone through a distillation process to retain just the essence of the broth. No kidding! (Not advisable to drink the soup alone.) Concentrated to the point that they serve you a third bowl worth of broth.

Pros: The paitan ("white soup") broth is super thick and flavorful (salty), generously garnished with fresh leek, and is a perfect complement with the plain soba noodles.
Cons: Noodles has been aired for too long, and I prefer my ajitama to be warm. :o

Very Rich! Paitan Tsukemen from Tetsu
Photo edited with Pixlr-o-matic
Rating: ★★

Fluid egg yolk and egg white on the inside. (Unfortunately, quality is not always maintained.)

Ajitama from Tetsu
Photo edited with Pixlr-o-matic
Next up, we have Taishoken's Tsukemen Deluxe. It is said that Taishoken invented tsukemen, the "dipping noodles"!

From the looks of it, Taishoken's tsukemen appears more flavorful with the traditional ramen topping, narutomaki. The broth looks different, instead of the paitan, Taishoken's tsukemen clear soup broth is boiled from pork, chicken and anchovies.

Pros: Noodles are "smoother". I like the anchovies broth. The cha-shu has a nice roasted aroma and the fatty parts are soft that melts in your mouth. *thumbs-up!*
Cons: Although the broth is rich and good on its own, it still seems too bland to complement with the plain noodles. Taste of the broth doesn't "stick" onto the noodles by just dipping. :(

Tsukemen Deluxe from Taishoken
Photo edited with Pixlr-o-matic
Rating: ★★

You've just seen Trial 2 of the Ramen Championship!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Crab Bee Hoon Soup & Chicken Pies @ Don Your Personal Pie Club

Don Your Personal Pie Club (waiting for food)
Photo edited with Pixlr-o-matic

Here is a strange shop at China Square Central, China Court, that looks like it's a pie shop - also from its name, Don Your Personal Pie Club (or "Don Your Pie" for short), but with a wonder surprise inside. Not unless you came with someone who already knew, or that you drop in for the pies (which then you would have noticed the sign by the counter) would you have known that the surprise they kept so well inside was actually, Claypot Crab Bee Hoon Soup.

I'm not sure how many have tasted crab bee hoon soup before in Singapore, because it is not a dish that we often go looking for. I have eaten chilli crab, pepper crab, butter crab, and sliced fish bee hoon soup (my favorite), now to eat them together as one dish is actually a first for me!

Three of us arrived at Don's around 11:30am on a Monday for an early lunch. Shop is nearly empty except for a few queuing for pies. Food came at around 11:50am.

Claypot Crab Bee Hoon Soup
Photo edited with Pixlr-o-matic
Rating: ★★

Their signature dish: Claypot Crab Bee Hoon Soup.

To be honest, I am very impressed with the freshness of their crabs. I was a little disappointed with the soup though, which is still good, but I felt it could have a richer herbal/wine taste and bit less "milky".

Black Pepper Crab Bee Hoon (dry)
Photo edited with Pixlr-o-matic
Rating: ★★

For myself, I had the Black Pepper Crab Bee Hoon. Black Pepper Crab is my favorite crab dish, but I really had no idea how this would turn out. Anything in the name of "black pepper" could go totally bad if the chef had a different kind of "taste" - if you know what I mean.

Luckily for me, this dish turned out just fine. It could be a little more spicy (more black pepper!) being the usual me, although the current level of spiciness is good enough and acceptable for most people who claim they can take spicy food. I do have one suggestion, which is to make the black pepper taste cooked more integrally with the crab - you know like how black pepper crabs at the seafood restaurants are done! Right now, it is more like fresh crab with black pepper sauce over the top. I won't complain too much though, because fresh crabs are already a +1. :)

At a pie shop, it just doesn't make sense to not try their pies at all!

Chicken pie, quarter-size box
Photo edited with Pixlr-o-matic
Chicken pie, quarter-size
Photo edited with Pixlr-o-matic
I guess I didn't do the pie justice by eating it cold. :\ Pies need to be eaten hot! From the cold pie that I ate, the filling is typical local/asian pies filling - mashed potato with pieces of chicken and boiled egg. I like the texture of their mashed potato, but I've never liked boiled egg, even in my curry puffs. Cold pies are cold pies after all, unfortunately. So no rating for this time. :(

But according to wx, he was very satisfied with the Chicken Shepard Pie he got! (He heated it up of course)

If you are interested in trying this out, Don Your Pie is located at 20 Cross Street, China Square Central - China Court #01-34. The crab bee hoon dishes are $19 each. (Apparently, it was only $12.50 four years ago, as reported on!) They also have nice "concentrated" lime and pink guava juices! The pies are an average $5 for a fair 1-person portion.

If you work in the vicinity of Raffles Place, Shenton Way, and Chinatown, they do free deliveries for orders $30-50. Check out more information on their website.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Skinny Pizza is really skinny!

Skinny Pizza. You might be thinking: Well, how "skinny" can a pizza get? -- VERY.

The skinny pizza crust from Skinny Pizza has a totally revamped taste and texture from the traditional bread crusts. For one, it cracks!!

To get an idea, it's just like Indian papadum that tastes like unsalted crackers. Crunchy and 'cracky', accompanied with freshly prepared toppings and lots of greens, it makes a light meal that keeps your stomach just satiated and not bloated. Definitely a healthier choice of pizza!

Since it was our first time there, we decided to go all out in experimental mode. We picked the 'strangest' or arguably the 'most special' pizza available. Ever seen a black pizza before? :p

Squid Ink @ Skinny Pizza
Photo edited by Pixlr-o-matic
Rating: ★★

Skinny pizza is really 'skinny'!
Photo edited by Pixlr-o-matic
We also tried their pasta. Our comments? Not too bad, but unless you really want to have pasta, should just stick to what they are known for next time :)

Bay Prawn Capellini @ Skinny Pizza
Photo edited by Pixlr-o-matic
Rating: ★★

Spaghetti Aglio Olio @ Skinny Pizza
Photo edited by Pixlr-o-matic
Rating: ★★

Is a little pricey - averages $20 per person (assuming 1 entree each - pizza or pasta) if you are okay sticking with "just water". Their pizza is definitely more worth the price considering the "healthy" value. Great for dinner!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Who's the Ramen Champion? (Trial 1)

Ramen, ramen, ramen, ramen, ramen, ramen....

I'm saying "ramen" six times because this is really what this dining place is about - Ramen.

For a ramen place, wx and I would usually just hit a RamenPlay. But this day, on a friend's recommendation, we decided to give this "authentic Japanese ramen" a try - Ramen Champion @ Bugis Iluma.

The problem was, there were actually six different ramen stalls there - Ikkousha, Gantetsu, Menya Iroha, Bario, Taishokan, and Tetsu. And since we didn't do any research beforehand (not even asked the friend what's the best there!), we could only rely on the picture menus and our instincts for good food. We literally went from stall to stall, thinking to ourselves - "ok, this one sells ramen...and this one....ramen. next one...erm, ramen too. right...that's ramen as well. so which is the one that's really really good?"

(For an overview of each of the ramen stall's specialties, read the post "Ramen Champion @ Bugis Iluma".)

I guess my instinct failed me. As I was sucked in my usual spicy-rules-all mentality, I ended up having the Spicy Miso Ajitama Ramen from Menya Iroha. For someone at my spiciness capacity, this spicy ramen is, of course, way way too mild. :p I was quite disappointed because it says in large text, "麻辣" (mara), on their menu. I also felt that the soup was too salty that this became one of the few times where I actually failed to clean my soup bowl completely. Nevertheless, I am giving credit for their tender cha-shu and half-boiled seasoned egg, ajitama.

Photo edited with Pixlr-o-matic
Spicy Miso Ajitama Ramen
Rating: ★★

Turns out, Iroha's ajitama wasn't the best there either.

Photo edited with Pixlr-o-matic

Where we usually see the seasoned eggs served in halves, Bario expresses their uniquely strong style by serving their ajitama as a whole egg! We were drawn to believe that perhaps this half-and-whole thing could be the secret technique to making the best seasoned eggs! Either that, or Bario's chefs are just more skillful in controlling the timings in the seasoning process, because their whole eggs, when sliced open, reveals a perfectly crystal orange-colored egg yolk. "Woah," we reacted as if we've just witnessed the Seven Wonders in the world.

But that was not all to the Bario ramen. As I mentioned, Bario's ramen is "uniquely strong," or bold.

Photo edited with Pixlr-o-matic
Bario Ramen
Rating: ★★ (subject to individual's taste)

Photo edited with Pixlr-o-matic
wx slurping on his bowl of Bario Ramen

Whole ajitama, a bold gesture to the presentation - check. Milky-white tonkotsu (pork bone) soup base, ultra-rich - check. Bread flour noodles, thick and heavy - check. Large handful of bean sprouts/cabbage piled to a mountain-high, another bold gesture - check. Thick, bold cuts on the cha-shu - check. Garlic, for the strong taste - check. To eat the Bario Ramen is to be a bario man, which means super and strong, just like how the ramen is designed to taste. Some may not like this as much due to the strong taste.

For side dish, we went with Ikkousha's Chicken Gyoza. You should see that we enjoyed this dish very much:

Photo edited with Pixlr-o-matic
Chicken Gyoza
Rating: ★★

We had a second plate! And as soon as it arrived, wx stole a piece, thus leaving only four pieces in this photo.


Anyone who enjoys a single bit about Japanese ramen should find the time to dine at Ramen Champion. The wide variety allows for groups of family and friends (with different taste for food) to all enjoy their meal here.

Photo edited with Pixlr-o-matic
Bario storefront

Favor thick tonkotsu soup? Try the Bario Ramen! Definitely not the typical kind of ramen you would find elsewhere, so I would strongly recommend that you try it at least once. Find it too strong, and you can always go for something lighter next time.

As you can see, I have named this post as "Trial 1". This means that there will be more reviews on Ramen Champion coming on this blog. We are hoping to try as many different ramen at the six stalls to come up with a fair judgment of the ramen champion for the Ultimate Ramen Champion 2011 competition. So do come back for more reviews!

To learn more about Ramen Champion and the Ultimate Ramen Championship, visit their website and Facebook Page.

Ramen Champion @ Bugis Iluma

Another weekend right ahead! Are you running out of lunch/dinner ideas?

If authentic Japanese ramen interests you, then be sure to check this place out at Bugis Iluma.

Ramen Champion is a Marché-style (or food court-style) dining place where you can choose to dine from a selection of food stalls, charge all your orders to a card given, and only pay when you exit. Well, as the name suggests, Ramen Champion is all about ramen! You can find six ramen stalls there, each carrying their own specialized ramen flavor representative of different cities in Japan!

Here's an overview of all six ramen stalls at Ramen Champion:

Gantetsu [Sapporo]
See Gantetsu's menu
This one was actually recommended by a friend. But both wx and I were turned off by the massive portion of corn on the pics. 3-year award winning ramen from Sapporo - miso soup base with classic yellow ramen noodles.

Menya Iroha [Toyama]
See Iroha's menu

Toyama's ramen - the black shoyu ramen! Menya Iroha has been a 2-year ramen champion in Tokyo. Specializes in the black shoyu ramen and traditional miso with chili mara ramen.

Tai-Sho-Ken [Tokyo]
See Taishoken's menu
One of the most famous ramen shop in Tokyo. Known to have invented the tsukemen ("dipping noodles") soup broth - made from pork, chicken and anchovies, and served with soba, either on the side or in the soup.

Ikkousha [Hakata]
See Ikkousha's menu
Rich pork bone soup base with thin flat cut noodles is this Hakata ramen shop's killer combo. Ikkousha pays much attention to its ingredients. It is said that their pork bone soup base does not have the strong smell of pork bone that most ramen shops have. Their chicken gyoza is pretty good as well.

Bario [Tokyo]
See Bario's menu
Listed by Guardian UK as one of the "50 best things to eat in the world," no one should ever miss out on Bario's Jirokei (Jiro style) ramen. Super milky-white rich kyushu-style tonkotsu (pork bone) soup with thick and heavy bread flour noodles - the Bario Ramen!

Tetsu [Tokyo]
See Tetsu's menu
What used to be a small shop in quiet town is now one of the top spots for ramen in Tokyo (like a chain ramen cafe). You'll probably see Tetsu in Tokyo as much as you find a fast food restaurant in US. Tetsu's signature is also the tsukemen soup broth with soba on the side.

What kind of ramen (soup base + noodles) do you like?
Which ramen at Ramen Champion will you go for?

Find out which ramen we went for on first impression and whether we like it on the "Ramen Championship Adventure" series!

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