Ramen Quest: Nantsuttei Ramen at Orchard Central

9 11 2014

IN THIS age of globalization and melting pots – and foodies all around, myself included – it no longer comes as a surprise that with one look at the food you’ve ordered, you see beyond what the menu tells you and find the manifestation of a seeming microcosm of flavors and textures, almost deconstructed.  And almost equal parts groundbreaking and cliché as these flavors and textures burst on your mind before they even do in your mouth.

Nantsuttei Ramen's Negi Ramen.  This almost overflowing bowl is layer upon layer of flavors and textures.  And if I may add, colors!

Nantsuttei Ramen’s Negi Ramen. This almost overflowing bowl is layer upon layer of flavors and textures. And if I may add, colors!

 

Nantsuttei Ramen at Orchard Central, #07-12/13, 181 Orchard Road, Singapore 238896 takes pride not only in using the freshest but also – and seemingly, more importantly – the healthiest chickens in creating “a ramen with a purely chicken–based” broth with a touch of a “shiodare (salt sauce) base that is creamy with a touch of sweetness.”

I grew up believing that the authenticity of ramen is anchored on a broth made from simmering pork and pork bones for hours.  Nantsuttei clearly steers away from this norm, but the way they market their ramen unequivocally declares that the foundation of (their) awesome ramen is still the broth – only thing is, they have chicken, again only the healthiest, as its cornerstone.

I opted for the Negi Ramen (S$ 15.00), which is essentially the basic ramen but with a generous topping of negi (spring onions) served in two colors in two ways.  The white part is first cut into three–inch pieces before being shredded.  The green are chopped really thin.  Both are then piled high on top of the ramen that actually already fills the bowl to the rim.

Negi (spring onions, in two colors, two ways) generously tops two bowls of ramen.  Notice that my friend's has the requisite flavored egg.  But not mine.

Negi (spring onions, in two colors, two ways) generously tops two bowls of ramen. Notice that my friend’s has the requisite flavored egg. But not mine.

 

And that’s what your attention panning hits right past the pile of negi – the ramen noodles, the broth and the chasu (tenderly simmered pork) fill the bowl all the way to top.  But before I get to enjoy this rendition of a classic, I first have to pierce through the film of black ma–yu oil – my choice over the red oil – which is exactly a flavorful oil blend of high quality chicken fat and roasted negi.

I started by tasting the ramen noodles, first on their own.  I wish they were thinner that their medium thickness.  I wish that the doneness, which was something they don’t ask about at Nantsuttei, was very hard – almost raw.  But what the noodles lacked in texture, it more than made up for through coats of the black ma–yu oil, suffused and redolent with the sweetish robust aroma of slow–roasted garlic.

It is necessary to start enjoying the ramen – any ramen for that matter – by first tasting the noodles.  Notice how I have carefully moved the negi to one side while I fish out the noodles.

It is necessary to start enjoying the ramen – any ramen for that matter – by first tasting the noodles. Notice how I have carefully moved the negi to one side while I fish out the noodles.

 

I would leave the chasu soaking in the broth, simply for two reasons.  First, I’ve always approached my eating with thoughts of deconstruction – paring down, layer by layer, ingredient by ingredient.  Second, I believe that it allows the chasu to become more tender and more flavorful, the operative words being “soak up.”

In time, I got to the chasu and I finished the soup, my atonement for my gastronomic sins being the extremely generous side portion of fresh bean sprouts I asked for.

A bowl full of bean sprouts, also known as - for all intents and purposes – "atonement."

A bowl full of bean sprouts, also known as – for all intents and purposes – “atonement.”

 

How I ate my bowl of Negi Ramen is actually how Nantsuttei recommends it should be done.  While it wasn’t intentional on my part, somehow a thought bubble formed above my head saying, “I’m a good boy and I do as I am told.”  Haha.

Love it or hate it, a free lecture is always a good thing!  Haha!  I can do everything, except the slurp part.

Love it or hate it, a free lecture is always a good thing! Haha! I can do everything, except the slurp part.

 

Two big spoons, two big bowls, two huge appetites.

Two big spoons, two big bowls, two huge appetites.

 

My Malaysian BFF is back.  And so the gastronomic adventures resume!

My Malaysian BFF is back. And so the gastronomic adventures resume!

 

Malaysian BFF, thanks for this first in a series of your ramen recommendations!

Malaysian BFF, thanks for this first in a series of your ramen recommendations!

 

Copyright © 2014 by eNTeNG  c”,)™©’s  MunchTime™©.  All rights reserved.





Here for #28: NamNam Noodle Bar at Raffles City

28 10 2014

I NEED a really good lemon sorbet at this point, before I talk about the next ramen place on my quest.  That or a seat at the bar – right in front of the cooks – at NamNam Noodle Bar at Raffles City Shopping Centre, #B1-46/47, 252 North Bridge Road, Singapore 179103.

They can try but they can't take noodles away from me.  Haha!  This is NamNam Noodle Bar's “Phở Beef Steak Slices” (S$ 8.90).

They can try but they can’t take noodles away from me. Haha! This is NamNam Noodle Bar’s “Phở Beef Steak Slices” (S$ 8.90).

I can read the thought bubble above your head, “It is still noodles.”  Yes, but it is definitely a flavor 3368 km West Southwest of Japan.

I’ve been to paradise, but I’ve never been to Vietnam.  Thankfully, its flavors are no stranger to me.  Unlike that of the Philippines’ (so far… it’ll change soon enough), the fate of Vietnamese cuisine isn’t one that has sent it to oblivion.  Rather, to me it stands proud as one of the more definitive Asian cuisines.

And wherever I go, I’d manage to find a Vietnamese place that captivates my palate – then my heart –   be in Folsom (California), Burlingame (California), Chicago, Boise, and of course, Manila.

I start with my Bahn Mi (Vietnamese sandwich) of choice (S$ 6.90).  On to the inside of a crusty–outside–airy–inside single–serve French baguette, I asked for cold cuts, caramelized five–spice pork belly, and chicken floss, smothered with their regular fixings pork pâté, mayonnaise, hot chilli peppers, pickled carrots, daikon radish, cucumber and lots of fresh cilantro.

My Bahn Mi (Vietnamese sandwich) of choice (S$ 6.90) – cold cuts, caramelized five–spice pork belly, and chicken floss, smothered with pork pâté, mayonnaise, hot chilli peppers, pickled carrots, daikon radish, cucumber and lots of fresh cilantro, in a French baguette.

My Bahn Mi (Vietnamese sandwich) of choice (S$ 6.90) – cold cuts, caramelized five–spice pork belly, and chicken floss, smothered with pork pâté, mayonnaise, hot chilli peppers, pickled carrots, daikon radish, cucumber and lots of fresh cilantro, in a French baguette.

 

NamNam Noodle Bar prides itself for bringing in the taste of authentic Vietnamese street food.  When the Banh Mi came in on this newspaper-print paper, in a wicker basket, I see the effort.  If it were brought to me by a waiter on a high-speed motorbike, that would've hit it our of the ball park.

NamNam Noodle Bar prides itself for bringing in the taste of authentic Vietnamese street food. When the Banh Mi came in on this newspaper-print paper, in a wicker basket, I see the effort. If it were brought to me by a waiter on a high-speed motorbike, that would’ve hit it our of the ball park.

The flavors going into the sandwich are quite traditional but what sold me to this savoury combination is the five–spice powder (star anise, cloves, cinnamon, Szechuan peppercorns, and fennel) that I highly suspect is used as a dry rub on the pork belly before it is either slow–roasted in the oven or braised on the stovetop to caramelized perfection.  It becomes fork tender and is the succulent star of this delectable, edible colonial influence.  In between bites, I’d sip my iced Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk (S$ 2.60).

I meant this pit stop as a respite from ramen – or, noodles in general.  So I thought all I needed was to finish my Bahn Mi and ignore the call of freshly cooked rice noodles in a broth that is equal parts rich– and clean–tasting, the layers of flavors mirrored by the layers of textures as thinly sliced white onions and a bunch of fresh herbs give off their crunch as your chewing finds its way to the tender beef slices.

But that wouldn’t be an eNTeNG thing to do.  Besides, I’d be totally remiss if I’d pass up on Vietnam’s ubiquitous culinary export – the Phở (or, pho).  I asked for the “Phở Beef Steak Slices” (S$ 8.90) which comes with the promise that the meat is served medium rare.  In my head, I went finger–snappin’ and head–bobbin’, almost singing, “That’s the way uh–huh uh–uh / I like it / uh–huh uh–huh, mashed up with…  “#Turnip for what?!”  Haha!

I squeezed the lime wedge into the broth, took a sip, closed my eyes, and savored the goodness.  I opened my eyes and knew that the world is as it should be.  Or maybe not.

I realized I should at least be wearing a nón lá – or be on a street somewhere in Hanoi – to be enjoying food this good.

Seated by the bar, I had a full view of how my steaming hot bowl of “Phở Beef Steak Slices” was prepared.

Seated by the bar, I had a full view of how my steaming hot bowl of “Phở Beef Steak Slices” was prepared.

 

I had my eye on the beef the whole time.

I had my eye on the beef the whole time.

 

I'm amazed at how much work is needed to fill a large pan like this with really thinly sliced onions and herbs.  I just had to pile a lot of this into my “Phở Beef Steak Slices”!

I’m amazed at how much work is needed to fill a large pan like this with really thinly sliced onions and herbs. I just had to pile a lot of this into my “Phở Beef Steak Slices”!

 

I love the rustic feel this metal cup brings to the table.  And the fact that it holds the order slip, which I do intend to go through completely soon enough.  Check away!

I love the rustic feel this metal cup brings to the table. And the fact that it holds the order slip, which I do intend to go through completely soon enough. Check away!

 

The “Phở Beef Steak Slices” bowl makes it to the table!  The beef steak slices are medium rare as promised!

The “Phở Beef Steak Slices” bowl makes it to the table! The beef steak slices are medium rare as promised!

 

I asked a little fresh cilantro on the side from the young chef and this was how much he gave me!

I asked a little fresh cilantro on the side from the young chef and this was how much he gave me!

Copyright © 2014 by eNTeNG  c”,)™©’s  MunchTime™©.  All rights reserved.





Ramen Quest: RAMEN KEISUKE TONKOTSU KING at Orchid Hotel

22 10 2014

HAND ME a step–by–step checklist – “Make your own RAMEN ! !” – and I’m instantly a happy boy.  It saves not only time, but also another tired take at placing my food order, which, if you know me, sometimes turns into a spectacle on its own – I enunciate each word into pieces, complete with elaborate hand gestures.

Before I commit, hand me a checklist...  and I'm yours!

Before I commit, hand me a checklist… and I’m yours!

Thank RAMEN KEISUKE TONKOTSU KING at 1 Tras Link, #01-19 Orchid Hotel, Singapore 078867, for reducing “eNTeNG, the One–Man Act” into four easy steps.  Hunched over my slip of paper at a small corner square table with one end pushed to the wall and another against the seat at the next table, I was a microcosm of how cramped – ok, “quaint” – this ramen place feels.  I caution to say that I had to toil over my options.  I mean, when you know what flavors you like, you just check away.

Step 1Please choose the RAMENBlack Spicy Tonkotsu King (S$ 11.80), check!  Of the two spicy variants, I chose black over red.  I’ve always associated something spicy with being red hot.  So why not black hot for a change.

Step 2 – “Please choose your favorite ToppingSeaweed (S$ 1.00), check!  This one’s a no–brainer.  I’ve never been a fan of “flavored” egg.  And whenever a menu screams, “Recommended!!”, the more I’d veer away from it.

Step 3 – “Please choose your favorite flavor.  Taste of the soup – Strong, check!  Chicken oil – More, check!  Noodle texture – Hard, check!  Not one to shy away from the extremes, I guess my lips just had to break into a half–smile as I checked away options that celebrate the funambulism with which my palate approaches flavors.  A one–line disclaimer says, “’NORMAL’ will be the Authentic JAPAN Taste’”.  With the choices I made, I clearly had waived all rights to being the boy who cried inauthentic!

Step 4 – “Please tell me which ingredient that you ‘don’t’ want.  Who doesn’t want spring onionPork chasyuBlack fungus?  Not me!

I almost specified "VERY HARD" on my preference for noodle texture!  On my next visit, I will!

I almost specified “VERY HARD” on my preference for noodle texture! On my next visit, I will!

At this point of my quest, it has all come down to two things – the broth and the ramen noodles.  And oh, every chance I get to spike my bowl with the hint of sesame oil that makes any ramen experience feel like a throwback to my childhood.  Here, it took an artisanal approach – I had my own mortar and pestle to grind lightly roasted black and white sesame seeds before I tip them over to my bowl.

For that hint of a little sesame goodness, a seeming throwback to my childhood, I had to exert a little work.  So artisanal, with my own mortar and pestle.

For that hint of a little sesame goodness, a seeming throwback to my childhood, I had to exert a little work. So artisanal, with my own mortar and pestle.

The broth was slightly thick, milky white, and quite flavorful.  I could tell that this robustness could only come from pork and pork bones simmered for hours, and seasoned by a ramen chef so good that he could very well be wearing a crown on his head instead of a chef’s toque or a Japanese headband.  I wish the noodles were thinner.  But that didn’t win over my heart’s desire for an extra serving.  Unlike at IPPUDO, no one checked my bowl if I still had some broth left before they acknowledged my hankering for the extra helping of noodles.

My BLACK SPICY TONKOTSU KING RAMEN!

My BLACK SPICY TONKOTSU KING RAMEN!

 

I know I did check seaweed as my choice of topping.  However, when I saw how it made it to the bowl, it almost had the look of an afterthought - like, all was done and perfect and then someone said, "Stick a seaweed sheet in it!  Go!"  Haha!  It does have the look of a breakwall.  It was as if it would come in handy with the (eventual) uncontrollable slurping of the noodles and the broth.

I know I did check seaweed as my choice of topping. However, when I saw how it made it to the bowl, it almost had the look of an afterthought – like, all was done and perfect and then someone said, “Stick a seaweed sheet in it! Go!” Haha! It does have the look of a breakwall. It was as if it would come in handy with the (eventual) uncontrollable slurping of the noodles and the broth.

 

The requisite extra bowl of noodles!!!

The requisite extra bowl of noodles!!!

If it were not for the very limited space, I would’ve kicked my shoes off, rested my feet on a stool, and with one hand on my tummy and the other holding on to my cold Keisuke (Japanese) Green Tea Cola (S$ 3.00), admire the mishmash of retro Japanese art and calligraphy on the wall, thank the fact that this had got to be the shortest walk from my commute to an awesome meal – only two minutes from the Tanjong Pagar MRT station – just in time before I will have realized that I should behave more appropriately.

The mishmash on the walls gives the place some more of its authentic Japanese feel.

The mishmash on the walls gives the place some more of its authentic Japanese feel.

 

This SEISUKE (Japanese) GREEN TEA COLA is just...  what's the word...  oh, fab!

This KEISUKE (Japanese) GREEN TEA COLA is just… what’s the word… oh, fab!

This place, after all, is home – for the broth alone – to a TONKOTSU KING.

Here resides the TONKOTSU KING of the BROTH!!!

Here resides the TONKOTSU KING of the BROTH!!!

 

Copyright © 2014 by eNTeNG  c”,)™©’s  MunchTime™©.  All rights reserved.





Ramen Quest: IPPUDO SG at Mandarin Gallery

20 10 2014

THE TROUBLE with starting with the best – or at least what all others think so to be the best – is that you would end up in just either one of two situations, neither one a total win–win.  If it’s good, you start on a quest with the bar set so high, everything else just pales in comparison right after.  If it’s not good, you will have yet another conjured–up image of perfection come crumbling and crashing down.

I decided to fan the flames of my rekindled passion for ramen with a (first ever) visit to IPPUDO SG on 333 Orchard Road (Mandarin Gallery).

I saw this signage while on queue and I couldn't help but chuckle and half-expect that a French Canadian superstar would manifest her presence to me, and with a loud chest thump sing, "'Cause I'm your laaa-aaa-dyyy!!!"  Haha!  Well, you've got to entertain yourself to kill the wait.

I saw this signage while on queue and I couldn’t help but chuckle and half-expect that a French Canadian superstar would manifest her presence to me, and with a loud chest thump sing, “‘Cause I’m your laaa-aaa-dyyy!!!” Haha! Well, you’ve got to entertain yourself to kill the wait.

 

Ramen is the LOVE.  And the SMILE.  It has to be said that this is brought to life by the Service/Wait Staff at IPPUDO SG.  Everyone just has a genuine smile on.

Ramen is the LOVE. And the SMILE. It has to be said that this is brought to life by the Service/Wait Staff at IPPUDO SG. Everyone just has a genuine smile on.

The experience begins with a line that starts way outside the restaurant and continues inside as if it is a line at a movie theater box office on the opening night of a big hit.  This queuing up can make or break you – especially when you’ve reached the front of the line and some of the diners would be staring back at you and you know exactly what’s in the thought bubbles above their heads.  “You are not getting this seat.”

Finally seated!  Gotta love the stark place setting.

Finally seated! Gotta love the stark place setting.

 

It's dinner time!

It’s dinner time!

It sounds like it’s a test.  And it is.  It is one of patience.  This to me fits right in in a place that serves food steeped in the oldest of traditions, something that others may argue to not be the case when it comes to the interiors.  Yes, the ubiquitous multi–hued bowls belong, rather, are the reason for being of this place.  But as design elements on the main red wall, they’ve taken a more edgy, contemporary vibe.

The very first time I laid eyes on this wall, I knew I would want it for my bedroom.  Haha!

The very first time I laid eyes on this wall, I knew I would want it for my bedroom. Haha!

I mentioned patience belongs here, and this is primarily an allusion to that virtue being needed to achieve the perfect ramen broth.  I remember hearing from those Japan TV documentaries that used to air on RPN9 or IBC13 that in Japan, some ramen restaurants would refuse to open for business if the chefs thought that the broth – which they had started to prepare the night before – was not up to their standards.  They would turn people away!  In Manila, I’ve been told about the strive for perfection a particular ramen chef had that if any customer would ask the wait staff for condiments, he would emerge from the kitchen to ask explicitly if there was anything wrong with the broth.

Not the whole ramen dish itself, but specifically the broth.

The menu at IPPUDO SG was helpful, quite descriptive actually.  And before long, I had zoomed in to the operative words, “Ippudo’s original tonkotsu broth.”  It was a no–brainer.  I asked for the AKAMARU SHIN–AJI, enhanced with a specially blended miso paste and fragrant garlic oil.  I proceeded reading through the menu, salivating.  I had to make sure that my right hand was ready to reach for my handkerchief just before my synapses would’ve exploded from the intense pleasures derived from reading the descriptions and having them run around in my head.

I read this and I didn't need any further convincing.  But oh, yeah, I just had to close my eyes when my field of view caught the right side of the page.

I read this and I didn’t need any further convincing. But oh, yeah, I just had to close my eyes when my field of view caught the right side of the page.

The red bowl that arrived at my table, with the first sip was so Japanese; it could’ve very well been the shores of Yokohama, as the sea breaks against the rocks and the bridges.  The broth was cloudy white, always a good sign of excellent pork–based goodness.  The flavor was strong, but not arresting to the palate.  It had a clean quality to it, a flavor that’s almost subdued but full–bodied.  And as promised, kicked up a couple of notches by the miso paste – prettily perched on top of the organized chaos of noodles and ingredients – and the fragrant garlic oil.

The AKAMARU SHIN-AJI has landed!  Notice that I did other a side of ... the yummiest bamboo shoots!

The AKAMARU SHIN-AJI has landed! Notice that I did other a side of … the yummiest bamboo shoots!

 

This photo doesn't do the ramen justice.  However, it does highlight how the miso paste sits beautifully on top of all the chaos.

This photo doesn’t do the ramen justice. However, it does highlight how the miso paste sits beautifully on top of all the chaos.

I would almost always forget to acknowledge the presence of the thin strips of tender pork belly deliciously swimming in the broth because next to the latter, the actual star of the whole thing was the noodles.  Originating from Hakata, they are quite thin, white (as opposed to “yellow” noodles), and perfectly done as any ramen should be.  And rightfully so, because even without the menu encouraging it, I would always specify how I like my noodles done – plunged into a rolling boil, swished around for exactly three seconds, drained, and then shocked in ice cold water.  Two words – very hard.

Which, ironically, is something so untrue about falling in love with Ippudo ramen.  The bar has been set so high.

You specify the hardness of the noodles.  In the end, what this means is that you don't have anyone to blame but yourself.  Haha!

You specify the hardness of the noodles. In the end, what this means is that you don’t have anyone to blame but yourself. Haha!

 

I read this part of the menu and suddenly felt awash with conflicting emotions.  Excitement at the prospect of an extra serving of noodles.  And an itch to reach for a red pen and...  edit!  Note to self, READ YET ANOTHER ONE OF THE RULES!!!

I read this part of the menu and suddenly felt awash with conflicting emotions. Excitement at the prospect of an extra serving of noodles. And an itch to reach for a red pen and… edit! Note to self, READ YET ANOTHER ONE OF THE RULES!!!

 

The ramen noodles at IPPUDO SG are the LOVE.  It's the star.  Here is my first of two extra servings.  I dunk this in to my bowl humming, "'Yes, I'm saving all my broth for youuuuu..."

The ramen noodles at IPPUDO SG are the LOVE. It’s the star. Here is my first of two extra servings. I dunk this in to my bowl humming, “‘Yes, I’m saving all my broth for youuuuu…”

 

IPPUDO SG at 333 Orchard Road (Mandarin Gallery) kicks start my quest for the ultimate ramen.

IPPUDO SG at 333 Orchard Road (Mandarin Gallery) kicks start my quest for the ultimate ramen.

 

What to wear to the first ever trip to IPPUDO SG?  Something as Japan as...  ASTROBOY!

What to wear to the first ever trip to IPPUDO SG? Something as Japan as… ASTROBOY!

Copyright © 2014 by eNTeNG  c”,)™©’s  MunchTime™©.  All rights reserved.