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.





Happiness is two kinds of ice cream in that waffle bowl thing

14 04 2013
Upper_Thomson_10_EarlGrey_SaltedCaramel

Salted Caramel’s Earl Grey (left) and Salted Caramel (right), served on a waffle bowl.

WITH EVERY step I took towards our destination, it started to feel like whatever ioata of being a food critic wannabe I had in me was slowly melting away, much like artisanal ice cream sliding down the surface impressions on a waffle (cone) bowl.

I felt unworthy in the presence of someone who has succinct opinions of practically every gastronomic establishment on the stretch of Upper Thomson Road, his words buoyed by the waves of the no-nonsense tone of a stern father.  At one point, he summarized one place in just one word that conjured up a vivid image in my head:  I would be better off chewing on a piece of cardboard than any pricey item on the menu.  He was not complaining about the price, he clearly has strong feelings about “getting what you pay for.”

Upper_Thomson_00_Fat_Boy's

One establishment that got high praise from Michael was this burger-and-beer place called FAT BOY’S. We shall come back for the tall, stacked burger. All the beer-drinking ill be left to Michael though.

 

Upper_Thomson_18_Fat_Boy's

See what I mean about the beer?

My good friend Michael is back after a five–month assignment at the home of the growing Lujiazui skyline – a place I last beheld about eight years ago.  We find ourselves on this stroll on Upper Thomson Road as I finally take him up on his offer to introduce me to one of the best artisanal ice cream places in the island city.  I usually walk double time, but somehow, the thought of the anticipated gratification necessitated a little more delay.  The pace just had to be leisurely.  Besides, I was carefully taking down mental notes, crafting a roadmap to conquer this seeming slice of gastronomic heaven.

When we started our walking tour, Michael politely called me out on my start-and-stop stride as I snapped away images on my Blackberry Bold 9780.  Before I could even attempt to rationalize my actions as my knack for really documenting my adventures, he was equally quick to surmise that a blog post was probably already taking form in my head.  I would’ve understood – and honestly waited – if any brewing impatience would take the form of him scratching his head or gnashing his teeth but instead he offered that I use his Samsung Galaxy S3.  “It would take better images.”

Anything in colorful font stops me on my tracks.  So I just had to take an image of this blackboard that enumerated the “Flavours Today” in colorful (handwritten) block capitals.  I finished taking my snaps and asked, “Where to?”

“We’re here.”

I saw the sign and it said, “Salted Caramel.”

Upper_Thomson_02_Salted_Caramel_Menu

Reading through this colorful “Flavours Today” menu board was enough to make anybody’s blood sugar shoot up with happiness. I was breathless in anticipation.

 

Upper_Thomson_03_Placing_Order

“Surprise me” was the theme of this ice cream treat. Michael took care of all the ordering.

The place was packed, its off–white interiors offering the illusion of the space appearing larger than it really is.  My generous host of a friend asked me to secure our seats while he took care of ordering an array of scoops he thought to be my best introduction to the place.  The only decision he had to trouble me with was – waffle bowl or waffle cone?  I saw a table against the wall and went for the save – not only was it packed but the queue was long also.

Upper_Thomson_04_Ice_Cream

The ice cream makes it to the table!

Soon enough, ice cream so fresh I swear they could’ve only come straight from the udders of cows finally made their landing.  Smarting under the lash of reality check that I wasn’t the smarter foodie at the table, I made a last-ditch effort to salvage whatever self-respect remained.  Essentially by trying to sound smart.  Hahaha!

“People haven’t really been salting their caramel until fairly recently.  So how long has Salted Caramel been here?”

Michael, who lives nearby, estimated the ice cream house’s emergence to a couple of years back.  He went on to introduce to me the four scoops he ordered for us to share.

Upper_Thomson_07_Stout&Chocolate_Rum&Raisin

Michael’s favorites Stout & Chocolate and Rum & Raisin

“You don’t drink.  But I hope that you’re not allergic to alcohol.  Here we have Stout & Chocolate, and Rum & Raisin.  This bowl has Earl Grey, like the tea, and the house signature, the namesake Salted Caramel.  I like the Stout & Chocolate.  It is usually stronger than this.  I think that (another shop’s name) was the first to infuse alcohol into ice cream.  But it was Salted Caramel that perfected it.”

Upper_Thomson_15_SaltedCaramel_Waffle_Bowl

A very Michael thing to do – once only a little of the ice cream is left, he crumbles the waffle bowl into the paper cup in one quick squashing action very similar to abruptly closing a book shut.

And everything indeed was perfect.  I mean, you cannot call something artisanal – a fact proudly brandished by this shop just beneath its name – and expect everything to be technically perfect.  The profundity of Salted Caramel’s ice cream’s scrumptious beauty and flavors lies in the promise of homemade fresh goodness served in classic and spiked interpretations – Vanilla is comfortably juxtaposed with Stout & Chocolate.

When you find these scoops melting into each other in a waffle bowl or cone, you too will melt away.  Ice cream, after all, is the anti-freeze to the soul.

Upper_Thomson_12_SaltedCaramel_Spoon

I chose to keep my first ever Salted Caramel ice cream spoon as a memento of the experience. I will surely go back!

 

Upper_Thomson_14_SaltedCaramel_Spoon

This Salted Caramel ice cream spoon is set against the backdrop of SHOP Singapore, one of my favorite publication in the island city. I wonder if Upper Thomson Road has ever been featured on its pages.

 

Upper_Thomson_16_SaltedCaramel_Cup

The Salted Caramel paper cup bears a sticker of the logo and colors of the place. Everything is in comforting shades of brown. At this shop, clearly, it takes salt and burnt sugar, one magic moment, to know you’re in heaven.

 

Upper_Thomson_11_SaltedCaramel_Signage

Salted Caramel is housed on a stretch of buildings that bear marks of Singapore colonial architecture.

 

WHO?  Salted Caramel Artisan Ice Cream.  WHAT?  Artisanal ice cream, waffles, a lot of dessert stuff.  WHERE?  246F Upper Thomson Road, Singapore 574370.  www.saltedcaramel.sgWHEN?    Sunday–Thursday 12:00 NN–11:00 PM / Eve of Public Holiday, Friday & Saturday 12:00 NN–2:00 AM.  WHY?  The ice cream is top notch.  There’s alcohol in some of them.  The staff is nice.  HOW?  The nearest MRT station is CC16 Marymount (Circle Line).  We walked about 10 minutes.  HOW MUCH?  It was Michael’s treat but I think he spent nowhere more than S$ 5.00 per head.

Copyright © 2013 by eNTeNG  c”,)™©’s  MunchTime™©.  All rights reserved





Of bees and Leo

9 04 2013
Bee_Tea_05_Chinese

Now always in my wallet. Whenever I will need “bee tea”, all I do is go to the nearest Traditional Chinese Medicine Hall and whip out this handwritten “order slip” courtesy of one of my “new” friends at work.

YOU LOSE your voice and suddenly you see that the words attributed to no less than Russian writer Leo Tolstoy take form.

And all people live, not by reason of any care they have for themselves, but by the love for them that is in other people.”

I completely – literally – lost my speaking voice these past weeks.  There was a time I would get it back, only to lose it after speaking in length at a meeting.  For someone like me who likes to talk – and talks a lot – not to mention, sings a lot too, to lose my voice is simply the most painful thing there is.

Fortunately for me, even in the midst of the daily grind that is the fast–paced life in the Lion City – trust me, nowhere else does life spin faster in dizzying speed – there exist people whose random acts of kindness, without them knowing, breathe life to the very words of the renowned Russian novelist.

Coming back from lunch break one day, they handed me a packet of what is called “bee tea”, which when steeped in almost boiling water, purportedly becomes a potent elixir guaranteed to bring my voice back.  I offered to pay, only to be told by one that he didn’t remember how much exactly it cost because it was the other who handled the payment.  I turned to her, the “other”, only to be responded to with a smile.

I was overwhelmed by the gesture that I must’ve appeared so dumb as to understand their instructions on how to prepare it that they graciously made it for me on the spot.

I loved the tea.  I’ve got my voice back (it was almost “instantly” back).  And now more than ever, my faith in the goodness of people has been renewed.

Sometimes, it takes bees.  Or simply, the love for us that is in other people.

Bee_Tea_03_Ingredients

The ingredients of the “bee tea”. Image courtesy of my friend.

 

Bee_Tea_00

I decided to keep the bees as souvenir. Here they are, comfortable on a mos appropriate page from my current notebook. It says, “Heroes are made by the paths they choose, not the powers they are graced with.”

 

Bee_Tea_01

Bzzzzz… A tight shot of the bees.

 

Bee_Tea_04

The bee tea is ready! By the time I finished this 900-mL bottle, my voice was all coming back to me. By the end of the day, I had four! I liked it that much.

Copyright © 2013 by eNTeNG  c”,)™©’s  MunchTime™©.  All rights reserved