Ramen Quest: IPPUDO SG at Mohamed Sultan

23 11 2014

MY RAMEN quest is turning out to be the perfect excuse to go through the list of all IPPUDO SG branches islandwide – all four of them.  I’ve been to three.  The first is here.  This post is about the second one:  IPPUDO SG at UE Square (along Mohamed Sultan Road), #01-55/56, 207 River Valley Road, Singapore 238275.

My bowl of ramen at IPPUDO at Mohamed Sultan.  It's all about the Hakata–style noodles for me.

My bowl of ramen at IPPUDO SG at Mohamed Sultan. It’s all about the Hakata–style noodles for me.

 

My chosen "featured" ramen, calm and collected, just right before I wreaked havoc onto it.

My chosen “featured” ramen, calm and collected, just right before I wreaked havoc onto it.

 

That pinch of a Japanese pepper pounded to a paste makes this bowl a "featured" ramen, as opposed to a "classic."

That pinch of a Japanese pepper pounded to a paste makes this bowl a “featured” ramen, as opposed to a “classic.”

 

For some reason, the noodles at this branch seemed much thinner.  The promised texture – “springy” as the menu brandishes – can only really be had when the noodles are served “very hard”, exactly my preference.

It's all about the noodles.  I actually fight with myself whenever faced with a steaming hot bowl of IPPUDO ramen.  I can almost consume this in a flash.  But restraint and the attempt to pace the eating – almost as if rationing it to myself – does generate much enjoyed delayed gratification.

It’s all about the noodles. I actually fight with myself whenever faced with a steaming hot bowl of IPPUDO ramen. I can almost consume this in a flash. But restraint and the attempt to pace the eating – almost as if rationing it to myself – does generate much enjoyed delayed gratification.

 

I am nothing if not a creature of habit.  And the extra serving of noodles has always been requisite to a most satisfying meal at IPPUDO SG!

I am nothing if not a creature of habit. And the extra serving of noodles has always been requisite to a most satisfying meal at IPPUDO SG!

 

This delusion of a much reduced noodle diameter in the expected doneness, coupled with the signature clean, deeply flavored Tonkotsu broth, sealed the fate of this ramen.  To steal the title of a favorite Vertical Horizon song, “best I ever had.”

And I had a couple of add–ons to prove this claim:  a cup of steamed Japanese pearl rice and an extra serving of the noodles.  Both do exactly what they are supposed to do – soak up the awesome broth, something diners would always be reminded of everytime they look up from their bowl and see the wall art that is the Oriental soup spoons.

I can see the relation with the Mandarin Gallery branch.  The bowls are there.  The spoons are here.  Great ramen is at both.

Anyone who cannot appreciate the ingenuity of hanging all those spoons on the wall as a decorative, artful treatment has no right to witness beauty in any of its form.

Anyone who cannot appreciate the ingenuity of hanging all those spoons on the wall as a decorative, artful treatment has no right to witness beauty in any of its form.

 

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





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.





Ramen Quest: DAIKOKUYA Ramen Dining at Raffles City

27 10 2014

THE NEXT stop on my ramen quest is a place, yet again just a two–minute walking distance from the nearest train station, that it offers yet another clue to my steadily expanding girth.

In an island–state as tiny as Singapore, it is both utmost convenience and the bane of one’s existence that making it to your destination doesn’t offer the prospect of benefitting from at least a 20–minute brisk walk, the daily minimum the cardiologist recommends.

"Be still my heart.  Lately it's mind is all its own."  And head over heels over ramen!  Here is the classic one  I always order at DAIKOKUYA Ramen Dining.

“Be still my heart. Lately it’s mind is all its own.” And head over heels over ramen! Here is the classic one I always order at DAIKOKUYA Ramen Dining.

DAIKOKUYA Ramen Dining at Raffles City Shopping Centre, #B1-13, 252 North Bridge Road, Singapore 179103 promises a broth that’s thick and creamy, spiked with special homemade fish spices.  Any attempt to keep me from this – including lack of exercise – would be an exercise in futility.

The broth rivaled my forehead as it glistened under the intense table lighting.  It was slightly thick, not at all milky white, but quite flavorful, something that could only come from simmering pork and pork bones for hours.  The noodles would be what I’d call by now as of medium thickness.  I wish they were thinner.  I wish I had asked for more bamboo shoots, and had advised that I would be passing up on the flavored egg.  I swear, ignoring those egg halves surrounded by ramen noodles, conjured up a 27–year–old cinematic image that nagged inside my head with, “I’m not gonna be IGNORRRED!”  (Insert evil laughter here.)

After having consumed bowls and bowls of ramen, it has become necessary to order a side dish – of a less sinful provenance – as if it’s atonement for my gastronomic sins.  So I asked for silken tofu doused in a soya–based sauce, and topped with shards – no, pretty ribbons – of yummy bonito.  I swirled a little of the sauce in my mouth and espied a slight kick of mirin.

To atone for my sinful ramen cravings, I turn to tofu.  The bonito ribbons melt in the mouth into a salty, nutty goodness.

To atone for my sinful ramen cravings, I turn to tofu. The bonito ribbons melt in the mouth into a salty, nutty goodness.

For the tofu side alone, I’ve gone back to DAIKOKUYA Ramen Dining.  Clearly, this place was not gonna be ignored.  (Cue again the evil laughter.)  Sadly, the flavored egg, unlike the dining place, had met a different fate.

Welcome to DAIKOKUYA Ramen Dining!

Welcome to DAIKOKUYA Ramen Dining!

 

After a sinful dinner, the vicinity of DAIKOKUYA allows for some leisurely walk (or should it be "brisk"?) to burn some of the calories.  This store is a favorite.  Haha.

After a sinful dinner, the vicinity of DAIKOKUYA allows for some leisurely walk (or should it be “brisk”?) to burn some of the calories. This store is a favorite. Haha.

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.





I need a champion

19 10 2014

THE RUDIMENTS of ramen – and the inevitable love for it – I got from two things from my youth.  First, that blue pillow pouch of Nissin’s Ramen, which I loved for the sesame oil that came in a separate packet and would never make it to the soup (Haha!).  Second, those Japan TV documentaries that used to air on RPN9 or IBC13.

What these taught me are that the essence of sesame and a really good broth are essential to the authentic enjoyment of really good ramen.  The third component – the perfect doneness of the ramen noodles – I’ve got down pat ever since I was a kid.  Somehow, I’ve always known just exactly how any kind of noodle should be “done”.  I’ve been toying with the concept of being a “foodie” probably even before that word even came to be.

My affair with the ramen got rekindled on a recent couple–hour layover at the Tokyo–Narita Airport.  After braving the packed Tokyo Banana store, elbowing my way through to snatch 10 boxes and come out of the whole experience alive, I just had to have a steaming bowl of honest–to–goodness Japanese ramen.

I haven’t been back in Japan for like, forever, so I thought any ramen place would do.  I ordered the miso–based at the one closest to my boarding gate.  There was a long queue.  As one of my guiding mantras says, “A line is always a good sign.”

I took a snap of my bowl of ramen – both to (hopefully) capture just how inviting it was; and as homage to this generation of shoot–first–eat–later.

But I was so glad I did.  Because it was as if that bowl of ramen was like an action movie waiting to happen.  It was “gone in 60 seconds.”

And the remaining layover time – and my speed – allowed for seconds.

My Tokyo-Narita Airport "layover" ramen.  This earns the movie monicker, "Gone in 60 Seconds"!

My Tokyo-Narita Airport “layover” ramen. This earns the movie monicker, “Gone in 60 Seconds”!

 

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





Had my ramen and met Neal Oshima too

14 06 2010
 

Ukkokei Ramen Ron’s Miso Ramen

IT TAKES a lot to get me star-struck.  And by the time I had taken the long walk from Dusit Thani Hotel to this restaurant I was searching for – all I could remember was a portion of the restaurant’s name (the “Ron” part) and that it was on Arnaiz Avenue – I wouldn’t be easily impressed or fascinated anymore.  Well, I guess I spoke too soon.  And I’d leave it at that for now, lest I get ahead of myself.

Ukkokei Ramen Ron’s specialty is their ramen, which is available in three broth flavor variants – shoyu (soy sauce), shio (salt), and miso.  I went there for the Miso Ramen which has good word-of-mouth publicity as their bestseller.  As I waited for it with breath that was bated, I asked for a tall glass of Iced Green Tea and one of my favorite Japanese appetizers, Agedashi Tofu.

My love for Agedashi Tofu is just one of the many good things I have assimilated from my association with Friendship.  So everytime it’s on the menu, I would ask for it.  Ukkokei Ramen Ron’s version was quite authentic.  They took a smallish block of firm silken tofu, dusted it lightly with cornstarch and fried it until perfectly golden brown, with the bottomside bearing grill-like marks.  They served it in a very very VERY hot broth made of dashi, mirin and soy sauce, and topped it with a generous mound of grated daikon radish, the whiteness of which was beautifully blemished by a smidge of red chili paste perched on top.

Agedashi Tofu

Notice the perfectly golden brown block of firm silken tofu, the mound of grated daikon radish, the chili, all that spring onions, and the nori! Super comforting!

I cut a piece of the tofu and flipped it to see the grill marks. Perfect.

In the savory broth were lots of finely chopped sping onions and strips of nori (seaweed).  Though I burned myself with the very first excited slurp I took of the broth, it was well worth the sense of comfort that washed all over me – exactly what I needed after over six grueling hours of creative writing.  While the silken tofu ensconced beneath the very thin batter slid playfully on my tongue, I couldn’t help telling myself that I was eating healthy and could live on it.  I was all the more convinced when, looking down at my lacquered bowl, my sight caught an inadvertent glimpse of my expanded girth, one side of which was already touching the side of the bar table I was sharing with a Japanese expat to my right, and a father and his son farther down.

Miso Ramen, served with a generous sprinkling of spring onions, lots of bean sprouts, and a ladle for the soup.

 I was licking the last traces of the broth on my upper lip when my humongous bowl of Miso Ramen was served, its arrival from the kitchen being heralded by some Japanese “cheer” coming from the wait staff.  I sheepishly applauded the ramen’s presence in front of me and silently acknowledged that it could be the biggest bowl of noodles I would ever have to devour.  Those I’ve had at international airports in Hong Kong, in SanFo and in Shanghai would pale in comparison!  I whipped out my camera and began taking the requisite shots – the tigher, the better.  My patience was put to the test as the photo shoot took quite a while.  As is always the case with steaming hot food, I had to contend with all the steam rising from the food’s surface.

A tight shot of the Miso Ramen. Notice the strip of pork on top!

Once satisfied with the photos I had taken, I slurped away, making good use of both the chopsticks and the small ladle they served the noodles with.  Chopsticks alone proved insufficient as the oily noodles would slide off, putting to shame years of experience in using this oriental tableware.  Halfway through, the Japanese expat to my right had to ask me how I was finding my noodles – but not before first asking me if I was Korean or Filipino.  I looked at him and said, “I find it to be average (gesturing with my left hand stretched out in a seesawing motion).  But the ramen noodles are quite good – thick enough, and cooked to perfection to give that “bite.”  I like it that they put in a lot of spring onions and bean sprouts.  The broth though is a bit salty for my taste.  And I’m someone who has a high tolerance for saltiness.”  He mouthed back, “it’s average,” before getting up from his seat and shaking my hand.  We couldn’t be in any more agreement.  I guess I set the bar too high – what with all the good I’ve heard about the house bestseller!

Halfway through my bowl of ramen. Mine was extra huge because I had an extra serving of Omori (ramen noodles) added to my order!

Yaki Gyoza!

The Iced Green Tea I washed everything down with. It was really straightforward – just freshly brewed green tea and ice. Very cold. Very clean. Very simple. Loved it!

Feeling for myself that my excited anticipation had plateaued, with my arteries already lined with a thin film of oil, I decided to pick one more item from the menu to help pick me up.  I thought the Yaki Gyoza wouldn’t hurt, especially since it was consistently one of every three items dished out from the kitchen counter.  I asked the wait staff what sauce was best for it and she told me to mix the Japanese soy sauce and the vinegar together.  I did.  But before I could even dunk the first dumpling in, the father to my right quipped, “It’s better with the chili oil.  Only if you like.”  I did and when I was shaking the small bottle like crazy, he followed through, “You have to press the button on top.”  I smiled at his helpfulness, and he carried on with the conversation.

“Do you have a food blog?  I saw you taking pictures of your food earlier.”

Yes, I have.”

“Is that a Lumix?”

No, it’s a Canon IXUS860IS.  Just a point-and-shoot.

“And that’s all you have to do.  Your blog, what’s it called?”

It’s eponymous.  It’s called ‘eNTeNG’s MunchTime.’  It’s at entengvince.wordpress.com.

“’entengvince?  It’s one word?  Like, I can google ‘entengvince’?”

Yes.”

“I take photos professionally.  I did a shoot for Rogue magazine, a feature on food bloggers.  Like Market Man.  It’s the established ones.”

Oh my God!  May I have your name please?

“I’m Neal Oshima.”

At this point, I had officially freaked out.  I was actually sharing the bar table with one of the Philippines’s foremost lensmen and one of the most seldom-photographed at that!  Since he actually was the one who struck up a conversation with me, I went out on a limb and asked if I could have a photograph taken with them.  He was quite shy, saying that he would just always ruin photos.  I insisted.  I remember my hand shaking a little, hence the blurred shot.

I went back to my part of the table, and as I was muching on my gyoza, he went on, “How’s the gyoza?  It’s good right.”

Yes, it is really good.

He and his son stood up, I stretched my hand out and he shook it and said, “eNTeNG, right?”

I was star-struck.

A cropped me, with THE Neal Oshima and his son.

The bar table (counter) faces the open kitchen at Ukkokei Ramen Ron.

Ukkokei Ramen Ron – I found it walking all the way from The Dusit Thani Hotel where I was earlier in the day. All I remembered was that the restaurant name has a "Ron" in it, just like one of my best friends Superman's name.

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