Story and photos by Dr. Michael Lim The Travelling Gourmet TM
All rights reserved
All food photos are of REAL food with no photoshop
The indefatigable and indomitable Travelling Gourmet TM goes to the western part of Singapore island to taste Japan’s gift to the culinary world at…
MEN-ICHI RAMEN Restaurant. Here they serve their celebrated ‘al dente’ ramen in their famous Wafu Broth! It is one of the RE and S concepts which incidentally stands for Restaurants, Entertainment and Show Business.
My research shows that RAMEN first appeared in Japan in 1910. What happened was the Chinese cooks at Tokyo’s Rairaiken restaurant created. a signature dish when they mixed soup broth and Chinese noodles. Chinese noodles called “La Mian” or which were yellower and more elastic than Japanese noodles (in Mandarin, “La” means pulled and “Mian” means noodles). The reason is then as now, their dough was kneaded with kansui, which is alkaline mineral water infused with sodium carbonate.
This wildly popular dish become a hot-seller but was not called Ramen at first. Rather it was termed shina soba! Shina is a phonetic rendering of the word “China”. Soba are buckwheat noodles but the Chinese noodles used in shina soba were wheat-based. Over the years, restaurants all over Japan began serving regional versions of shina soba, using local regional ingredients.
As Japan’s most popular Chinese dish, shina soba symbolized Japan’s ambitions of Imperialism and world domination thus expanding Japanese empire! I think this is a fascinating yet little known aspect of Ramen! To gobble up shina soba in those years was to symbolically consume China itself. As China represented the empire’s biggest prize, a bowl of shina soba represented nothing less than world domination. fast forward to post World war 2 when world domination was totally out of fashion and in 1958, Nissin Foods introduced the first-ever packaged instant version of the dish. As its broth was chicken-flavored, the product was called Chikin Ramen. Sometime ago on a Gastronomic Safari to Japan, I went to see and taste so many types of Ramen in the celebrated Shinyokohama Museum of Ramen.
All the Ramen and other ingredients like the all important broth is made from scratch in the central kitchen. One of the most addictive things about the Ramen dishes is of course, the all important Broth! It is concocted painstakingly with pork bones, chicken bones, Katsuo (Bonito (or dried tuna flakes), Konbu (Kelp seaweed)…which is slowly simmered for 14 hours! periodically all the scum and oil is skimmed off leaving a thick broth that is suprisingly low in fat and Calories. Not only delicious but also healthy and nutritious. One taste and you experience that wonderfully comforting plus rich gastronomic sensation of Umami aka the 6th flavour (savouriness of cooked proteins) and Amami or sweetness! The springy noodles are all hand made and served ‘al dente’ or slightly hard and chewy in the middle. They are a bit similar to Hong Kong style wan tan noodles.The big 3mm thick medallions of Japanese style Char Siew is made from premium Bara Niku (boned pork rib) and pan-fried lightly which brings out its meaty yummie flavours. The decor here is also very reminiscent of the small cosy restaurants in the Sinhagawa district of Tokyo. If you are very observant, you will see the lampshades. They are made out of inverted porcelain Ramen bowls with holes drilled out for the light bulbs!! Very quirky and innovative indeed! For dinner, come at 5 to 6 pm before the dinner rush and you have to wait in a lonq queue while your tummy rumbles…
I tried their new take on Ramen made with Ikasumi or SQUID INK a la Italian pasta! It is available till 9 May, 2015. The unusual dish was most tasty and full of the flavour of the sea…and inevitably invoked comparison with Italian Squid Ink linguine. In the 21st Century, Restauranteurs and Chefs have to be very creative to keep up with the fickle tastes of their customers…Each titanic bowl has a very unique Japanese boiled egg with the yolk still a little soft. There is a secret to this egg but that is another story…Other goodies include crisp Bamboo shoots,Rolled Egg Omelette, sweet Corn Niblets, Bean Sprouts, 3mm thick slice of Japanese Char Siew, Spring Onions & Julienne of Yaki Nori Seaweed. A piece of crisp seaweed sticks out like a sail on a boat. The tender and moist Japanese Char Siew has no red colour from food dye and tastes very different from the Chinese style Char Siew.
I like to add some Fried Garlic to my Ramen before I start slurping! Plus I put in some orange coloured fiery Chilli Oil too…What the hell, did you know that the recommended way to savour this dish is to make as much noise as you can as you suck up the long squiggly strands of Ramen! Ha! Ha! Connoisseurs say: To eat it right..Eat it LOUD!
Squid Ink Fried Rice with its Charcoal black appearance does not look appetising, BUT I assure you that is it very flavoursome. It is garnished with julienne of rolled egg…
I also like the Gyoza, Japan’s answer to the Chinese Kuo Tie and the Crabmeat Omelette! Yum! Yum! I shall return soon to try the Gyokai Tonkotsu Tsukemen which is eaten by dipping the Ramen in a special sauce, just like the way you eat Chilled Zaru Soba. Tsukemen means “dipping noodle” in Japanese. Master Chef Shogo Nishimura is in charge of all the restaurants in Shokutsu Ten, but his colleague Ramen Chef Kanji Fujine used to work in a famous Tokyo restaurant where Tsukemen is a specialite de maison.
I also went to look at and shop at the Japanese Farmers’ Market and bought some nice sweet Japanese persimmons! One must eat well to live and work and love well!
Itada ki mas! (Guten Appetit in Japanese) 🙂
Men-Ichi Ramen Restaurant
1 Jurong West Central 2
(Last Order: 9.30pm)