Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Search for Ramen Part 3: Santouka, The Central, Singapore

The search for the perfect ramen continues. Of course, the holy grail bowl of ramen does not exist, but the search, and the process which involves imbibing bowls of ramen is surely quite satisfying and not only a journey but a destination in itself.

Santouka Ramen in Singapore is a branch of a very famous chain from the city of Asahikawa in Hokkaido, Japan. They also have several branches in the US, and in a recent roundup by rameniac, the LA store came up No. 1. BTW, Rameniac is a great resource site for ramen maniacs.

Many Singaporean bloggers have also reviewed their ramen, and today I went to see what the fuss was all about. The menu went at lengths about how they prepared the soup, how the temperature of th soup was kept just right...not too hot, never boiled as this destroys the flavours, but right for slurping. Also a "limited edition" ramen attracted two of my watch collecting buddies...supposedly only 60 servings of the Tokusen Toroniku ramen is available each day.



Toroniku - Japanese for choice pork is made from pork from a pig's cheeks...precious little is available, as each pig only yields about 200g to 300g or so of this delicate, melt-in-your-mouth meat. The ramen was available in 3 flavours of soup: Shio (salt), Shoyu, Miso and Kara-Miso. The Shio flavour is the most popular in Singapore and indeed in Japan as well.

So special is this cheek meat toroniku, that it deserved served in its own plate, with some accompanying toppings. As if to announce its superiority over typical chasu in ordinary ramen which is served semi-floating in the broth along with the toppings and noodles.



In the topping plate was Japanese green onions, bamboo shoots, wood ear musroom (kikurage), a slice of fishcake, and a pickled plum (umeboshi). The plum is one of the signatures of the Santouka chain, and a nice touch to balance the rich broth with a tinge of sourness.



As can be seen from the pic, the meat seems to have a rough looking texture with identifiable muscle fibres with what looks like plenty of collagen and probably fat. As I pop one in my mouth, I felt like making one of the expressive "oishi" faces that one sees on Japan Hour on TV...this was really delicious. The meat was truly melt in the mouth, like butter...disintegrating on contact with the tongue and taste sensors...excellent, excellent tenderness. Interestingly it did not taste greasy, but richly satisfying.

The noodles came swimming in a rather smaller bowl than is typical in Tokyo style ramen. The soup looked very thick, creamy, and had a wonderful aroma. Slurping the broth provided a great sense of satisfaction...it was rich, powerful. Perhaps I am a heavy salt eater, but I found the original Tom Ton soup and even run of the mill Ajisen soup to much saltier. Readers are reminded that I had asked for reduced salt Tom Ton, and was richly rewarded. But here, I did not even have to request for less salt. It was perfect.



The noodle served was Asahikawa style - thick and curly, cooked al dente. The egg noodles were specially made to be shorter, and had the qualities of being able to absorb soup well, and prized for this reason. The typical hakata style ramen is thinner, and longer.

Overall, one of the best bowls of ramen I have tasted. Everything was right. The noodle style, done-ness, the rich, satisfying soup, the gorgeous pork. My eating companions, remember those watch collectors, agreed. One of them, a great friend and eating buddy, incidentally a medical doctor who imbibes butter and fat like there's no tomorrow...pronounced it better than Tom Ton in everything except for the kurobuta pork. Makes me wonder if Santouka does the pork cheeks from korubuta if it will meet with his approval.



We also tried the gyoza, and despite looking great, was a quite ordinary to the palate. Especially after such an amazingly delicious, rich bowl of ramen.

Ramen Santouka
6 Eu Tong Sen St
#02-76, The Central
Singapore 059817
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