Pardon me for my ignorance but despite its name, Ramen Champion, I wasn’t aware until recently that the collective of ramen stalls at Bugis+ (the former Iluma) and Changi Airport Terminal 3 were actually, you know, engaging in a real competition. That is, until I got the email announcing this year’s winner. Material World was recently invited to a press con to find out more about Ramen Champion’s winner, as well as the collective’s new entrants. The winning stall is Ikkousha, which sold 118,500 bowls of ramen over the past year. It didn’t win by a small margin either. Rival Gantetsu finished a far second, with 64,300 bowls sold.
I believe everyone has a ramen shop they swear by, and upon which they judge other bowls of ramen they eat. My absolute favourite has to be Marutama Ramen (Central, Liang Court, and United Square). I love the chicken broth because it’s hearty, tasty, yet not cloyingly thick, and the quality across its three local outlets here have remained consistent over the years. I inevitably end up comparing every other bowl of ramen I eat to Marutama’s but always find myself going back to the latter. Some people think it’s a little overrated, but I think the combination of the slightly al dente noodles, comforting broth and deliciously fatty pieces pieces of char shu are hard to beat.
How would the ramen from the various Ramen Champion stalls measure up to Marutama? We’ll get to that in just a bit, but before that, some insight on the ramen scene in Singapore by Chef Kentaro Tanaka, who helps run the Ikkousha stall locally.
On the key differences between Japanese and Singaporean tastebuds
“Japanese people prefer a thicker broth, while Singaporeans prefer lighter flavours. In the beginning, Singaporeans used to complain that the broth is too salty but over the years, they’ve grown accustomed to the taste. At Ikkousha, we’ve preserved the authentic taste for Singaporeans, but we’ve made the soup a little less thick.”
On what makes a good ramen broth
“The most important thing is that there must be a balance of flavours. The amount of oil and the bones of the soup used to make the broth is very important, as is the use of fresh ingredients.”
On the importance of the noodle texture
“It should be slightly chewy and must ‘bounce back’ when you bite into it.”
And without further ado, let’s jump into taste test. We tried the signature ramen from Ikkousha, as well as from Ramen Champions’ three new entrants: Muso, Buta God and Memban Yamagishi Kazuo.
Ikkousha Special Ramen, $16.50
Although its base is pork, I found the taste quite similar to that of Marutama Ramen’s signature bowl, which has a chicken base. It had a lot of meaty flavour and the noodles were springy. In terms of value, it edges out Marutama. Ikkousha’s is slightly cheaper but came with four thick slices of cha shu. The takana (pickled vegetables) had a nice crunch that provided a contrast of textures to the QQ noodles. This is a flawless bowl of ramen – little wonder that it has garnered so many loyal fans.
Muso Special Cha Cha Ramen, $15
The broth – a mix of chicken, vegetable and pork – is clearer than that of other bowls of ramen I’ve tried, but it also had generous amounts of pork fat in it, which gave it lots of flavour. It also came with bean sprouts, quite an unusual yet welcome addition because it adds much-needed fibre to this starchy dish. The noodles were also delectably springy. Everything about this dish reminded me of the famous bak chor mee noodle soup served at two stalls in the Blk 85 Bedok North Street 4 hawker centre – a plus for me. I’ll definitely opt for this on days when I’m not in the mood for a thick, creamy broth.
Buta God Nikumashi Ramen, $15
One look at this contents of this bowl and you’ll know it’s not your everyday bowl of ramen. It came covered in thinly-sliced marinated pork belly, rather than the thick slices of cha shu. Dig beneath that and you’ll find a broth that’s clear brown in colour. It was sweet in flavour and had an herbalish aftertaste. I enjoyed this simply because it’s so different from everything I’ve tried to date, though I still prefer the traditional ramen broth. The amount of pork you’re given also makes it great value for money.
Memban Yamagishi Kazuo Special Ramen, $14.50
This is another unusual addition to the ramen family. The broth – made from fish, vegetables and pork – was light and you could taste the slight fish flavour. Quite extraordinary and a great option for those who don’t like traditional ramen for its overly meaty flavour.
It’s easy to see why Ikkousha took home top honours this year, but with Singaporean tastebuds now getting more adventurous, I won’t be surprised if the new entrants do well too. Ikkousha has been doing so well that they will not be renewing their tenancy at Ramen Champion and, instead, will soon be setting up its own standalone stall. It won’t be for a couple of months though, so you still have time to make your way down to Bugis+ to order your bowl while it’s still there.
The only recommendation I have for Ramen Champion is that they should have one main menu which gives descriptions of the types of ramen available at its eight stalls. The problem I had with previous visits to Ramen Champion was that I always felt overwhelmed by choice and so it felt like I was picking a stall and a type of ramen at random … and this has resulted in a couple of less-than-satisfactory meals.
Material World was invited to a tasting at Ramen Champion and was not paid for this review. All opinions expressed are the author’s own.
About the Author: Denise Li is a founder of Material World and a freelance writer-editor. Before that, she spent a few years in the Features section of CLEO and Cosmopolitan Singapore. She considers Chiang Mai her spiritual home and makes it a point to head there for a yearly pilgrimage. She’s also a fitness buff and enjoys boxing, running and the occasional yoga session. Besides Marutama Ramen, she’s also a fan of Ramen Bar Suzuki at Circular Road. Follow her on Twitter @DeniseLiTweets.
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