Archives for category: Singapore

Today, my boss mentioned watching Anthony Bourdain visiting Singapore in his Layover program and his fiancee going gaga at the sight of teh-tarik. Both announced they would love to visit my home country and smash their faces into pots full of fishhead curry and shit. On a less savoury note, my facebook feed threw up people criticising Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan for being out of touch when his Ministry for Environment and Water Resources was quoted in the Straits Times as: “surveys show that in general, ingredients form about 60 per cent of a hawker’s costs”. Notably, food critic KF Seetoh posted, “If your food cost is 60%, eh, you long long close shop liao la. If you cannot do below 30%, go be a highly paid civil servant better la”. I don’t think the dichotomy of desire and reality not meeting could be summed up so painfully by both parties.

On the one hand, I can be proud that Singapore is famous for it’s great food. Yet, on the other, I can only see the abyss that faces said cuisine. There are many reasons why I have not chosen to start a restaurant in Singapore, weather being one of them, but everything else explains the difficult situation my beloved nation’s food heritage and identity faces today.

First off, most food in Singapore is ridiculously cheap. Some asshat will say that food in Indonesia or Vietnam or Ethiopia or whatever is cheaper. We have long been considered a developing nation and if hotels that look like the ark landed on top or the number of Vuittons per capita (LVPC) are anything to go by, I’d say that the little red dot is very much first world. A first world country that adopted the approach of keeping food cheap through a conscious government effort since the heady days of independence. This policy had two major effects. The first is that it keeps people happy, satisfying a basic need easily and keeping the government in power. The second is that the people developed a complacency and absurdity of expectation. Not only should it remain cheap despite the fact that the country sees affluence aplenty, it should also remain at the status quo in terms of taste. This is world class fare that costs very very little. Fuck inflation, fuck immigration policy, fuck market capitalism, fuck profit margins. We want cheap, hygienic, locally made, authentic and tasty stuff that’s subsidised by a benevolent dictatorship that’s somehow expected to be about face socialists when it comes to thing we eat.

In 1965, my moms was still a child and her experience revolved around 20c plates of noodles and it’s ilk. When I was a similar age in 1990, I remember the same thing would cost $2. So we’re talking a 1000% increase over 25 years. It’s a rough estimate of course but let’s compare it with the next 25 years. When I last went home in April this year, 2015, a relatively extravagant plate of hokkien mee cost $5 and it’s probably meant to be shared. So over the last 25 years, inflation was 250%. In 2040, will I be surprised if my $5 plate became $10? Honestly, I’d rejoice because that same thing runs about $15 here in Sydney here today and it hasn’t been honed by 20+ years of dedication involving long hours in front of a wok burner. And still, the clouds of nostalgia would present the idea that the taste has been going downhill post Planck epoch.

Singaporeans moan way too much. They’ve had it too good for far too long and gone are the tenets that my parents and grandparents’ generations have held so true; hard work and determination. Today’s Singaporean is more attuned towards ranting on a WordPress blog (like myself for no one to read) or a couple of lines on a Facebook comment as if they somehow deserve the $3 plates of god level chicken rice. It’s the entitled attitude that reeks. A dish that today has a few distinct styles, each worthy of merit and each developed through years of tireless innovation and ideas. Roasting garlic and onions to deepen the flavour of a broth, which in turns flavours the pristine rice or refreshing slow poached low temperature chicken in ice water developing additional texture with gelatinisation… I would suggest comparisons with the ramen scene in Japan and yet, these under-appreciated achievements come at a fraction of the cost. You’ll see a blog come up with some stupid list of their own favourite chicken rice stalls and the list is long. This snobbery is made possible only by the quality and quantity on offer.

So what does this low cost mean for me, a chef who is perhaps considering if he should start a F&B business in Singapore? Well, it’s all about competition and the ubiquity of it. There’s too much good food at stupidly low prices in Singapore. I could make great food but I’m no Rene Redzepi, David Chang or the guy who runs Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice or whatever but does that mean that I should not have decent remuneration for my effort and skill? In Singapore, the answer would be no, because you would be happy to go to the next guy since there’s so many. No one can say with any degree of certainty who the best chicken rice in Singapore is. Not fucking hungrygowhere, ieatishootipost or your grandmother’s left toe. There’s just too many candidates and low cost of food combined with high levels of competition means stupid high barrier to entry with little plausible reward.

So don’t do chicken rice or hawker food then, why don’t you run an Italian joint? This brings me to the next point of contention with the food scene in Singapore. We seem to not mind dropping dollars on a aglio olio or “carbonara” with cream or maybe some sushi/ramen/burger etc. Basically, we don’t mind spending more if it’s foreign. Hell, if you slice some truffles or throw on some gold leaf or maybe make soy milk look like camembert (true story), you’d drop $30 or $300. I love fine dining but the best I’ve experienced from L’Astrance in Paris, Central in Lima to Mugaritz in Errenteria are all locally sourced and locally inspired. This is not the case in Singapore, where Restaurant Andre is run by a Taiwanese person, Waku Ghin by Aussiefied Japanese and everything else French, Italian… you name it, anything but Singaporean. Where the real gods of cooking charge you maybe $8 for a sickass bowl of bisquey prawn noodles with massive superfresh premium shellfish. Versus a “seafood aglio olio” for $13.80 involving the privilege of air conditioning and table service.

Foreign food interests me and inspires me as a chef and I love cooking/eating it but I have scant interest in fleecing people with wagyu from Ohmi prefecture followed intensely by otoro from the Southern Antarctic. The ingredients are delicious, there is no doubting that, but the cost is prohibitive and/or otherwise unsustainable. We owe it to our future generations that we don’t live our lives in such excess that there is nothing left. Whilst some dismiss locavorism as just a trend that will surely fade, it is really all about great flavour and in truth, a return to how we ate prior to market capitalism and human greed detaching humanity from it’s food sources. Singapore is epitomy of that, with it’s need to import most of it’s food. I don’t however suggest that local for Singapore, should not include it’s neighbours in South East Asia or even indeed, China or Australia. After all, we did use to be a sleepy fishing village that transformed into one of the major shipping hubs around the globe because of our unique geography. Our importation of food is but another facet of our existence and we ought to celebrate it within reason. Still, the thought to cook expensive food in a foreign style using foreign ingredients or using cheap ingredients to cook in a foreign style at mid-range prices does not intrigue me. Our obsession with kurobuta this or uni that is a noose on our local cuisine. Because of our well travelled, foodie by birth nature, Singaporeans place too much exoticism on shit they can’t pronounce well. This is not cool.

But perhaps I ought to overlook the insane levels of competition and ridiculously small margins that could tempt me. Let me instead consider the “successes” in Singapore. One of the many changing fads perhaps? From franchises shilling the next big trendy little snack to the various hipster cafes pouring shots at $5 a cup to go with $7 rainbow sponge/red velvet cakes topped with shit buttercream. Sure, I oughta jump on that bandwagon. Sure.

I’m not saying that croissant taiyaki or macarons or boba tea isn’t good or there aren’t any good hipster cafes with amazing red velvet cakes made with ultralight microwaved sponge and perhaps flavoured with haw flakes and a custard apple icing. I’m sure there are and their latte art is awesome. I’m not saying that we should only eat local and not consider eating Japanese or Thai or Russian. I’m saying that our perspective is fucked and we ought to look again at poor old Singaporean food and give it the money it deserves.

This leads onto what would possibly change my mind. If people were willing to spend money on great food and appreciate the locality, seasonality and provenance of it, they ought to tip their favourite hawkers beyond the paltry figures imposed by government. If I had the opportunity to do so, I would, although I suspect they might not even allow me to have the privilege. What this dog eat dog world of competitive cooking needs is a conscience and respect from everyone. The government should drop any mandate to try to keep prices at stupid levels. 60% food cost is very high but many high volume/turnover, low price/service outfits rely on that to turn a profit. Hawker stalls have typically been like this and if food cost is really 60%, the problem isn’t your rent or wages or utilities or whatever. It’s the pricing. If food prices were higher in Singapore, there’s way more leeway, more room for creativity and more room for talent to produce what Singaporeans crave. I’ve read about various young people starting great initiatives cooking a variety of cuisines in hawker stalls and cafes and restaurants but how many of these will enjoy success with our expectation that they should not make any money?

But would Singaporeans be willing to pay more to get table service? Or would they rather moan that the hawker is rude? If I put one of the many deific personalities who run hawker stalls in Singapore into a white tablecloth restaurant with waiters and a sommelier, would you be willing to part with your hard earned at a level equivalent to what you would if Joel Robuchon’s name was plastered across the front of the entrance? Maybe we should take a step back a bit. What if I ran a contemporary restaurant in Singapore using locally sourced ingredients from the Asia Pacific region and focused on trying to create a cuisine which fuses the best old and new international cooking methods and ideas with that local identity? Say throwing up an egg yolk cured in gula melaka sitting on a muahchee esque blob of peanut and glutinous rice covered with crispy meringue and it came in a kopitiam saucer? That uniquely Singaporean palette that is willing to balance sweet soy and egg with cockles and Chinese sausage or a curmudgeon of spices blended so expertly you only notice the whole not the sum, would it be willing to countenance such a thing? Or perhaps it is easier to lull it into a dream with whisper of marbled beef and myths of beer addled massages.

Why the hell would you? The risk reward ratio is just weighted against the latter to the point of absurdity. Far easier to just troll people with stuff they’re less inclined to have too much affinity and understanding for. I could throwdown the best Peruvian style cevicheria or Basque tapas bar and you wouldn’t fucking know if it was close to the real deal even if you visited before because you didn’t grow up with that shit. Nah, you just have your fucking snobbish grandstanding pseudo gastronomic tendency to proffer your reviews on shit you have no clue about.

Yes, sign me up for this impossible quest. For what am I but yet another stupid chef who only lives in earnest desire to make tasty shit with some measure of a conscience?

For the record, fuck your fucking shitty rainbow sponge / red velvet / shit pseudo retro anglo slices of frivolousness. That shit needs to die.

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In Singapore, I think I was informed by my authoritarian education system that 70% of the population existed within these horrid little dwellings called HDB flats that are really the dodgiest apartment blocks ever. My dad’s an architect and he worked for the HDB back when I soiled myself and was probably responsible for some of the terribleness. I kid.

Actually, HDB flats are pretty awesome. Expensive as all hell for public housing but awesome. They work well, there’s heaps of parking and everything is kept clean and tidy. Every once in a while, there’s this thing called upgrading, where the whole block of flats gets a repaint, gets refitted with lifts that stop on every floor (some old ones did alternate floors), got cleaned up garbage chutes maybe or had a new playground/Bball court. Something useful, something worth spending your money on even if it’s really just a facile political exercise to get the post 40 and less educated crowd to vote in favor of the party that took blatant responsibility for the upgrading. Case in point, one of the minority party ruled burbs never got upgraded since they were built in the 70s until relatively recently when the majority party won.

Last week, here in Crows Nest, NSW, Australia, they ripped out the floor of this small local space. This dude with a buzzsaw was cutting tiles as his colleagues worked away in full public view. This would never happen in Singapore. There would be things like boards put up so you don’t see the buzzsaw, shielding the work from prying eyes and avoiding sticky public liability issues. Anyway. They’re relaying the tiles in this mini park. Ok wow, I thought, they’re gonna do something!

Fast forward a week and the tiling crew is done. The end result? A third of the tiled area in the park has been retiled to a smoother looking fake marbley tile that’s totally different from the old tiles, which are still there. So they basically just took out like 20 tiles and put back some new different looking ones. They don’t look better. They look misplaced. In fact, they look more like indoor suitable tiles. Slippery when wet.

I’m still wondering who pays for this shit and why the fuck they do it. Does some council idiot actually approve of these “works”? Which poor sod/s has to fund this pathetic waste of time? How much does the girl holding the stop sign “directing” traffic get paid? Could you buy a stop sign that could stand by itself instead? What about the dust and shit that flew everywhere? Is some asthmatic gonna get compo now? Why those tiles? Why not even halfdone? What the fuck?

Seriously. All construction that impinges on the flow of traffic on even the tiniest road has to hire a guy/s in construction uniform to hold a stop sign all day. Like all day, all they do is hold a fucking sign and get paid. I saw some dudes working on a pipe outside my house and there’s 2 girls holding stop signs. 2! How much per annum? Tell the hordes of wannabe immigrants to Australia. They’ll probably take 6k a year to do that. Hold a fucking sign 5 days a week with medical and paid leave plus an iPod.

Char Kway Teow. It’s not easy to make a great one. First you’ve got to define it and imo all health conscious anything is BS. Great food should always be great taste first. CKT is one of the symbols of “unhealthy” comfort food in Singapore. It should be greasy. It should taste awesome. You shouldn’t eat it if you’ve got a heart bypass coming up.

A great CKT is first off, great charred flavor. This is extremely hard to execute at home with piss poor gas stoves with small gas burners that don’t get anywhere near hot enough. You’re more likely to end up with a dry roasted noodle than a charred noodle that’s still moist. Secondly, it should be slippery as all hell. Not like there’s sauce and all that but the noodle itself is charred yet moist and tender and slippery. Thirdly, the toppings should be generous. You should be able to get a little bit of something in each bite: Chinese sausage, bean sprouts, greens, fishcakes, cockles and noodles.

Here’s how I make mine.

First, I heat up a pan (got no wok at home) with some oil until it’s super hot and smoking. I then toss in the noodles first. This is my attempt to char. It’s hard to char if you’ve got a pan full of stuff that you don’t want charred but you’re also trying to char the noodles. So I fry each type of noodle separately then set it aside somewhere warm. Once the noodles have gotten enough heating, in goes a little more oil and then an egg. I then scramble it slightly and allow it to completely coagulate before breaking it up into little bits. This I allow to brown just slightly. Then in goes the sausages and fishcake. Then garlic which is allowed to cook a bit. Then the noodles go back in and I add a good amount of stock to soften it all up maybe 50-100ml. Then a 2 or 3 teaspoons of fish sauce. Then a good dose of sweet soy. Then a good toss up to make everything dark brown. Greens and bean sprouts go in after and softened just so. They provide all the crunch and bite so it goes in late. The last final flourish is the addition of cockles off heat plus some of the cockle blood. This gives it that special flavour. I toss the noodles until the cockles are heated through and it’s good to go.

The plate above was my first ever attempt at CKT at home, using frozen Korean cockles and Australian quality (which means suck) noodles and a pan on a home stove. It’s not the most amazing plate of CKT I’ve ever had but it’s pretty damn good. I had 4 chefs including 1 Malaysian and 1 Singaporean complimenting me so it must be worth something. If I could correct my first attempt, it would simply be the addition of more stock, which I’ve adjusted in my recipe above. This would allow the noodles to absorb more moisture and hence, get a little softer and slippery-er.

Look at my friend’s lamps. No mo.

I am currently obsessed with buying these zebra print sheets for my bed. Previously, I also really wanted tiger striped leggings from Uniqlo, so when I go running in the increasing cold here in Ozland, I can look predator-ish and elderly folk and babies will scramble in their wheels. I also really want more animal print fashunz. I totally attribute this inane trendwhore desire to the inspiration that is Ris Low. I think they should rename a whole suburb after her. Pasir Ris Low. Kinda like southside Pasir Ris or something. Do IT!!!

However, all over everywhere right now, it ain’t no zebra or tiger shit. All you see is… Leopard Prins! Ris probably didn’t think her fashion tips would bridge the gender gap but whatever. Yessir, S to the G represent. She was just ahead of the curve. Haters gon hate.

In order: Supreme Coach Jacket, Gitman X Opening Ceremony Shirt, Shorts, Yuketen Blucher, Dickies X AndA Chinos, Nepenthes Pyjamas, Adidas ObyO Kzk X Neighborhood Jacket, Mark McNairy for Bass Veejuns… All leopard everything!

My dad brought us here once when we were younger. It used to be in Farrer Park, where you could go jogging or play football. Now it’s moved to Pek Kio Market near Owen Road. At the time I didn’t think much of it because I thought big prawns weren’t as good as smaller ones so I didn’t pay too much attention and I also had this favourite one in Clementi (now defunct). The awesome thing is Wah Kee’s soup differs from all other regular prawn noodle soup hawkers in Singapore, because they don’t use any pork in the broth. Also, they serve these big ass prawns. Like seriously big. You can get bowls from $3, $5, $8 and $10. I had the $8 bowl when I was in town. I actually went twice. Once, they weren’t quite open and so I had to return to get my kicks. I have to say, that for $8, this is pretty damn good value. I’m still not partial to the mega prawns myself. I find them less sweet as compared to smaller ones my mom buys still kicking from IMM but the perfectly cooked bite is pretty awesome and you can always dip in the chilli soy sauce or get some soup in. The noodles are cooked perfectly as well, as good as hawker stall noodles can be, unlike the rather more time consuming and obsessive Japanese noodles like ramen or soba. The soup though, is the absolute kicker. It’s prawny, bisquey but sweet and beautiful. Not too strong or overpowering like you can get if your prawns aren’t very fresh. Here, the stock actually has a little transparency in the flavor but also a grittiness in the texture especially near the bottom of the bowl. I’m expecting dried anchovies, scallops and prawns might be part of it along with fried prawn heads, shells. It’s really good. Probably one of the few hawker stalls in Singapore that might actually be worth queuing and travelling for. Maybe if you stuck them behind a glass window in a restaurant with Eames and Saarinen copies in some random mall, they might be more revered. Otherwise, I’ll just go back once a year as long as I can.

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Every year, I make it a point to cook for my NUSID mates. A good few of the guys have had a sampling of my slowly improving cooking skills. This year’s menu was a simple one but I liked it a lot. Also glad my portions were just about spot on, with hardly any food left. Here’s what we had.

  • Ebi Senbei. I butterflied some prawns until the were flat before pounding and rolling them in a little corn starch. Afterwards, I deep fried them to a golden brown. First time doing this but I like it enough that I’m gonna keep doing it and referring to the actual version.
  • Pickled cucumber ribbons. Marinated these in sesame and chilli oils with some salt but forgot to plate!!!
  • Roast capsicum. Slow roasted in the oven for just under an hour or so. The skin wasn’t completely black but came off real easy and the flesh was super sweet and tender. Just salted a little and copious olive oil to finish.
  • Stir fried snow and snap peas. Gotta have something bright green. Fried it in garlic oil.
  • Tamago Tofu. I actually tried to make this last year but it sucked as I didn’t watch it. This time round I got it near perfect, maybe the stock needs a touch less konbu and the mix a little less sake.
  • Kazusuke. I think it was like bassfish or something can’t remember. Wanted gindara but they didn’t have enough. Simply used the pre marinated one from Meidi-Ya and then washed them before basting them with a miso soy emulsion and roasting in the oven to finish.
  • Grilled Cuttlefish. I tried to make this a Portuguese style thingey like what I had before at Silva’s, one of my fave Sydney restaurants. Of course the only cuttlefish I could get was the stuff you see at yong tau foo stalls! Also, my marinade needed more depth, probably because I didn’t whack any wine in. The worst part is I tried to use the charcoal stove to cook it but it was way too cold. The gas stove just doesn’t have enough power to char without sugar in the mix.
  • Buta Kakuni. I made a black version cos I used Chinese dark soy instead of Japanese light soy but the miso, mirin and sake I used made it taste unmistakably Japanese. This one was a bit complicated. I used a recipe from Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art by Shizuo Tsuji. I managed to get okara, which is leftover soybeans from making tofu which I put in a pot with pork belly, ginger and water. This I cooked with a cartouche on top for 5 hours. It was mad tender. After that, I then washed it off and reboiled the pork belly in fresh water. At this point I worry that all the flavor is gone into the water. However, I suppose adding miso, mirin, sake, sugar, soy and dark soy into another pot with the pork and cooking it for another hour made up for that because the end result was quite sublime. Meltingly tender and sweet, it was like I knew how to do this!
  • Pre dessert! I made these pineapple tarts. I meant to ghetto sous vide them with this vacuum bag machine we had but the bags kept breaking in the water and the juiced seeped out. So after a long struggle, I just diced up the almost translucent 3/4 cooked pineapple and then just sauteed everything in butter and brown sugar. The tart shells were another problem. I wanted to use shortcrust which is easy enough except the first recipe I used was wrong. The second was fine but I had to use these pathetic little cheapo silicon moulds more used for like h’orderves or summat. I bake them off nice, still struggling with the home oven that really a bit too hot. I then top the cool off pineapple onto the none too pretty little tart shells. Tastes really good to me though.
  • Dessert was a send up of Postre Chaja, something I had at Porteno in Sydney. I baked off some meringues with many failed batches that were still soggy inside. I kept having problems managing the oven. I ended up with just enough for everyone but because there were more people than meringues, I had to break them up. I served this with some fresh tart mangoes, peanut praline, fresh whipped cream and dulce de leche I made slow cooking a can of condensed milk in a pot of water. This is probably my fave of the night actually. The not too sweet mangoes worked out well because everything else was mad sweet.

Next year I think I’m gonna make some lamb roasts or something. Ang moh jiak concept.

Good Milo comes from Malaysia. For most Singaporeans and Malaysians, I think you’d be horrified to know that Australia invented Milo. I say this because Australian milo is shit. I know this because it really is unquestionably shit. Malaysian milo, on the other hand, is THE shit. Thank god then, for Malaysia’s greatest contribution to the culinary world, aside from rat burgers of course.

Malaysia may make the best Milo powder in the world, but Singapore made the best Milo drink in the world, the Milo Dinosaur and now the Milo Godzilla. If as a child, you never ate Milo powder straight out the tin, you were most unfortunate. I probably ate more Milo than drank. It is awesome and even better served on top of a Milo Peng because the cold makes the richness go down slicker. The added textural graininess gives the drink another dimension of interest which is most welcome.

It’s a uniquely Singaporean thing. Here’s my completely speculated reasoning. Milo is probably most popular in Malaysia and Singapore (Thailand too I’m sure) where it’s taken on the mantle of chocolate drink nonpareil. This most probably because it’s cheaper than pure cocoa. We grew up with Milo so its part of our childhood much more so than any other country in the world. Where we differ from the Malaysians was when we invented the Milo Dinosaur. Whilst the idea and execution isn’t particularly Singaporean, the name is.

Firstly it’s in English and it has no colloquial alternative. However, the idea of a dinosaur being equated to something bigger and better than before is a Singaporean one, never mind the dinosaurs being extinct. A Malaysian would have more likely given it a colloquial alternative name rather than the completely English one.  We didn’t just pick any word but we picked something that sounded awesome in a very childishly enthusiastic manner. It didn’t get any formality to it nor anything that adds a spit and polish. It’s also a little ungrammatical and undescriptive. You’ve got no clue from the name what it actually is. All these nonsensical points point to my unabashedly biased opinion that Milo Dinosaur is definitive of modern Singaporean cultural identity.

Here’s to the Milo Dinosaur, Godzilla, Ultraman. I just invented the Milo Ultraman. Because the namesake smacks dinosaurs and godzillas for fun, it has to be more tok kong. Here’s the recipe.

  • Start with a milo peng as thick as you like
  • Add a shot of red bull
  • Adjust thickness again
  • Scoop of ice cream on top
  • Dust with generous amount of milo powder
  • Pour a scoop of durian puree
  • Should you require medical assistance after consumption, don’t tell the authorities I had anything to do with it

Today I bought a packet of kopi C from some random stall in Pek Kio. It mattered not the quality of the coffee. I was mostly interested in the device, the concept. My coffee came in a plastic bag with this little green plastic string as the holding element. A straw served as the imbibing element. Your hands can avoid the hot coffee in this way as you walk and sip. Of course, because it comes out hella hot, I blow through the straw in an effort to cool it down. This creates a short lasting froth on the surface but I have enjoyed doing this since I was a child. Blowing into the bag gets bubbling noises and steam rising up to fog my glasses and a bit of frothy texture at the top, a very indulgent multi-sensorial experience, albeit a rather silly one. I’m sure I can’t be the only one that does this.

I remember back in like ’05, I used to love these 2 ramen joints in Singapore. One was Tampopo in Liang Court and the other was Ohsho @ Cuppage. I really liked the Kurobuta ramen @ Tampopo, which was still a novelty 5 years ago. Nowadays, it’s almost like if it ain’t Kurobuta, it ain’t good pork (excl other premiums of course). Ohsho’s Tamogo Ramen was really good too, a simple tonkotsu shio broth that had me licking the bowl clean.

I actually went to Tampopo last year and felt it wasn’t quite as good as before but still ok. Ohsho though, looked totally past it. It used to have queues but the lunchtime I had a browse, it was devoid of life. I haven’t been back to either joint this year but it isn’t because I think they aren’t good but it’s mainly because of the proliferation of really good ones. In fact, I had ramen twice in a day. Of course, I am a bit of a noodler. I had 2 (not 1) mega ramens after a friend bet there’s no way I could down 4x the regular noodles in one sitting. I like my ramen.

The first one I went to, my housemate was cooing about. Ippudo comes from Hakata but is so famous, it’s now totally international and you can find it not just in Singapore but NY and everywhere too. They do like this red and white color scheme and the location at Mandarin Gallery felt a lil’ too posh for a ramen joint. I got the Hakata tonkotsu shio ramen, which I think is their regular dish. It comes with thinner noodles and a lighter broth that is hella sweet and flavorful. Texture wise, it wasn’t like the thickass soup most people die for but it was quite beautiful. I was pleasantly surprised even if I hoped I would get even better in Japan. I think Ippudo is kinda pricey but good. Pictured below.

The other ramen I had was Santouka. Located at The Central Mall, it hails from Asahikawa in Hokkaido, which is more famous for a seafood x tonkotsu broth. Unsurprising given the abundance of seafood in Hokkaido. Strange though that they’d skimp out on the miso. Anyway, like Ippudo, it’s a bit of an international chain as well. I had the pork cheek/toroniku shio tonkotsu ramen. My god. That cheek was beautiful. Soft tender, almost melty but with a firmer fat texture that gives it just that barest hint of resistance to your teeth, confirming that yes, it was good. I found it curious that it came served on a platter, rather generous for portion size, but not in the soup. The noodles sat in the soup totally ungarnished. Bit strange presentation wise if you ask me. I found myself dunking all the ingredients in the bowl anyway. It was richer in flavor than Ippudo but make no mistake, both are excellent. However, I reckon Santouka gives slightly more value at 13 or 14 a bowl, bit less than Ippudo. I also reckon Singaporeans generally prefer bigger, more robust flavors, which explains the hour long queues at Santouka.

There’s more than the 2 I mentioned, other than the old guard places like Tampopo, Noodle House Ken (Orchard Plaza) and Miharu @ Gallery Hotel still going strong, there’s Aoba (Ion), Nantsutei (Millenia Walk), Baikohken (North Canal Rd) and Marutama (The Central). That’s pretty fierce competition and I haven’t included the many other rather decent ones too. I’m totally looking forward to my Hokkaido trip (like uh 48hrs aways!) so I can compare the ramen in Singapore with the real stuff.

It’s easy to see why ramen is so popular in Singapore. It’s not insanely expensive but tastes really good, much like our hawker fare. It’s not too hard for us to make the step up from $5 a meal to say $20. Still reachable despite being 4x the price. Also, you typically get at least some form of service and countless Irashai-masens being yelled your way. So it’s justifiable.