Within the past decade, Singapore has seen a flourishing of authentic ramen houses all over the island. We crave this soupy meal. We crave it in all its forms, flavours and fanciful flair.
Originally from China, it was only during the Meiji period (c. 1868 to 1912) that the dish became widely known. Most experts agree that the introduction of American and European cuisine, which called for more meat products, played a large role in ramen’s popularity. Prior to that, the Japanese diet consisted mostly of vegetables and seafood rather than meat.
Allegedly, there are more types of noodles in Japan than there are shapes of pasta in Italy. Whether straight, thin, and narrow, thick and wavy, or wide and flat, ramen chefs will select noodles based on their bounciness, their ability to cling to broth, and their texture in the mouth, searching for a noodle that interacts harmoniously with the soup in the bowl.
Thin, straight noodles are typically paired with hearty tonkotsu-style broths — the noodles cling together and hold soup in via capillary action, delivering plenty of hearty pork flavour with each slurp. Wavy noodles tend to be paired with miso-flavored broths, their waves capturing the nutty bits of fermented soybean. The lighter shio and shoyu-flavoured broths may go with any type of noodle, and this varies regionally.
Goto Yoshihiro, who runs Miharu Ramen, keeps his freshly made noodles (and meat) in a special ageing room in the shop. The controlled temperature of this room helps to maintain high levels of quality, and after allowed to rest for a specific number of days, the noodles achieve a springy bite.
"We are very committed to the quality of our ramen and for Miharu, delivering “Real Sapporo Ramen” is very important to us."
- Goto Yoshihiro
Fun ramen fact: in addition to wheat flour, salt and water, ramen noodles also use kansui, which is a type of mineral water. Originally, kansui was named after the water from Inner Mongolia’s Lake Kan (hence “kan sui”, get it?), which contained large amounts of minerals and was said to be perfect for making these noodles, lending the noodles a firm texture and a yellow shade. Eggs may also be substituted for kansui.
Ramen soup is generally made from stock based on chicken or pork, combined with a variety of ingredients such as kombu (kelp), katsuobushi (skipjack tuna flakes), niboshi (dried baby sardines), beef bones, shiitake, and onions, and then flavoured with the likes of salt, miso, or soy sauce.
Broth making is a labour-intensive process, often taking almost an entire day. Goto-San says that, at Miharu, they start to boil the kelp before they close for the day, and in the morning, they begin to make the day’s broth from the stock.
There are generally four recognised “styles” of ramen broth:
Shio (“salt”) soup, Shoyu (“soy sauce”), Miso soup and Tonkotsu (“pork bone”). However, the first three are technically seasonings, while the last is a broth ingredient. So, perhaps it makes more sense to categorise ramen broth first by its heaviness, then by the soup base ingredients, and finally by the seasoning source.
Heaviness is classified as either kotteri (rich) or assari (light). Kotteri broths (also called paitan) are thick, sticky, and usually opaque, packed with emulsified fats, minerals, and proteins from long-boiled bones. Assari broths are clear and thin, usually flavoured with more vegetables, fish, or bones cooked relatively briefly at a light simmer so as not to cloud the broth. Naturally, there’s a spectrum from one extreme to the other, with Sapporo-style miso ramen on the kotteri side (served with the mandatory slab of butter), and Hakodate style ramen on the assari side.
Broth Base Ingredients can range from animal bones—pork, chicken, beef, and fresh fish being the most common—to even lighter broths made with sea kelp or dried seafood. Some ramen broths incorporate a variety of aromatics, such as charred onions, garlic, ginger, fresh scallions or leeks, and mushrooms. The most sought-after broth worldwide these days is tonkotsu, a boiled pork bone broth. The best tonkotsu broths are a milky, golden colour and leave a sticky sheen of gelatin on your lips as you slurp them.
Seasonings are the sources of sodium used to flavour the soup. It can be mixed directly into the soup base, but may also be added to each individual bowl for better customisation.
Here’s another tasty fact: into every bowl of ramen goes a little-known ingredient, tare. Also known as kaeshi, this is the strong, salty flavoured essence placed at the bottom of each bowl.
To Ramen And Beyond!
After all that, could there be more? Today’s ramen chefs have added their own fascinating and delicious touches: there’s the fiery volcano ramen (which is as scary as it sounds); tsukumen ramen where noodles are dipped into a separate bowl of concentrated broth; zaru ramen, which is like tsukumen, but with cold noodles; Tokyo aruba style ramen, which is served “dry”; and, of course, the famous ramen burger!
Competition among the many ramen houses in tiny Singapore is fierce. Roger Soh, who brought in Chabuton, says his chefs are constantly innovating, fusing unusual flavours, techniques, and styles. The sky’s the limit when it comes to ramen. And with imaginative chefs coming up with more ways to consume this versatile dish, those queues of hungry ramen maniacs won’t be going away any time soon.
So, join the hordes at Miharu and Chabuton, both located at Millenia Walk, for the taste of authentic ramen you’ve been craving.
1. Sapporo Ramen
Thick, robust noodles in an equally thick and hearty miso broth and topped with a pat of butter and sweet corn.
2. Asahikawa Ramen
Thin, wavy noodles in an oily, shoyu (soy sauce) based soup, with toppings of green onions, chashu, slivers of bamboo shoots.
3. Hakodate Ramen
Noodles cooked more soft than other varieties, with a thinner and lighter broth than the soy-based soup that took hold in Yokohama and Tokyo. Hakodate is the only city in Japan to claim shio ramen as its own creation.
4. Akayu Ramen
In 1960, Sato Kazumi dropped a dollop of miso paste into the leftover soup and noodles. This soon became one of Japan’s most unusual ramen styles — sweet and mild, topped with an angry red ball of blended miso, chilli, and garlic. Pop it in your mouth all at once and you’ll breathe fire like the Dragon of Shanghai that gives his shop its name — Ryushanhai.
5. Shirawara Ramen
Like most local styles across north-eastern Japan, Shirakawa ramen features an unadorned shoyu broth that draws its taste from an abundance of local mineral water, which also makes for springy noodles with lots of give in the chew.
6. Kitakata Ramen
Flat, wide noodles in a light shoyu soup flavoured with pork bones, chicken stock and dried sardines, topped with green onions, bamboo shoots, and generous portions of chashu.
7. Kagoshima Ramen
The only ramen in Kyushu that doesn’t trace its origins back to Kurume, this variety of ramen features a surprisingly mild broth of pork, chicken, and veggie stock finished with burnt onions. Noodles are cooked past al dente, and can be either quite thin or quite thick, reflecting influences from both Okinawa and Taiwan.
8. Tokyo Ramen
Medium thick noodles in shoyu soup flavoured with dashi fish, finished with the usual toppings.
9. Hakata Ramen
Thin noodles in a thick, creamy tonkotsu soup, topped with chashu.