One of the best things we ate in New York was Ippudo ramen but unfortunately it just didn’t strike the right chord in Singapore; felt a bit too salty without sufficient depth, and the PigPig felt more MSG was used. And then we discovered Ramen Champion…
Found in the under-renovation Iluma, adjacent to Bugis Mall, Ramen Champion sounded a mere promotional gimmick when I first heard about it. The concept: 6 ramen shopowners from Japan were invited to participate in a competition here whereby the stall that gets the most votes from the general public wins! The prize is the title of “Ultimate Ramen Champion 2011” and will get their own restaurant.
But then I started reading a bit more about the 6 different stalls on the website, looked at the pictures there and read a couple of other blog posts… and I started salivating, while at work, at 4pm, and I started getting really hungry. What especially caught my eye was that these ramen-ya folks weren’t just random ramen-ya plucked by a Singaporean businessman, but people who have won local awards and are (presumably) really good!
Their “stalls” are quite attractively laid out as well in the mall. Within their territory in the mall, one can order from any stall and will get a buzzer which activates when your order is ready. In no particular order, we tried out a bowl of ramen from each stall over several visits.
This is probably the most unique stall here as their ramen is Jiro style (for a more in-depth read, click here), which according to Guardian UK, is THE best ramen to eat in the world. Originating from Tokyo, it supposedly started out catered for students and the first stall was near a university. Basically, it is a tonkotsu broth (thick pork-based soup), which is extremely porky in flavour but it goes a short step further and has lots of fatty essence floating around as well. Ah, but odds are you won’t visibly see it, as the bowl is literally covered up to and over the brim with a generous amount of beansprouts and cabbage. Personally, I thought the vegetable was needed to help cut through the fatty soup but the PigPig hated it.
The ramen noodle itself is also somewhat contentious as it’s like no other ramen noodle, being very springy and thick; my jaw muscles ached a little towards the end, especially as there was A LOT of noodles given! However, the wife liked its chewier nature. Their “cha-shu” is amongst my favourite amongst all the stalls here though, being chunkier yet still tender and very flavourful while containing enough fat to make it delicious but not too sinful. Let’s not forget as well that the soup contains enough garlic to definitely ensure your (un)popularity in the workplace.
Summary: One of a kind, this ramen probably polarises opinions more than others here. Broth: very thick, porky, super garlicky. Noodles: fat and chewy +++.
Out of the 6 stalls here, this was the one I originally wanted to try the most as it was of the same style (Hakata) as Ippudo ramen. Named after the Hakata district in Fukuoka city, it is essentially a condensed souped-up (geddit?) and powered-up version of a tonkotsu broth. Sadly, it didn’t have the kuro mayu or black garlic oil that Ippudo had.
The ramen is typical hakata style being thinner and quite firm. Also, this store has the kaedama available, where basically an extra balled-up portion of noodles is given. Apparently, a usual portion size is slightly smaller so the noodles don’t get a chance to soak in the soup for too long and become soggy and softer. So one is expected to request for a kaedama if you’re a bigger eater (such as me) and make sure to save some soup in the bowl for the second round. The egg and pork cha-shu was unremarkable.
Summary: Always suffers being compared to Ippudo NYC. Broth: thick and super porky, less fatty than Bario. Noodles: thin and firm, save some soup for a kaedama if you’re a big eater.
Sapporo is the birthplace of miso-style ramen and is regarded by some as the home of the best ramen in Japan. Gantetsu, a 3 consecutive year award winning restaurant, is the sole representative of Sapporo style ramen here in Ramen Champion. The broth here is much more balanced when compared to the previous two tonkotsu stalls and has a sweeter tone to it, probably due to the sweetcorn. Yet, the dollop of ginger paste gave the bowl a slightly sharp tinge although it does dampen the sweetness a bit.
The noodles were quite straightforward standard curvy noodles of medium chewiness and I actually preferred this noodles the most out of all the stalls. The cha-shu is strangely very thick and appears dry with very little fat content but it is actually very tender and flavourful. Lots of bamboo shoots were floating around the bowl too.
Summary: Broth: well balanced, probably the most pleasing for the neutral person. You'll like this if you like ginger. Noodles: personal favourite.
An export of the Toyama region, their trademark black soup won top sales in the Tokyo Ramen Show for 2009 and 2010. The broth revolves around a chicken soup with lots of black soya sauce to give it that distinctive dark colour; there’s also a white chicken soup that we didn’t try (but apparently the white soup in their local stores in Japan is made from white prawn ~shiro ebi~. Such a shame it didn’t make the journey to Singapore).
We tried their signature dish, Negitama Ramen, which had loads of spring onions. The soup was the ‘cleanest’ out of all the samples we tried, being much clearer (not the colour!) and simple compared to the richer and more complicated broths from other stalls. There was a slight charred tinge to the soup though and I felt that the spring onion was a bit on the strong side. The noodles were of medium chewiness and quite similar to Gantetsu’s.
Summary: Personally the most dull out of all the ones here for me. Broth: simple and clean. Noodles: pretty good medium chewy.
Now we’re moving into the final two stalls which both specialize in tsukemen, which is essentially dipping ramen into a more concentrated broth rather than a usual soupy concoction. This can be eaten with the soup being hot or cold. The dipping sauce/soup/broth we tried here in Tetsu was the “Very Rich! Special Paitan Tsukemen” which is made of pork, chicken and seafood. The wife had the majority of this and she really enjoyed it. According to another blogger, the soup has an even stronger seafood element in Tokyo.
Another trick he reveals is that when the dipping soup cools down, you can ask the staff for a yaki-ishi, which is a hot stone to pop into your soup to reheat it. An even better piece of advice is to look for a thermal pot labelled as “Dashi Soup” to dilute your dipping sauce at the end of the meal so you can drink all the goodness and not waste it.
Summary: Broth: very rich and flavourful. Noodles: great bouncy texture.
The other tsukemen stall here in Ramen Champion, this stall has a rich dipping sauce/soup made from pork, chicken and anchovies. It’s somewhat similar to the Menya Iroha, being much cleaner in flavour and texture. The noodles are quite nice and bouncy as well, similar to Tetsu’s.
Summary: Broth: strong, but clean. Noodles: also great bouncy texture.
201 Victoria Street
Bugis Iluma #04 - 08/09/10
(Near BUGIS MRT Station)
Tel: +65 6238 1011
Ramen stalls: Gantetsu, Ikkousha, Bario, Menya-Iroha, Tai-Sho-Ken, Tetsu
Check out: The Ultimate Ramen Champion Singapore Part II, T3 Changi (Ramen stalls: Gantetsu, Ikkousha, Riki, Gensuke)