Quick Eats: Tsuru Tsuru Tei

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DC and I found ourselves at The Central one work night. Despite wanting something light, we were lured in by the siren call of the deep-fried black pig ramen. I thought to order a salad to help lighten the meal and ended up ordering the only salad on the menu: avocado salad ($7.80). At least there were vegetables. I liked how the leaves were fresh and there were quite a lot of avocado chunks. The onsen egg was a lovely touch to top off the salad, I love eggs with still-runny yolks and barely set whites. Yummy!

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And now for the piece de resistance, the koumi ramen ($15.80). I apologise for the poorly composed photo. It was a work night, it was late and I was tired. The basic ramen below the rack containing the deep-fried pork, though not among my favourites, was decent. The noodles were fairly firm on arrival but got soggy towards the end. You just have to eat fast to enjoy the firm texture. The soup was a decent tonkotsu style broth, very milky and unctuous with plenty of collagen dissolved in it. I think it had loads of msg too, so watch out before you over-indulge.

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Ah… and the thing that lured us in! The deep-fried pork rib was fairly decent, though not as crispy as we’d anticipated. Still, the meat was substantial and tender, and the batter fairly light. I’d prefer it slightly less sweet, but for something that’s not too expensive, I’m not quibbling too much.

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Tsuru Tsuru Tei
6 Eu Tong Sen Street
#03-88/89 The Central @ Clarke Quay
Tel: 6327 7887

Ramen Showdown: Nantsuttei

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It’s official. Nantsuttei is now top of my list of best ramen in Singapore. It’s also pretty reasonably priced as far as ramen in Singapore goes. The queue here isn’t as feral as the one at Ippudo. For lunch, as long as you avoid 12.30 to 1.30 you’re all good, and for weekday dinners after 8pm is normally OK too.

I first tried the comes-with-everything noodles plus an egg. It came with a huge sprinkling of spring onions that seemed to occlude the rest of the toppings of chashu, beansprouts and special garlic oil. The first thing I bit into was the egg and it was eggy goodness all the way as the white was lightly salty from the braising and the yolk just set so the very inside was still slightly runny. So far it’s the best egg of the major ramen shops. As far as the chashu was concerned, it was rather run of the mill. Nothing much to write home about on the taste and tenderness.

Next was the noodle. It was just the right firmness for me, with enough bite for interest and not so hard that I felt that it was undercooked. The wonderful thing about the doneness of the noodles was that the noodles still tasted good when I got to the bottom of the bowl.

Then the soup. I wasn’t sure about this because it was quite salty and not particularly rich as ramen broths go. It was pretty acceptable though. I also wasn’t too keen on the slightly burnt and carcinogenic taste of the black garlic oil that makes the place famous.

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On another visit, I tried the dragon ramen. It’s basically the same ramen minus the OTT spring onion topping and with spicy bean and minced meat paste. Now this may not be particularly traditional, but it made all the difference to the soup, making it my all-time favourite. I liked the flavour of the spicy paste because the taste of the fermented bean really came through. It also muted the burnt garlic taste, making it Very Yummy.

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Nantsuttei doesn’t have a great deal to offer in terms of sides, only chopped chashu rice and gyoza. The gyoza isn’t too bad, it’s nicely burnt in parts on the outside and meatily juicy on the inside. Decent enough when you’re hungry and want more than ramen to fill the belly.

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Nantsuttei
P3-06 #03-02
Millenia Walk 9 Raffles Boulevard
Tel: 6337 7166

Keisuke Ramen

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Level 3 of the newly opened Parco Marina Bay has half a floor of Japanese restaurants, with two ramen shops, a tonkatsu place, Japanese Western (that’s Ma Maison), a regular diner and a sushi deli. DC and I chose the ramen shop with no queue: Keisuke Ramen. It’s quite an interesting proposition, having prawn-based broth instead of regular tonkotsu (pork bone) stuff. Everything on the menu was prawn-something, even down to the salad. Go only if you like prawn.

The first thing DC noticed were the special chopsticks. Notice how they’re pentagonal, presumably to help hold on to the noodles better.

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On further inspection of the chopsticks, we noticed that there was a special rough finish to the bottom part, again helping to grip the noodles better. This place certainly is very serious about its noodles!

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Another special touch was the distinctive shape of the bowls. The opening is slanted, making for an oddly private viewing of the diner’s progress of the meal.

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Ordering any “special” ramen would involve the extra toppings coming on a side plate. There was pleasantly briny pickled lettuce, rather disappointingly hard-boiled egg and chilled boiled chicken. They all went decently with the ramen but did nothing to steal the show.

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Now the ramen itself is quite different. Check out the dramatic presentation, complete with pretty deep-fried chilli shreds. Aside from the regular toppings, there was also prawn wanton in the special ramen and yuzu bits. I quite liked this version, it was a vaguely Japanese yuzu-y twist on your typical hawker haemee broth. The noodles were very decent, not quite al dente but still chewy. I liked them.

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I felt that the miso prawn broth was something else altogether. The creaminess of the miso gave the broth quite a different dimension. That, added to the  special garlic oil, yuzu and earthy burdock bits, made it all quite complex and at times a bit confusing to the palate. On the other hand, it made for many changes in taste as I progressed to the bottom of the bowl.

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Keisuke Ramen
P3-02 Parco Marina Bay, Millenia Walk
Tel: 6337 7919

Finally, Ippudo

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After two aborted visits to Ippudo, we finally made it there for a late dinner. Showing up after 9pm helped a lot. Learning from that trick, we returned a few weeks later and found that even on a Friday night, there’s not much of a wait post-9pm.

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We’d tried a few appetisers there and all of them were a unanimous FAIL except the Ippudo organic salad. (We’d tried the prawn bun, beef tataki, and seasonal salad/vegetables. All were too flawed to make it to this blog.) The salad was fresh and had crispy deep fried burdock chips as a topping. It was pretty decent with the shoyu-based dressing.

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I tried this year’s seasonal offering of Kyusyu Miso Tonkotsu with blended miso, cabbage, leek, pork belly, pork loin and half an egg. Even though I like my noodles on the al dente side and ordered them so, I found them a bit too hard for my liking. They got much nicer towards the end as the noodles soaked in the broth. The broth was thick  to the point of being almost creamy and had plenty of pork flavour without tasting too gamey. I wasn’t too sure about the persistent foam on top of the soup though! While I generally liked the toppings and found the chashu nice and tender, I felt that the egg was a bit of a let down because it was too solid. The yolk had just solidified and I thought it was too much to pay for what was essentially hardboiled egg.

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DC had the Akamaru Kasaneaji, the original recipe with blended miso paste, garlic oil and pork belly. It was rich but not too rich and had quite a comlex flavour with the oil, miso paste and pork stock all competing for attention. Too bad they were rather stingy on the pork though.

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On our second visit, I had to have the seasonal noodles again, and DC went for the Shiromaru with pork loin and cabbage. This time, the noodles weren’t quite al dente even though we ask for them hard.  They were good when first served, but got soggy towards the end. I guess they need to work on being more consistent. My seasonal noodles were as good as ever and DC’s Shiromaru very decent. His pork loin wasn’t very tender but overall was well executed.

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My conclusion: Ippudo wins with excellent stock made from obviously superior ingredients and has good noodles, although the texture varies from visit to visit. Their toppings are decent but some are better than others, and they could definitely be a lot more generous with the pork slices. Where Ippudo doesn’t deliver is the egg, which really should be runnier. It’d win all round best ramen in Singapore if it fixed its egg. It’s definitely worth a visit, just not a long wait. And focus on the noodles, don’t bother with the side dishes.

Ippudo
Mandarin Gallery #04-02/03/04
Orchard Road

Isetan Supermarket’s Hokkaido Fair

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Isetan Supermarket has quite a few themed fairs and the Hokkaido Fair is a regular fixture there. I try to get there for it’s always dependable sushi sets. This time, there were snow crab boxed rices. DC’s was the bigger one. It had uni (sea urchin), my favourite ikura (salmon roe), sake (salmon), cooked salmon, and crab claw pieces.

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Mine had mainly shredded crab, lots more ikura than DC’s box, and uni. It also had more pickles, which I liked loads. The crab was juicy and delicately oceanic, and the uni was creamy and had that characteristic almost-ammonia whiff. I guess I’m not the biggest fan of uni given that smell. But of course, it was the ikura that sends me to heaven. I cannot say too many times how much I love the bursty-salty fish egg goodness. Coupled with the perfectly cooked rice gone a touch beyond al dente and the lovely pale pink daikon pickle, this rice box was so good I didn’t even need the soy sauce to go with it.

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Because we both skipped breakfast, we thought it perfectly reasonable to order Hokkaido ramen too. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite as wow as we thought. Fortunately, we only ordered one bowl, the special seafood ramen. Only 50 bowls of this flavour were made each day. It had a fair bit of seafood in it: crab claw, uni, shrimp, squid and a skirted scallop. It was all pretty agreeable, but not so exquisitely fresh or flavourful that I would devour the whole thing by myself. I liked the noodles a great deal though. They were done perfectly al dente, just the way I like it, and I guess just the way the Japanese like it.

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I can’t wait for the next Hokkaido Fair!

Isetan Supermarket
50 Orchard Road Shaw House
Tel: 6733 1111

Ramen Showdown: Marutama

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The whole week was a week of ramen cravings for me. This time we went to Marutama, which I’d not had for years. I somehow never made it back to the one at Central because I found the restaurant a bit dingy and cramped for a meetup, plus memories of queues put me off. I quite liked the ambience of the branch at Liang Court. It’s still dark, but much smarter-looking.

We had chashu on the side. It wasn’t too bad, being tender and fatty with the bonus of being charred to order. It’s far too overpriced for the miserable four pieces you get though.

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Now I really liked the aka ramen. It’s so different from other versions as the toppings are some kind of  seasoned chicken ball, coriander and a squeeze of lemon. Also, the broth is made of 12 types of nuts rather than pork stock. Sure, there was still the usual stuff like runny(ish) yolk egg, seaweed and sesame seeds, but here even the noodles were different. They were much thinner than the usual, resembling the instant noodle type of ramen more than the traditional sorts. I enjoyed the freshness of the coriander and lemon, and with the richness of the soup, it’s now my favourite ramen place.

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Having said that, I still need to find a new favourite place for the more typical pork bone ramen. Suggestions anyone?

Marutama Ramen
177 River Valley Road
#02-01/02 Liang Court Shopping Centre
Tel: 6837 2480

Ramen Showdown: Menya Shinchan

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I went out for lunch with DC on a day I had a terrible craving for ramen. Added to that was the woe of my last visit to my ex-favourite Ken’s Ramen where I was served noodles reeking of ammonia. DC of course never fails to deliver. He took me to Menya Shinchan, an apparently well-known place that’s been around for a while. It has a wide selection of ramen stocks, from pork bone to dried sardine, and you can choose between a light and rich version. I went for the rich miso dried sardine one.

First, the toppings. Only the tiny slices of chashu stood out. They were tender and just the right amount of fatty, but such stingy portions! The noodles were excellent. I like them al dente with plenty of bite. These were very firm and bouncy. Excellent. The broth was intensely seafoody and a little fishy, I liked it. It wasn’t as rich as I expected and a bit saltier than I’m used to. I think “rich” here meant something like saltier and fishier, not rich in the sense of thick and almost unctuous like pork bone soup. It’s not bad, but still doesn’t qualify as the best ramen in Singapore.

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Menya Shinchan
30 Robertson Quay
#01-05 Riverside View
Tel: 6732 0114