Ramen Champion is an initiative where selected ramen chefs, all highly acclaimed in their local arenas, have been invited to ply their trade at Iluma mall for a year, from 1 July 2011 to 30 June 2012, with a view to one of them being awarded the chance to set up a permanent store in Singapore.
As you all know, until quite recently we were pretty ramen-ed out, which explains why we’d yet to head to Iluma despite the fair being around for 4 months now. It took a visit to Ippudo Tao to banish our ramen fatigue, and get us in the mood to give Ramen Champion a go.
The 6 stalls competing for the title of Ultimate Ramen Champion are:
- Ikkousha, whose specialty is Kyushu broth with Hakata ramen
- Taishoken, apparently famous for inventing tsukemen
- Tetsu, another tsukemen specialist from Tokyo
- Bario, selling Jiro-style ramen with thick chewy noodles
- Iroha, specialising in black shoyu and spicy miso ramen
- Gantetsu, the most “typical” of the lot, serving Sapporo-style miso ramen with corn and butter
Despite being pretty hungry when we got there, we only managed to try two stalls, so the jury is out on our favourite until we’ve tried at least another two more.
I have a weakness for Kyushu-style ramen, which uses a milky pork bone broth. The noodles here are the thin Hakata-style – similar to our local mee kia. The broth was light yet quite deep in flavour, and the addition of a tiny dollop of minced garlic added a whole new flavour dimension. The soy eggs had a nice gooey centre, and the best part was the pork belly chashu, which was tender but still had a nice bite to it.
This is one of two stalls that serve tsukemen-style noodles, i.e. where the noodles are served separately from the broth and are meant to be eaten dipping style.
Interestingly, their noodles are somewhat of a cross between ramen and soba in texture. The broth on its own is really pretty salty but once eaten as it’s meant to be, i.e. as a dipping sauce for the noodles, the balance is just right. The broth is pretty complex too, since it’s made from a mix of chicken, pork and anchovies. The slightly fishy flavour is a bit disconcerting at first but it does add a nice body to the broth. The chashu wasn’t all that great though. The meat was braised so even though it was soft and tender, it also a bit dry.
Their system is akin to Marche – you get a card upon entry so it’s cashless inside, which is pretty convenient so you’re not trying to fiddle with your wallet and carrying hot soup at the same time. Just make sure you check your bill at the cashier later on. The cards are numbered, and the stallholder manually keys in your order into your card number. The information isn’t embedded into the physical card itself. My order didn’t register in my card number because they keyed in “140” instead of “148”, so someone else’s order could just as easily be mistakenly entered into your card.
Between the two I prefer Ikkousha, but watch this space; we’ll definitely be heading back to make our way through the rest of the stalls so that we can vote for our favourite(s).
Ikkousha vs Taishoken. Round 1. Fight!!!
Ikkousha is more like your standard ramen. The broth is rich and complex, plus it had great char siew and egg.
But for me, I prefer Taishoken with the salty soup that’s filled with flavour, without being too rich or heavy. Great to dip the thick, meaty almost udon-y noodles. The only negatives about this are the eggs (yolk not runny enough), and the char siew was more like the meaty chunks you find in stews.
201 Victoria Street
#04-08/09/10 Iluma Mall
Open daily: 11.30 am – 10.30 pm