What’s New, Mr. Ramen?
By Jade Hu - Wednesday, Apr 09, 2014
Ramen restaurants are everywhere in Singapore, as by now, it’s comfort food for the masses and offered even in hawker centres. It takes a whole lot more than having some difficult-to-pronounce Japanese brand name to stand out. Some places offer free flow hard-boiled eggs, some have handmade noodles, some have interesting décor. Many think that as long as they have some kind of ‘magic formula’, the customers will come streaming in… but what defines magic?
Then there’s Ramen Matsuri, which first opened in April 2013 and now have a new dish. They want to nurture the souls of ramen lovers by injecting new blood to the heart of ramen, with a new, improved and more robust chicken broth. Ok, it’s really about flavour and not décor; we’re onto something here, perhaps. And it’s not blood, but collagen, actually.
Chef Kenichi Ikehata, 33, is transforming the chicken broth in his ramen with his new creation, the Sakura Chicken Ramen. He uses Kami Sakura Chickens, which are bred sans antibiotics and growth hormones, and fed with good bacteria to boost their immune systems naturally. These happy chickens “taste sweeter and less gamey, and is of course healthier” than regular chicken, but a tad pricier too.
This new ramen comes in three different soup bases, rich, clear and clear with shoyu, which takes up to four hours to brew. The rich version is fired up with a strong flame, its fat retained to give it hearty substance, while the clear soup is cooked over a low fire, sans fat.
Chef Kenichi also throws in a free bonus, to ladies who want extra goodness in their ramen – a star-shaped, wobbly piece of collagen. You can also slurp it up. Metro guys will have to fork out $3 for this supposedly skin smoothening essence. To make this, he boils extra whole chickens and wings, then skim the gooey collagen from the soup’s surface, mix it with clear soup before chilling it. This you can get as long as you order any ramen dish. Ladies, are you hearing this… food for your skin, for free.
Before this version, they usually made their broth with pork and regular chicken. Their fancier Kami Sakura Chicken – which has less fat and is more flavourful due to its high glutamine (a naturally occurring amino acid that produces protein) content – meant an overhaul of his recipe. Now he uses the chicken parts with more fat, such as the wings and feet, to extract more collagen and fat.
Not everyone has heard of Kami Sakura Chicken, but are people willing to try it? Tony Tsang, 29, said, “Shouldn’t ramen come with pork?” Sharin Poy, 29, finds that it is a great option, “I’m willing to pay a bit more, especially when I’m pregnant now”, speaking through her food craving moods.
So why is Chef Kenichi going for a chicken-based broth now? He found that the taste of a pork based ramen dish, such as tonkotsu, is too strong to be an “everyday food”, whereas chicken-based ramen is light and more comforting. Besides, the chef with his boyish grin, wants to break out of the cookie-cutter pork ramen mold in Singapore and evolve.
A bold move on his part since, many people are accustomed to pork-based ramen broth. The hurdle here is not only to acquaint diners with chicken broth ramen, but also to convince them to go for ‘premium-quality’ with a higher, albeit justifiable, price tag.
Chef Kenichi has tried “almost every ramen place” in Singapore. This confident and passionate Saitama-born chef believes his ramen can give Ippudo a run for its money. For this cosy restaurant that has opened for almost a year, that’s a pretty lofty declaration. Truth is… his real competitor is himself, as that’s who he is really challenging.
Ramen Matsuri, 7 North Canal Road (Behind Boat Quay), Hours: 11am-3pm; 6pm-10pm (last order at 9.45pm), Closed on Sundays and PHs