Best Ramen in Singapore contender #5: Ippudo: Stylish Hakata Style Ramen comes to Town

Ippudo Karakamen - Spicy Tonkotsu Ramen served with minced pork and spicy paste $17

The top ten list would not be complete without the inclusion of Ippudo, the world's largest Ramen chain of  restaurants.  Imagine eating Tai Hwa Bak Chor Mee in a chic airconditioned setting and you will understand what Ippudo is all about.  You see, Ramen is the Japanese equivalent of our hawker food.  The Ramen-yas in Japan are typically one man operated shops with a small counter and a line of "salaryman" lining up to fill their tummies after a hard day's labour.  The floor is often covered with grease and everything is dirty.  For us in Singapore, that's just a hawker centre, but in Japan it is one of the cheapest ways to eat out compared with the other stuff like sushi or tempura.



Imagine you are a lady eating in a canteen in Defu Industrial Estate and you get quite an accurate picture of a Ramen-ya of the past (many Ramen-yas are still like this). But the founder of Ippudo, Shigemi Kawahara changed all that when he decided to set up a Ramen shop that would appeal to the ladies and create a Ramen for the middle class.  Now, when are we going to have the Singapore equivalent of Shigemi Kawahara to bring our Bak Chor Mee to a higher level?  I believe that the Japanese would lap up our Laksa if we opened up a Singaporean Laksa Ramen in Japan, don't you?  Or do we need to wait for another smart Japanese entrepreneur to take our Laksa recipe and make "Raksa Singaporu" out of it, just like what they did with Pork Tonkatsu (Pork Schnitzel, Austria) and Ramen (La Mian, China)?


Shiomaru Classic - Original recipe tonkotsu soup served with thin noodles $17

Ippudo serves Hakata Style Ramen.  Hakata is a district in Fukuoka City in Kyushu which is at the Southenmost part of Japan. The Tonkotsu style soup which we love here is characteristic of Kyushu style ramen.  However, Hakata Ramen is served with a thin, whitish noodle rather than the yellow curly noodles and the Shiomaru Classic is your archetypal Hakata Style Ramen.

Ippudo is famous for two different styles of Ramen, the Shiomaru and Akamaru.  The Shiomaru is the one that we all recognize and it is basically a Tonkotsu base soup where the pork bones have been on the rolling boil for 15 hours.  If someone told you that the soup is made from just pork bones, don't believe it.  There are many other parts of the pig that has lots of collagen and fats like the head which plays a big role in making the soup creamy.  You wouldn't want to see the vat of soup base, just enjoy it.


Thin noodles of Hakata Ramen

If you like curly yellow noodles, you are going to be disappointed because Hakata style noodles is served with thin straight noodles.  And don't even think of requesting yellow curly noodles with your Shiomaru because your request will be turned down.  It is not like ordering Mee Pok (thin flat) or Mee Kia (thin round) noodles with soup.  The Japanese are extremely meticulous about such things and each bowl of Ramen has been designed precisely to optimize the Ramen experience.  They will not even let you Tar Pau (doggy bag) back in your own container!

It is interesting to note that Ippudo's noodles are all made in Singapore.  But it is not done in just any factory.  Ippudo has set up their own factory here to make the noodles and the soup to their exacting specifications.  They make five different types of noodles here which range from thin to thick, straight to curly, white to yellow.  These noodles are all paired with different styles of soup. For the Hakata style Ramen, the thin straight noodles accompany the soup because, it is believed that with thick broths, the soup is able to cling to the noodles without the need for the curls.

At Ippudo, they tend to under cook their noodles by default as they like it katame (固め -al dente) and the noodles quickly become tender if you take too long to eat it.  If you like your noodles more tender you can request for it to be futsu (普通 - regular), or if you need to have it like chicken noodle soup, you can ask for yawarakame (soft).  Japanese eat their ramen real quick wheras we like to eat it slowly here.  That means that the noodles get soaked in the soup for a longer time resulting in softer noodles.  At Ippudo, what they do is to serve you a small amount of noodles first and then you have the option to top up the noodles for an extra $2.  This way, the noodles will not get too soft.  The soup does not come free as is usually the case at our hawker centres.

The soup base for the Shiomaru is delicate and fragrant without being too kotteri (heavy).  Some people might find it a bit thin and not creamy enough.  If you like soup with a bit of body, you should order the Miso Kyushu Tonkotsu instead.  That one would be equivalent to a heavy laksa, the Tonkotsu soup is more like our Fish Head Bee Hoon soup. 

Akamaru Modern $15

The one that I would recommend is their Akamaru Modern which is the Shiomaru with a dollop of specially prepared miso paste called Umami-dama and a fragrant black garlic oil.  The Umami-dama literally means "flavour ball" and if you taste it on its own, you will know why.  This fragrant black garlic oil is starting to make its appearance here, made popular by the newly opened Nantsuttei.  Have a taste of the Umami-dama and a sniff of the garlic oil before you mix them all up.  These two extra ingredients basically adds the Tenor and Bass to the Soprano and creates a complexity of flavours which I really enjoy.

Akamaru Modern also comes with a slightly thicker Ramen and Charshu Pork Belly instead of Charshu Pork Loin as is the case for Shiomaru.  So if you look at the difference between the two, I would say that Shiomaru is their female version and Akamaru, the male version.  One is more delicate, the other more robust.  I prefer Akamaru because of the many layers of flavour but it can be a bit overwhelming if you are after a light lunch.

Shiomaru: Noodles 4.25/5, Soup 4/5, Charshu 4.25/5
Akamaru: Noodles 4.25/5, Soup 4.5/5, Charshu 4.25/5


Conclusion

Ippudo is controversial.  There are many who love it and some who have used terms like "overrated" and "disappointing" when describing their Ippudo experience.  I think that if their Ramen were priced at $13 per bowl and if Shigemi Kawahara weren't three times Ramen Champion and the Ramen King, most people won't be complaining. I don't think being more expensive is the problem.  I think the problem is that Singaporeans want an Ippudo Ramen that is exactly the same as what we can get in Japan and anything less is a disappointment.  From what I know of the history of Ippudo, a man like Shigemi Kawahara will not satisfied until he is the undisputed King of Ramen in Singapore as well so there should be better things ahead!

Ippudo
Mandarin Gallery
333A Orchard Road
#04-02/03/04
Singapore 238867

13 comments:

Andrew Ling said...

I believe the soup of Ippudo's Akamaru ramen is the best tasting ramen soup in Singapore. No other restaurants come close to replicating that amount of shiokness.

cactuskit said...

I enjoy the ramen there too. Excellent broth and noodles. And I like the liberal dose of my favourite spring onions. : )

Cheng said...

It's nice to see Ippudo's popularity in Singapore! I prefer Akamaru over Shiromaru too.

Jyoan said...

How do I start?

Okay, went twice so far.

First time left a better impression. I liked the pork enough to crave for more, hence the disappointment that there were only two pieces, and felt a little overpriced. (Got the round cut thin sliced one.)

Moreover, I got undercooked noodles as ieat pointed out, and I didn't know that's just the way tradition is. So I thought Ippudo is weird with the noodles and overrated.

But impression is actually pretty good because of the soup. That soup base of their signature bowl (the 2nd one right at the top of the menu I think), is one of the best I've tasted so far. Food-wise, I've rated really well on hungrygowhere despite the negative feelings, so it just goes to say that the culinary skills in Ippudo's house is impressive.

Second time, I ordered spicy one with chashu. I thought chashu is round. Wonder why I got rectangular pieces with super thick fats! LOL. It was more like our san ceng rou/roast pork as in roast pork rice not char siew as in wanton mee. A bit shocked.

I didn't like the pork this time as there was too much fat, and the meat part was not well cooked because it was tough dry hard. Fats did not melt as much as the first time.

However, noodles were much better as I got the cooked ones.

But the noodles were not springy like Santouka's. I think they are just meant to be slurped and slurped and slurped, and then you gulp the bowl down like Japanese workers do, because they were so straight and smooth and 1 bite it breaks cleanly, all fall back down into the bowl.

I actually quite enjoyed that sort of slurping, made me eat more.

So all I can say is that this is just different from Santouka. Can't really compare even though I prefer bouncy noodles with a chew, that would force me to eat slowly.

Overall, I think ramen is very impressive enough for me to rate the food highly on hungrygowhere despite negative feelings. But try to go before 7, just in case for first timers, you get disappointed. Subsequently, whether you wish to weather the long queues or not, is your choice.

On the entire restaurant, I have a different story to write though. =)

PS: Cooked noodles with that signature bowl would have made the perfect impression.

lynnette said...

I remember reading the review in Straits Times by Wong Ah Yoke and he was truly disappointed with the quality. That's why I have struck off ippudo off my must-visit list of new ramen-ten. But reading your post re-ignite my interest in it. Maybe will plan a trip down this weekend. :)

Anonymous said...

Why do you need to compare hawker food with Ramen? They are in a different league?

Does Ba Chor Mee stalls make their own fishball/fishcake, or order from a factory?

Do they make their own noodles? or from factory?

Hell, some dun even bother to make their own chilli sauce,and order from factory!

From my observations on hawker stalls in Singapore, there is no attention to detail, and just want to sell as much bowls with the cheapest labour, to people who can't afford more expensive food at restaurants.

This is race to the bottom.

If they want to raise to the level of Ramen, and export it to overseas, they need to have more quality control, and put more detail,pride and effort in their production.

Husie said...

A lot of hawker stalls take pride in their food. as leslie would undoubtedly attest the quality of noodles at some hawker centres can be far better than a fancy ramen joint. there are hawkers that make their own noodles and ramen places that buy theirs from a factory. i wouldnt mind paying top dollar if the ramen is outstanding unfortunately most of them just taste like instant noodles with more body.

holybro said...

Just went there last night, and I was a little stunned by the uber long queue. Luckily the waitress was kind enough to let me join my brother who was already there due to my perfect timing of arrival.

On to the food.

Ordered a bowl of their Akamaru. A nice hearty portion generously dolloped with spring onions, garlic oil. Slightly disappointed that they give only like one and a half slice/ 2 slices of charshu, which incidentally, was the winning component of the whole package, IMO.

Soup was good, but is only able to take 2nd place in my rankings of best ramen. Number one still goes to Santouka. Noodles texture was also not bad.

Overall, Ippudo is a nice place to go to satisfy your ramen cravings, save for the queueing time which you have to go through during dinner time. A real put-off sometimes

Cheers!

Jyoan said...

holybro, lol. Told you guys don't queue le... Really not worth it one. Plus the 1.5 slices of chashu. I understand that feeling so much. The winning component indeed, but was nowhere to be found when you tried to stir the soup for more. And then one will start stirring and stirring in hope that it magically pops out. But it never does, until one finally sets the spoon down in defeat, and stop eating the entire bowl of ramen altogether.

Same here. Soup was good. Yet there are better around.

PS: Ippudo's pork is one of the best cooked around, other than Santouka's pork cheeks and Baikohken homely-styled ones. =)

Wei Yi said...

Hmm I really love the broth and the noodles,

The noodles are just like the ones you see in naruto manga or any other japanese manga, where you see the main character slurp down a bowl of awesome looking ramen. Ippudo just fits the image portrayed in the comics.

Shoik!

BanBan said...

Other than the ramens which has always been the centres of attraction, the other side dishes are worthy too.... such as the gyozas and shrimp buns.

Gingybite said...

I tried their Akamaru Shinaji Special. The soup was so flavorful with the umami dama and fragrant garlic oil. This is easily one of the best ramen I have ever tasted. I didn't know that the noodle is actually made in Singapore too! Thanks for such a informative post!

ieat said...

You are most welcome!

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