I have been patiently waiting for offers on Ramen Santouka, I knew it will surely come one day (because they had offered it many times before :P), and no point walking in paying shelf rate. I was proven right when inSing came out an irresistible offer in conjunction with Deal.com, with Ramen Santouka’s Signature Special Mixed Soup Ramen (Awase-Aji) Set at $10.60 nett! That was a whopping 40% discount although currently, JCB card holders are entitled to 50% off (selected?) ramen during weekday lunch hour, for their Central branch at least, not sure about Cuppage.
The offer I secured comprised of Santouka’s signature special mixed soup ramen, a bowl of Hokkaido rice with rice flakes toppings, pickles, and a cup of hojicha. It seemed that this was a rather popular order, so much so that the food were served almost immediately after we placed order, when I barely finished conversation with my dining partner. Apparently, they had the ingredients ready, just to rinse it with broth, and it was ready for serving.
I always tried out ramen broth first as an unspoken ritual, and this was one of, if not the best broth I ever tried! My understanding was that, it was a composition of Shio, Shoyu, and Miso soup base, basically all of Hokkaido’s signature broth. Ramen Santouka started off with only Shio ramen in 1988 in central Hokkaido Asahikawa, a prefecture actually famous for their Shoyu ramen. Shio ramen, on the other hand, was typical of Hakodate, South Hokkaido. Whereas Sapporo is synonymous with Miso ramen. To master a single broth type is already a great achievement, not to mention integrating all three to come out an unsophisticated taste, without the apparent supplement of other spices. The broth tasted adequately sweet, and not overly salty like most Hokkaido ramen do. It came with a tint of milky scent typical of Kyushu’s tonkotsu broth, mildly thick, and very appeasing. The noodle used was medium curly Chuboso Chijiremen, it was amazing throughout my meal, it remained springy and not at all soggy, despite I talked quite a lot during our meal. The ingredients topping the ramen included a generous portion of leek (Negi), 2 halves of moist egg (tamago), strips of bamboo shoot (menma), and two pieces of cha shu. The egg was naturally sweet, which is one important reason for keeping it half moist, while I don’t find the leek and bamboo shoot spectacular, the char shu was firm and chewy, it tasted closer to what we popularly know as roasted pork locally, minus the red rice yeast (红糟) of course. However, the char shu was ridiculously small, I couldn’t help having an impression they simply tore them into half to make up the number, although to be fair, it was thicker than norm. But I did note that this entree did not come with Santouka’s trademark plum?
I feel I absolutely have to mention the enclosed rice. Ramen Santouka put up a notice outside their outlet, informing patrons that they are using rice from Hokkaido. While Niigata’s Koshihikari rice is perhaps the best in the world, findings classified certain Hokkaido rice tasted as good, but naturally cheaper. According to Japan Grain Inspection Association, the ‘Kirara 397’, ‘Hoshinoyume’, and ‘Nanatsuboshi’ varieties of Hokkaido rice are in the same grade as Koshihikari. It can be seen that the rice are sparkling like pearl and less sticky than our conventional Thai rice, the taste was exceptional like most Japanese rice I tried. Although, to be frank, I couldn’t distinguish much difference from other Japanese varieties. But for the record, top Japanese restaurants in Singapore are gradually embracing Hokkaido rice, they are not those willing to risk their reputation using inferior ingredients. And a final thing I have to add, the rice flakes topping really spice up the Hokkaido rice! I also tried eating the rice with some broth, as recommended in a book I was reading enroute to Santouka by Naoko Takagi on Wakayama ramen, it was nice too!
There was nothing much I can recall about the hojicha though, I was busy chatting with my friend and probably drank it in a hush as plain water. LOL!
On 10 Mar 2014, Santouka was celebrating its 26th anniversary in Hokkaido and 7th anniversary in Singapore by launching a special one-day only price of $3.10++ (after GST $3.65) for any of the 4 basic types of ramen (for both S and M size). It was an opportunity not to be missed!
Having tried Santouka previously under some kind of promotion, this time round, the deal was even sweeter! At first, I was very skeptical about this promotion, and suspecting there might be gimmicks such as limited quantity, or a sampling portion etc. But when I turned up at their Central outlet at around 4pm, there was no queue at all, and I was promptly served. I ordered their Kara-Miso Ramen (Special Soybean Paste Flavour). The waitress asked me whether opting for the M size, and then I thought, here comes the gimmick, they must be charging more for the M-size! But nevertheless, (for some reason) I had not taken my lunch and didn’t mind paying more for the larger portion.
My noodle came within 5 minutes! The serving was quite generous, including 2 pcs of cha shu, menma, negi, kikurage (black fungus), and sesame, nothing from its portion shown any indication of compromisation because of the promotion. In fact, I was quite filled after the meal that I skipped dinner altogether. Noodle was quite springy, and the broth was smooth and spicy, though still not enough to make me perspire, but it was rather appetising. Cha shu was expectingly tender, but not very big piece.
When I was paying for my meal, I was ready to pay more. Surprisingly, I was charged a mere $3.65 (included taxes), it seemed like there’s no price difference between a small size and a medium size. That price was cheaper than one can find from any food court in Singapore for its portion!
I re-visited Santouka@Central on 29 May 2014 again, this time with a voucher purchased from deal.com, which I purchased for $15 (conditions applies). The voucher, valid for their signature Tokusen Toroniku Ramen Iberico Buta, which comprises a bowl of ramen, with ingredients separately placed on another plate. what made these special was the pork used, said to be from pork cheek, which was available in considerably lesser portion, and tasted more tender than other part of pork. I will elaborate on this in a short while, but for the time being, let me finish my description on other ingredients which also include leek, bamboo shoot, and black fungus. The noodle, which came in option of shio, shoyu, and miso (kara-miso, a.k.a. spicy miso, was also available for an additional $1) was nothing out of extraordinary, but knowing Ramen Santouka’s usual standard, in particular their outlet in The Central, it hardly ever fails.
My other order was Shio Ramen, Santouka’s signature ramen, which surprised me a little because from where they originated (Asahikawa), they should be more famous for Shoyu-based ramen. Nevertheless, their clear, creamy broth was a big delight, and despite my consistent chat with my dining companion, the noodle didn’t turn overly soggy before I finished my meal. I discovered on the dining table, an ongoing promotion until end 2014, that upon signing up as their member via a QR code, patrons can get a free 3-piece char shu on any ramen order. That explains the 3-piece char shu beside my ramen in the picture above.
Ingredients in my Shio ramen included cha shu (separate from the free portion), chikuwa (Japanese fish cake slice), memma (bamboo shoot), kikurage (black fungus), negi (leeks), toppled with a pickled plum. The noodle was medium thick, round noodle, which retained the broth well and didn’t taste too salty for a shio broth. Now come to the cha shu, the one in the broth was tasty, tender, yet still retaining the delicious broth on every bite. However, the 3 free pieces of cha shu tasted expectantly dry and salty. So now I apprehend the magic of their broth! LOL!
Back to the Iberico pork cheek, which was served separately from the noodle. These left none of those dry and salty taste like the conventional cha shu I mentioned above. It was even tender and sweet tasted on its own. One thing puzzling me was, how do they get Iberico pig in Japan? These species are typically only found in Spain these days, and anyway, what famous for Iberico pork is actually the season cured ham, and these certainly don’t come cheap.