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Best ramen in the world

Ramen Santouka
Traditional Japanese Curtains for you to konk heads with departing customer

Naomi and I have been to this place, I dunno, four, five times already in the last two months, and considering we don’t go out very often, it probably means we like the food a lot.

Ramen Santouka
Plastic models of dishes to help you decide while queueing

Ramen Santouka is a ramen restaurant franchise, with restaurants in Japan, U.S. and Singapore (yay!), and most of the reviews I’ve managed to find so far have been good. Well, that’s sort of an understatement:

One sip of the Shio broth…

Daaaaaaaaaaang!

That broth is on point. It’s like drinking pork flavored butter. Their shio broth puts me in a place of utter happiness. It’s like growing up in a world without mama whoopings and big brother noogie spree.

Oishii Eats on Santouka West L.A.

santouka is bomb, the food is fucking good. it’s a bit pricey but it’s worth the indulgence. you gotta get the salt ramen with nato. it might make your breath stink, but it’ll make your tongue happy.

roe, I., L.A.

That’s L.A.. The more discerning Singaporean palate reacted in somewhat similar fashion:

Oh. My. God.

That taste? For that price? Looks a little thick and rough but once it touches your mouth? OOhhh…it’s soft, chewy not too fatty and the flavours burst right into your mouth while it melts. If their ‘normal’ chasu already tastes this good, I can’t imagine what the choice cheek cuts must be like.

Aaron Loy about the pork chasu slices in the Singapore branch

Yes, folks, the food is that good.

Then again, this is no ordinary ramen chain (like Ajisen Ramen, whose website title reads ‘Best Ramen in Singapore’, which is like, “it is so not lor!”) where local teenage waiting staff butcher Japanese greeting phrases any old how. It’s ok not to make eye contact when you’re welcoming customers to your restaurant because it’s busy and all that. But the waiting to be seated ritual usually goes like:

Waiter:
WASHSMRMSMMSRRSRSHARE! Table for two?

Us:
Yes pl…

Waiter:
WASHSMRMSMMSRRSRSHARE!

Us:
…ease.

That’s how they cut you off mid-sentence, because some other customer has walked in behind you and the young waiter is trained to greet all customers promptly and LOUDLY, at the expense of the Japanese language, and of the long term hearing abilities of the customer in front of you. And so it goes on:

Waiter:
OK, this way please. WASHSMRMSMMSRRSRSHARE! What drink you like? WASHSMRMASMRSRHARE! Today’s set is… WASHMARSRMMSRRSHARE! What? You don’t want to eat here anymore? WASHSHHMMMSRSHHSHARE! Why? WASHSHHMMSRWSHARE! We have special promotion.

The local waiters at the Singapore branch of Ramen Santouka also greet customers with a hearty irrasshaimase, but have been trained to do so without being so in your face literally. Most days, there is a stern looking Japanese lady overseeing operations (and the till), so I suppose standards are kept in that regard.

Standards are definitely kept high when it comes to the soup stock for Santouka’s ramen dishes. “Pork flavored butter” is a good description of how hearty a meal is at this place, and as for it being a ‘place of utter happiness’, well, I do think very fondly of ramen these days.

Several times in the past month alone, ramen had been the answer when Naomi asked what I wanted for dinner. And if I had the practice of saying grace before every meal, I’d end my prayer in the name of the father the son and the holy spirit ramen.

Ramen Santouka
Kara-miso ramen

Now you know how blasphemously good the soup stock is, you’ll want to know that there are also rice dishes to accompany your bowl of ramen. Char Siu Rice Bowl, Salmon Roe Rice Bowl, Grated Yam Rice Bowl, Fermented Bean Rice Bowl, Fried Rice Bowl & Green Onion Rice Bowl. These can be combined with your favourite ramen soup flavours, Shio (salt), Shoyu (soy), Miso (miso), and Kara Miso (spicy miso), to make set meals costing between $15.50 – $19.50.

Ramen Santouka
…accompanied by Green Onion Rice Bowl. Note the spoon sitting on its grooved edge. Nifty!

If you think a noodle meal is expensive at this price and you don’t want to pay any more for anythink else, there’s a pitcher of cold water on every table, gratis. But trust us, $20 is not a lot for food that will make you renounce atheism.

But the path to ramen nirvana (hey that’s a good name for a restaurant) isn’t easy. Ramen Santouka is tucked away in a corner on the 2nd floor of The Central, Not To Be Confused With Central Mall Not To Be Confused With Central Square Which Are All Within One Kilometre Of Each Other.

And when you finally find the place, you might not get a table because it’s usually very packed at meal times. Try going slightly earlier or later, but it really is worth the wait. And people do queue for a table, which is really amazing because The Central is a mall which could be renamed “The Mall With The Most Japanese Restaurants In Singapore Hey We Even Have Two Azabu Sabo Ice Cream Joints In The Same Building”

The only other drawback of Ramen Santouka is that it’s a cash only business. So prep up the wallet before going.

Ramen Santouka
6 Eu Tong Sen Street
#02-76 The Central
Singapore 059817
Tel: 62240668

The weekend worrier

Spat out

I had an unpleasant experience on Saturday over coffee at the Hilton. We had ordered some of the hotel’s world-famous cheesecakes to go with our coffee, and were settling down nicely to gorge ourselves further after a heavy lunch.

Coffee was served with some complimentary choux pastry. Being the greedy person that I am, I stuffed an entire pastry into my mouth. There was something wrong with the taste of the pastry. So I said to Naomi “there’s something wrong with the pastry”, to warn her that there was something wrong with the pastry. But of course, I continued chewing into the pastry, and very cleverly swallowing some, hoping for the taste to go away.

It didn’t, so I said again, “there’s something wrong with the pastry”.

I must have said it three times more before my brain finally decided, “there’s something really wrong with the pastry”, and I spat what remained of the pastry onto my saucer, nursing a residual burning sensation in my mouth.

A waitress came over and I mumbled to her, “there’s something wrong with the pastry”, and added, “there’s a burning sensation”, “maybe there’s detergent or insecticide in it”, “I think you should get someone to taste it”.

The waitress said something to the effect of “I’ll get you some other pastry”, or more likely, as is the Singaporean way of saying it, “I change the pastry for you”, before taking the remaining pastries on the plate back to the bar counter, where she sniffed at it, opened the box from whence the pastry came, and took the box of pastries to some backroom.

An eternity must have passed before someone who looked like a manager (I forget his Ang Moh name on his nametag) came over to ask how things were, and I explained all over again about the something wrong with the pastry, and he went over to the bar counter, and from where we were sitting, looked like he was interrogating the waitress and bar staff about the errant pastries. The box that contained the pastries was produced out of the backroom, but which was now empty.

From where we were sitting, it looked like he was asking where the rest of it was, and how come they threw it away without finding out what was wrong with the pastry.

A second eternity passed before the manager came back with a bottle of liquid which he explained could’ve been the cause of the taste. It was some sort of flavouring he said the chef could’ve used in the pastry. We had a spoonful of it and decided it didn’t have the same burning sensation we had come to know.

Over my repeated muttering that “there’s something wrong with the pastry”, Naomi finally and very sensibly said to the manager, “well, there’s not much you can do about it now that you don’t have the pastry to taste it”, and we left it at that, even though I was quite upset that the waitress didn’t do anything about our complaint.

Or so we thought.

The waitress came over again with a plate of a different type of pastry, only for me to say something agitatedly to the effect of, “I don’t want any more pastry or cookie, I want to know what’s wrong with the pastry I ate!”

But unless they took the trouble to sift through the freshly strewn trash where they must have dumped the pastry, there really was nothing we could do but accept the apologies of the very industrious manager (he sniffed the box that contained the pastry and looked like he was going to lick it) and his waiving of the price of the cheesecakes which we understandably didn’t eat any more of.

And wait. To see if I had poisoned myself with the something wrong pastry.

It’s Tuesday, and I haven’t felt any worse yet. I might just rise from this chair and walk into a wall, but it doesn’t look likely to be caused by the pastry now.

If there’s anything to take out of this experience, it was the manager’s sense of urgency and immediate tackling of the matter. If there had been pastries left in the box, I have no doubt he would have taken a taste of it, putting himself at risk of becoming the mumbling idiot that I was.

Even after it was quite clear that there wasn’t much that could be done except wait to see if I had been poisoned, he came back to our table several times to apologise, and even mentioned that he understood that we would’ve lost our appetites for the two slices of world-famous cheesecake we ordered.

If only all the other staff were as diligent as he was, we might have been closer to resolving the mystery of the something wrong pastry.

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Saturday

Hai Kee Teochew Cha Kua Teow (sic)

You know it’s a good plate of greasy, lardy goodness when the queue’s already twenty long when you get there, and there are people in line in front of you who know how long it’s gonna take, and have taken the trouble of bringing a book along to read.

It’s not that long, really, the wait. Barring family representatives who order by bulk, usually just before it’s your turn, you usually get your plate / packet before you figure out how much money Mr Hai Kee Cha Kua (sic) Teow makes in a day.

Waiter, there’s too much food on my table

Waiter, there's too much food on my table

There is a restaurant where you get rewarded for being a nice customer.

Or at least, for being a customer who is nice enough to take time out to talk to the waiter about our HTC Touch phone which he was eyeing and wanting to ask about. When Naomi obliged by saying a couple of things about the phone and showing off the use-your-thumb to flick through the interface thing, the waiter (sorry dude, didn’t ask your name) pulled out a chair and sat with us to talk about the phone further.

I learned a couple of things as we chatted.

First, that customers are seldom as friendly as we were last night, and they wouldn’t take the time to explain a phone’s functions to a waiter, said the waiter.

Second, that you need to press the button on top of the phone when you make or take a call, so your cheek won’t anyhowly press the touch screen’s buttons.

But, no, it’s not because we were given a hefty ‘friendly customer’ discount that I’m plugging The Rice Table Indonesian Restaurant. I’m mentioning it because the food’s really quite good, and you get a lot of it for $20 per person.

Rijstaffel is the Dutch word for Rice Table, and it used to be popular only in the Netherlands.

At a rijstaffel restaurant, small portions of twenty different dishes are plonked on your table for you to eat yourself to death. You will like about 13 to 14 of those dishes, and then you will eat yourself to death. That’s how the Indonesians fought off the Dutch in their war of independence. They fed most of their colonial masters to death in 1945 and the surviving Dutch went home to legalise marijuana and prostitution.

If you must know, I learnt history from watching beauty pageants.

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The good oil on bad fats


I said, ‘get me a pic to do with “Trans Fat”, not “Fat Trans”‘
Photo by FredArmitage

I now think that people who are easily confused (like myself) are less likely to eat healthily given the amount of information now available to us about saturated, unsaturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, hydrogenated, partially hydrogenated fats and four-room HDB flats.

Naomi and I try sporadically to eat healthily, and because we are such ingterneck-savvy people, we’ve taken to reading up about what we’re eating in the hope of knowing what to eat and what we shouldn’t. This is what we know so far:

Don’t eat so much fatty food, but some fats are good;

Diary products contain unsaturated fats, so we shouldn’t eat so much, but we need the calcium;

Fish contain good fats, but also apparently contain mercury, which, if you don’t intend being a human thermometer, isn’t all that good for you. (Next time you think you’re running a temperature, stuff a mackerel in your mouth, and it’ll tell you if you need a panadol and a cold bath).

The FDA says, Scientific evidence shows that consumption of saturated fat, trans fat, and dietary cholesterol raises low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad cholesterol,” levels, which increases the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health, more than 12.5 million Americans have CHD, and more than 500,000 die each year. That makes CHD one of the leading causes of death in the United States.”;

and that, “Trans fat, like saturated fat and dietary cholesterol, raises the LDL cholesterol that increases your risk for CHD. Americans consume on average 4 to 5 times as much saturated fat as trans fat in their diets. Although saturated fat is the main dietary culprit that raises LDL, trans fat and dietary cholesterol also contribute significantly.”

Harvard (meaning it’s gotta be good and authoritative) nutritionists say that, By our most conservative estimate, replacement of partially hydrogenated fat in the U.S. diet with natural unhydrogenated vegetable oils would prevent approximately 30,000 premature coronary deaths per year, and epidemiologic evidence suggests this number is closer to 100,000 premature deaths annually.”

In Singapore, the HPB says, Yes. Trans fat raises LDL-cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol) and reduces HDL-cholesterol (“good” cholesterol) in the body. As a result, trans fat increases the risk of developing heart disease. There is no conclusive evidence to date for the effect of trans fat on other health risks such as diabetes or cancer. Currently there is also no evidence to show that consumption of trans fat found naturally in food will increase the risk of heart disease, so there is no reason to avoid beef, lamb, mutton or dairy products because they contain trans fat. “.

I don’t know, but our local health board advisory seems to sound a bit… what’s the word for it? Contradictorated? Polycontradictorated? Monocontradictorated… or at least partially contradictorated?

So, what can you do to figure out what’s good to eat and what isn’t?

The FDA made it compulsory from 2006 for manufacturers to state trans fat levels on food labels, so that you can figure out, say, whether to eat a slab of butter or a spoonful of margarine:

1 tablespoon of butter contains zero trans fat;

1 tablespoon of margarine contains 3 grams of trans fat;

But the same amount of butter contains 30 milligrams of cholesterol while margarine doesn’t. Arrgh! so which do I put on my toast before it gets cold?

OK, so you may be able to work out some sort of balance as to how much is considered “in moderation” for either. But here’s the rub:

U.S. labelling rules state that: “if the serving contains less than 0.5 gram [of trans fat], the content, when declared, shall be expressed as zero.”

To that, the good folk at bantransfat.com say: “Suppose a product contains 0.4 grams per serving and you eat four servings (which is not uncommon). You have just consumed 1.6 grams of trans fat, despite the fact that the package claims that the product contains zero grams of trans fat per serving.”

Nabeh, kenah bluff. Which is serious stuff considering the WHO recommends that total daily intake of trans fat should be below 2g.

Bantransfat.com also tells us that “Fully hydrogenated oils do not contain trans fat. However, if the word “hydrogenated” is used without the word “partially,” that product may contain partially hydrogenated oil. Not all labeling is accurate and the word “partially” may have been wrongfully omitted on some products.”

So, can kenah bluff again in instances where it’s not compulsory to list trans fat content (like here). Sure we’ve got promotional material at hawker centres and food stalls telling us that they don’t use lard in their cooking and use ‘vegetable oil’ instead. But you should know when they say “vegetable oil”, it really is usually palm oil or peanut oil if they don’t say otherwise, which is usually partially hydrogenated, which means it contains trans fat.

Our friendly local health board says they’ve been “working with ingredient suppliers to develop reduced trans fat shortenings used in baked products. To date, at least one major local biscuit manufacturer has switched to using trans fat free shortening, and several other pastry retailers will also be switching over to this shortening soon.”

In the meantime, ask yourselves, if your bread talks, and your Chang Kee is Old, is it because they contain partially hydrogenated oils?

It is a serious matter, especially is you look at the numbers of estimated premature deaths in the US, but no worry, because “This year, HPB will focus on fat as part of its nutrition education efforts. We have recently conducted a public forum on fats – look out for more events coming your way!”

Yay, events!

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