Ramen is more than just a noodle dish with a 'Made in Japan' label; it is a highly personalized and culturalized gastronomic art-form that bears the mark and signature of its maker.
With roots that extend back nearly a century, the popular Ramen Culture remains till this day, an ever evolving culinary landscape of styles, flavours, and tastes. There are over 100,000 Ramen stores in Japan alone and thousands more peppered across the Globe. From sleepy rural towns to bustling mega cities, there is a Ramen store tucked away in practically every street corner to satisfy every taste, palate, whim and fancy.
Amid the high profile fanfare of today's Michelin-Starred Ramen stores and established brands, are thousands of undiscovered and under-rated operators that have fallen through the cracks and have been drowned out by the sheer scale and noise of the Ramen playing field.
In this hugely competitive industry there is the
occasional dark horse who ruffles industry feathers, raises the bar in one
form or another, and effectively changes the game. One such operator to
emerge in recent times is Hakodate (Hokkaido) based JIMOTO-YA.
9 months ago, the elusive operator was barely known outside of the square block on which its stall sits. Today, it has International presence in Singapore (the brand's First International Franchise that opened in March 2017) and in Nagoya (Aichi), the brand's First Domestic Franchise (opening circa April 2017).
Founded in 2014, JIMOTO-YA has, since inception, quietly championed its unique and flavourful Signature Amaebi (Cold Water Sweet Prawn) Ramen. Three years on and two local outlets later, JIMOTO-YA has finally disclosed its closely guarded collaboration with celebrated Master Chef, Nobumasa Mieda, the Owner and Proprietor of Sapporo-based Michelin-Starred (2012) Kaiseke Restaurant, Mieda, and the creative genius behind the JIMOTO-YA Ebi Ramen.
The story goes that Mieda San was 'coaxed' into collaborating with JIMOTO-YA after a casual sampling of his Ebi-infused Curry with a group of close friends which included the Owners of JIMOTO-YA. Thanks to the liberal use of Amaebi, the curry was oozing with rich Ebi Umami.
Needless to say, the diners were
"Amaebi is a very difficult ingredient to
work with as it has both delicate and robust flavours. The challenge is to
extract the flavour, retain its integrity, and harmonize it with other
flavours, " says Mieda San. "When the Owners of JIMOTO-YA tried my
Amaebi-infused Curry, they were immediately impressed with the rich and
intense flavour. We started talking about a collaboration even before the
meal was done, " adds Mieda San with a laugh.
So why Ramen? "Ramen is everywhere and the choices are endless, but few makers have experimented with using Amaebi in Ramen because of the high cost due to scarcity and because its difficulty as an ingredient to prepare and handle," explains Mieda San. "Making an affordable yet high quality Ebi Ramen made from Amaebi was therefore a very big challenge, " adds Mieda San.
There are also sentimental reasons for Mieda
San's decision to develop the Ebi Ramen; "When I was growing up, Ramen
was one of the few comfort foods that I could enjoy and afford on a meagre kitchen
apprentice's salary. That was my reward after a hard day's work," reminisces
Mieda San. "A good bowl of Ramen ticks all the right boxes; it is
nutritious, affordable and tasty. It is an honest wholesome dish and I want
to develop my version to pay homage to the working class hero whose simple
pleasure is a good bowl of Ramen," adds Mieda San.
"The name JIMOTO-YA, which means The Original Taste, is a strong commitment by the brand to offer only products of the highest quality. That means using only the best natural ingredients and a strict policy where no flavour enhancers, no artificial flavouring or colouring, and no preservatives are used.
These core values need to be upheld, and this no compromise approach means that a significant amount of ingredients need to be imported from Japan to Singapore to ensure that the high standards are maintained," says Ishizumi Hideki, co-founder of Saiun Private Limited, the franchise operator of JIMOTO-YA Singapore.
All in, JIMOTO-YA offers five Signature Ramen offerings
and two Rice offerings; for Ramen fans, there are four soup-based versions
featuring different tares (seasonings): (Shio (Salt), Shoyu (Soya Sauce),
Miso (Fermented Bean Paste) and Curry (Shoyu and Curry Blend), and a unique
dry version which is the cold 'Soba' called Hiyashi Chuka. For grain lovers, there
is the Ebi Curry Rice and the Ebi Fried Rice offering.
Years of experience as a top Kaiseki Chef has taught Meida San one important detail about food preparation - harmony and balance. "Making Ramen is a labour of love; a successful recipe is achievable through the harmonious union of ingredients and flavours.
Sometimes less is more, especially when you have the challenge of pairing Tonkotsu and Amaebi stocks with different tares, fragrant oils, noodles and toppings," explains Mieda San. In addition to getting the taste right, Mieda San's goal was to create a lighter dining experience.
The Proprietary Broth
blend is rich in flavour and assaults the senses with an intense gourmet fragrance;
the usual toppings consisting of Char Suey, Corn, Nori (Seaweed), and Menma
(Preserved Bamboo Shoot) would not pair well with the Broth and have been
replaced with a lighter topping mix consisting of wok seared Minced Chicken
and Pork and Diced Cabbage.
Whilst this substituting move might rattle the feathers of the Ramen establishment, it all makes perfect sense once the rich Broth is savoured. The Broth, a complex medley of rich Tonkotsu and Amaebi flavours harmonizes well with the Minced Meat and Vegetables.
Shredded Negi (Spring Onion) adds tanginess, and Pureed Ginger on the side is optional for those seeking a slight kick in the pants dose of spiciness. The blend pleasantly balances out the dish to bring out the exalted 'Umami' that purists look out for.
For Egg lovers, fret not; the quintessential Ajitama (Soya Sauce Egg) comes standard in all soup-based Ramens and the Onsen (Sous Vide) version comes with the Curry Rice. Finally, for customers with a 'healthier' appetite - Jimoto-Ya offers a side menu featuring Tori Kara-Age (Fried Chicken), Salmon/Basil Onigiri and Tempura (Ebi and Yasai).
JIMOTO-YA Singapore is located at Pickering
Street's well known Nankin Row Food Stretch and is open from 11.30am to
14.30pm and in the evening from 18.00 to 22.00. Reservations and pre-payment
for an 'off-the-menu' Set Meal via the restaurant's FB page (JIMOTOYA
SINGAPORE) is highly recommended.