Bario, Ramen Champion, Bugis+

Tsukemen is the ultimate test of a ramen chef’s artistry.

There’s quite literally, no other dish whose presentation leaves so much for scrutiny. No room for the theatrics and deception with the infinite separation of the broth, a concentration of painstaking hard work, craft and understanding; and the noodles, served al dente, cold and fragrant.  In fact, few actually dare to submit themselves up for judgement – tsukemen is hardly on the menu. To the undiscerned, tsukemen is merely a “dry” version of ramen. It is not. When served, the broth is fully concentrated and is more of a dipping sauce of sorts and tasting rather than drinking. Those who aren’t too familiar with this variant of ramen tend to drink it thinking of it as a regular soup, and quickly dismissing it for its saltiness. It is only drunk, however, after the diner finishes the noodles where chefs will come to dilute the concentration to make it drinkable.

Despite being a ramen lover, Ramen Champion was never something I really visited religiously. The whole set-up, basically a food court concept, just didn’t identify with me as being “Japanese” enough. It wasn’t until three weeks ago when I was waiting to board my flight to Phuket did I actually try Ramen Champion for the first time, and while it was good, it wasn’t great to be honest – not something that’d warrant an enthusiastic return. But when Darren had a ramen craving, I had no choice but to suggest this place. After all, I’m quite close to completing the ramen circuit in Singapore already.

No other mall has fallen as quick as Iluma. The star-studded mall, in the heart of the thriving Bugis area, was built and managed by Jack Investment, the owner of Filmgarde Cinemas. Unlike Cathay and Shaw, Jack, like Eng Wah, didn’t seem to understand the basics of mall management, and despite some lucrative attractions, such as holding David Archuleta’s autograph sessions in the mall, failed to pull a sustainable crowd. CapitaLand, who owns neighboring Bugis Junction immediately seized the property, and started pulling in tenants who desired the complex’s huge open spaces. Renamed Bugis+, it feels more like an annex of the district’s biggest mall, but perhaps its existence today, which houses fast fashion labels like UNIQLO and Mango, being located right beside the hip and street Bugis Street, evokes a certain character that reminds me of Bangkok’s Siam district and even Tokyo’s Harajuku.

Bario Ramen, listed in The Guardian as one of the 50 best things to eat in the world, is helmed by chef Iwasaki. Like its fellow Tokyo counterparts Riki and Rokurinsha, Bario is big – big on taste, big on portions and big on noodles. Like many Tokyo-based names, Bario uses futomen, which is a thick ramen that makes udon look positively miniscule, at least psychologically. It is a pork shoyu ramen made from a concoction of spices including chili powder, pepper and garlic. Bario’s signature is its broth, which is characterized by its star anise and cinnamon aroma, and sweet garlic flavor, which is quite reminiscent of western-style chicken stews. It has a rich flavor, but the sweet garlic really helps smooth things down despite the large portions. Having learned my lesson from Riki (where I poured too much chili powder and pepper), I skipped the spices altogether and merely helped myself to an additional topping of garlic. Miraculously, the garlic didn’t linger unlike after eating Hainanese chicken rice, which was perfect. While many sites recommended the Ajitama ramen, I decided to go all in and test the chef by ordering tsukemen instead. Confident that Bario wouldn’t disappoint, I was glad they delivered.

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