Ramen Champion plans to expand

SINGAPORE - The Ramen Champion brand - with two outlets at Bugis+ and Changi Airport Terminal 3 - will sprout a third at Great World City by November.

Mr Koji Tashiro, creator of Ramen Champion which is owned by Komars Group, says the Singapore-based company will also expand overseas.

There are now two Ramen Champion outlets in Hong Kong - the second one opened last month - and Komars, which also manages brands such as the Bishamon Sapporo Ramen chain and hair salon chain EC House, will open in Jakarta and New York next year.

The Hong Kong outlets are in partnership with popular Hong Kong actor Eric Tsang.

Mr Tashiro says details about the new branches are not yet finalised.

Asked if he would find it difficult to find ramen shops willing to open in the new outlets, he says in Japanese via a translator: "Normally, I go around to various ramen shops to try ramen. Now, people also come to me, wanting to be part of Ramen Champion."

The Ramen Champion outlets offer diners several ramen brand names to choose from. It opened its first outlet here at Bugis+ in 2011.

Each year, an Ultimate Ramen Champion is crowned, based on voting by members of the public at the outets and via Facebook, in addition to sales figures.

On Thursday, Ikkousha won the award for the second year in a row. It sold 118,500 bowls of its pork-based Hakata-style ramen ($16.50) within the year, almost double the amount sold by Gantetsu and Bario, which came in second and third place respectively.

Ramen Champion's other outlet at Changi Airport Terminal 3 features Riki, Keishoken and Taka No Tsume.

Ikkousha's Singapore-based chef Kentaro Tanaka says in Japanese: "In the beginning, diners would complain that the soup was salty.

Now, they are used to it. It's about having a good balance of ingredients, oil and bones for the soup."

He asks reporters about the ramen-eating habits of Singaporeans.

Laughing, he says: "In Japan, people would go to Italian or French restaurants when they are on a date. We hope that people can have ramen on dates or parties too. I can prepare a birthday cake."

For the third edition, Mr Tashiro is upping the ante with three new contenders from Tokyo. They replace Tetsu, Taishoken and Iroha.

Muso, which was crowned Ramen Champion 2012 in Hong Kong, is known for its thick-cut chashu and chewy noodles ($15 for its Special Cha Cha Ramen). In Hong Kong, it can sell up to 600 bowls of ramen daily.

Muso's China-born chef Wang Hu Ron, who is based in Singapore, says in Mandarin: "Our strength is that our noodles are tasty, and the soup is clear and light. It is boiled for nine hours. I'm sure it will be suitable for Singaporean diners too."

Menban Yamagishi Kazuo is a brand with a rich ramen history - its 80-year-old founder is said to have invented tsukemen (dipping noodles). Its signature bowl is the pork-based Special Ramen ($14.50).

Fairly new to the ramen scene is Buta God, which refers to "god of pork" (buta is Japanese for pork). Its modern take on tonkotsu ramen is its signature Nikumashi Ramen ($15), which is topped with thinly sliced pork belly and poached egg.

Chef-owner Mamoru Kanaya, 29, says: "Our ramen is unique and I'm confident that we can win this year. We focus on producing a rich and sweet soup. People will like our stewed sliced pork belly.

Mr Tashiro does not rule out introducing more unique versions of ramen.

He says: "Tonkotsu ramen is popular in Asia, but now people are starting to like ramen from Kyushu and Hokkaido (miso-based). "We brought in new contenders so that the competition will not become boring."

euniceq@sph.com.sg

Ramen Champion at Bugis+, 04-10 (tel: 6238-1011) opens from 11.30am to 10.30pm daily. The Changi Airport Terminal 3 outlet at B2-58 (tel: 6214-2958) opens from 10.30am to 11pm daily.


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