Fresh off the conveyor belt

It may have only a 500 sq ft space for ramen-making, but Japanese ramen factory Kanezin churns out noodles for more than 50 ramen shops in Singapore, both standalone ones and Japanese restaurants that have ramen on their menus.

The factory is one of several which have set up shop to cater to the ramen craze here.

Kanezin, located near Boon Lay, opened in 2010, the same year that Ramen Keisuke opened its first shop here. It started out supplying the ramen chain, which now has five restaurants and a gyoza specialty outlet. Then other ramen shops came a-calling and it started turning out noodles for them too.

Kanezin, which shares its space with a local noodle manufacturer, started with just one noodle-making machine, then added another two years later. It had to cope with demand that has been increasing by 10 per cent every year.

Before the ramen lands in a diner's bowl, it goes through a process that starts with churning the ingredients for the ramen dough. It is then rolled out into thick sheets and covered in plastic so that the dough does not dry out.

The sheets are rolled through a series of machines that flatten the dough and eventually produce a ball of noodles with each strand cut to the required thickness.

The factory's staff then carefully weigh and pack the noodles by hand into boxes, which are kept in the chiller before delivery.

While he cannot disclose the amount of ramen produced daily, a spokesman for Kanezin says the staff are working flat out and cannot handle more orders.

He says in Japanese: "We are not big enough to handle such demand. We are already trying to cope with the orders we have, especially when there was a surge in demand from 2011 to 2012.

"The toughest challenge is to train the local staff to meet our quality requirements."

While Kanezin manufactures only noodles, other factories here also produce ramen fixings.

Besides making ramen, the You & Me noodle factory in Admiralty also produces Japanese ramen chain Ippudo's tonkotsu (pork bone) soup, as well as ingredients such as charsiu and miso paste.

The factory, which cost "a few million" dollars to set up, opened in 2009, when Ippudo opened here.

Factory director Atsushi Yamauchi, 34, monitors each process meticulously - from tasting the soup, checking its viscosity and sieving out impurities, to measuring the thickness of noodles and removing any strands that are not of the correct length or thickness.

He says: "We manufacture more ramen on Thursdays and Fridays for the weekend crowd. The peak periods for production are June, August and December. People seem to eat more ramen during these months."

Over at Kampong Ampat, Japan Foods Holding runs its own $2-million factory that doubles as a central kitchen for the company's brands.

It makes items such as gyoza, charsiu, fried chicken and salmon teriyaki, in addition to producing ramen for the group's brands - Menya Musashi, Ajisen and Menzo Butao, all of which require different flour blends.

Set up at the end of 2007, the volume of ramen produced has increased by 10 per cent every year, says factory manager Otsuka Ichiro.

With the ramen scene becoming increasingly competitive, more shops are producing ramen within their restaurant premises.

These include Bari Uma at Tanglin Shopping Centre and United Square, as well as Sanpoutei Ramen in Holland Village.

Machines may do most of the ramen production, but the process is no less labour intensive when it comes to quality checks for the perfect noodles.

Both Kanezin and You & Me make ramen to different specifications for their various clients. Even Japan Foods Holding has different noodle recipes for its three brands.

The factories import flour from Japan, use special water (filtered and carbonated, to name a few) and follow specific recipes to create specific textures and noodle widths.

Kanezin's spokesman says: "Our clients will tell us the type of noodles they want and we have to replicate it according to what is produced in Japan. We import as many ingredients as possible from Japan, so that the recipes come close to what the original outlets sell.

"The noodles may not be exactly the same, but they are comparable to the standard in Japan."

This article was first published on Aug 17, 2014.
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