Why eat Ramen in a city with a million different, delectable meals all lined up for your enjoyment? Well, because Ramen is addiction, and everyone knows addiction controls your life.
Sure you can feast on a platter of roti canai's from Valentines, lick your fingers after ploughing through a plate of Mollagaa's banana leaf, fornicate with your own reflection at the bottom of an empty laksa bowl, or simply lie in bed shoving fatty charsiu in your gluttonous cavity. But after days/weeks/months of doing that, surely you'll crawl to the mirror on a day of self-introspection, see the loss washing over your eyes like cheap paint, and realise that ramen is exactly what you need to wipe clear the cataracts of doubt and fill you with truth once more.
As a bonafide broth-martyr, I took it upon myself to carry the cross of noodles down the soupy streets of menma strewn depravity, tasting six different temples of potential truth, and dividing them up into false prophets and stomach profits.
Here they are, in all their glory, from worst to first. And in a country where pork is generally seen as soul death, the term guilty pleasure is even more apt.
The Worst First
Ramen Menya Shi Shi Do ($$)
"But the bowl looks so epic". Well, yes it does. Looks, as we all know, can be deceiving.
I'm personally quite pissed off with this establishment. After having shaken life into my flu-ridden bones by way of numerous cups of strong coffee, I wilfully walked into venus-like conditions: sun tearing every shred of life out of me in a split second, waited for my Grab Taxi, hurtled through traffic for 25 flat minutes to far yonder suburbs to try the best rated ramen in KL.
As per usual, I went off-peak so that I didn't have snorting baboons next to me whilst trying to have a private moment. It was decidedly empty, thankfully. Signature Ramen was ordered, woman was rather surly. Sadly it was a pre-cursor to what was coming: listlessness and sorrow.
At first sip the broth was OK... promising in that sense that some broths grow on you, some flow out of you. This one didn't open up at all or offer anything exciting, just remaining painfully below average. Noodles aside (which were standard thin ramen noodles), the main culprit here was the pork. I don't quite know what they did to it, but it was tough as a flip flop, and had a bizarre taste like it actually had gone "off". It was highly unpleasant. Egg-wise it was just a regular egg, no love had been lavished on it.
For once in my life I left 3/4 of it. Being in a city like KL with so many gut-evangelistically amazing meals, I didn't want to waste any processing power on something so tortured. I paid and left quickly, not wanting to share eye contact with the chef.
Torazou Ramen ($$)
Another extremely long detour outside of central KL led me to this neighbourhood joint, set in a small enclave devoid of tourists. I noticed the noodle machine at the entrance where they hand-make them every day. Good sign.
The restaurant was decorated like a Japanese lamp hoarders cave. Tons of them hanging from the ceiling and Kanji wording plastered on the walls in that typical chaotic calm.
The most important part of course is the food. I personally don't care if i'm eating on a sinking ship as long as the food is up to par (and there's a life-jacket). Solid noodles, decent broth, tender pork and a pretty good egg. All in all, they knew what they were doing but just need a little more umami in the soup. A very promising shop that I could see hitting it's stride in a year or two if they stay the course and push.
Bankara Ramen ($$)
Having almost lost my mind at their branch in Bangkok NUMEROUS times, I had to see if they were replicating the near-perfection a thousand kilometers south. In short: No.
It looked almost identical, with that frothy milk Tonkotsu broth causing deep gasps from near and far when set down gently at the table.
The main issue was the depth of flavour. At the Bangkok branch they manage to wizardly balance it between becoming cloyingly fatty, and thinly veiled. It packs a deep, comforting punch but doesn't coat your entire throat so you need a fire-hose to rinse you out. This broth was more on the fatty side and less on the flavour. The pork and egg were pretty spot on, and the noodles were fine. It just goes to prove that even tho the name remains, the contents of the bowl can, ultimately, let you down.
Hokkaido Ramen Santouka ($$)
One of the greatest challenges in Kuala Lumpur is that most of the ramen shops are located in Shopping Malls. For a person riddled with anxiety and general unease around other humans, this poses a massive problem. It is testament to my love of a goddamn bowl of soup, noodles and egg that I willfully enter the mine-field of toddlers and parents, horny teens on shopping sprees, husbands dragged along to handbag shops, diarrhea on the speaker-system and the perpetual confusion as to where the exit is.
Probably due to costs-per-square-meter, they always end up on the top floor too. Having a massive hatred of elevators this means more time spent with humans on their ant-like rambles up the escalators. It's truly enough to give anyone a relapse of PTSD. Having said that, upon entering a calm, ramen oasis with the promise of a hearty bowl, the fears subside.
I opted for the Shio Ramen (salt broth) this time since it was their Signature Bowl, and I had never had the pleasure of eating their ramen before. The restaurant was occupied by three people. A couple in the far corner chatting to other people on their phones, and a silent worshipper 3 tables away not looking around at all. Perfect!
Soup-wise it was tasty, but didn't become more complex or deep. But tasty it was. The pork was deliciously tender, the egg was a touch on the sweet side, but perfectly cooked, and the noodles were springy and delightful.
Though it may be a chain, they are obviously keeping a strict quality-control on their branches because this was nothing to sneer at.
Marutama Ramen ($$)
My first time trying Tori-Paitan, or chicken carcass broth. Scepticism crept across my weathered face from deep within. I almost felt like I was cheating on pork, laying my head next to a feathered creature instead of a squealing.... nevermind.
A boisterous woman showed me to my seat, to which I quickly asked "Can I sit there instead" which was of course furthest away from the other guests. I felt my shoulders relax under the avoidance of breathing mouths. Soup was upon me, glistening like a newly washed sportscar, and I dove in without a seconds hesitation. GODDAMN! This was good shit. Like proper good shit. Meltingly delicious meat, firm noodles, awesome egg and the broth, a transcendent beast of a broth. Rich yet unfatty. Comforting yet packed with taste.
KAGURA RAMEN ($$)
Never one to denigrate the wonders of Pork Ramen, I ended up chancing another visit to a chicken broth spot out of sheer curiosity. Marutama had been excellent, but the branch I went to had closed down and it was basically impossible to find out where they had moved. Walking around in BB I saw a sign for Kagura Chicken Ramen and flew up the stairs to await my sentence.
A cheery server took my order, Spicy Chicken Ramen, and wobbled off to tell the chef. A beautifully decorated bowl of stark red fire was swooped down in front of me. I sipped the broth "GODDAMN THATS SPICY".. but so full of flavour, and not greasy or fatty like so many bowls can be. The chicken meat itself was decent, but not the star. The star was the broth, complimented perfectly with chewy noodles and a divine egg.
In the realms of chicken slaughter this is one that should be celebrated in celluloid on the big screen!
Bari-Uma Ramen ($$)
Where there is competition, there will always be a winner. Ramen Bari-Uma knocks the ball out of the park for the following reasons.
Their speciality is a Tonkotsu Shoyu broth, which is a touch darker and deeper than most other Tonkotsu bowls. They also import their own special soy sauce from Japan and refuse to serve even a single bowl if for some reason the distribution lines are cut and they cannot acquire their heavenly elixir. Standards!
Broth aside, the real hero here is the pork. The vast majority of ramen shops will serve you the thin, rounded pork belly thats been tied up with string and slow-cooked for 3-4 hours in a marinade of soy, mirin, leeks, ginger etc etc. Whatever they are upto in those secretive kitchens at Bari Uma is paying off. The pork here is more like a thick slice of brisket, with singed edges.
At first when it was placed in front of me I immediately thought it would be tough. How far from the truth. This is single-handedly the most tender, juicy piece of pork that has ever drowned in a loving bath of broth, ready to hold its temperature until a willing carnivore snatches it from its protective shelter and begins pushing it apart with gums & tongues. No teeth are required for this pork. Its THAT tender.
Everything else is perfect, although once my egg was under cooked, and the price is bang on. Do not wait to try this if you ever walk past the sign, you will not regret it!
All these recommendations are just personal opinions based on my palate, things change, chefs get fired or replaced, places open-close, relocate, so take it all with a pinch of MSG and discover your own gems too. But please do try a few of these, they have been researched exhaustively