Penang has Laksa and Curry Mee spots galore, but what I found severely lacking was a solid bowl of Ramen. I tried a couple places with no luck, and was on the verge of giving up when the fight to live returned. I commandeered a cab, hurtled north, walked around the block a few times waiting for it to open, was told by the waitress "It's salty so if you want it less salty order with extra broth". I reassured her it was ok. I was right. This was top notch ramen. Everything, except perhaps the slightly dry-chewy pork, was on point.
You could easily find worse ramen than this in Tokyo, or anywhere in Japan for that matter. This is well made, and well balanced and bloody delicious.
Penang is not a town I planned on eating ramen in, simply for the fact that they have so much delicious food here other than that. However, after 3 weeks I started getting tiny creepings of cravings. I researched and found out Rising Ramen and another spot that was 10 kilometers away, were the go-to spots here.
I hurried into my Grab, found Rising Ramen in a shopping mall, ordered their Tonkotsu Ramen and sat watching the workers all glued to their phones... what a world we live in.
Lets get this out of the way. There are two things I hate in a bowl of ramen, one is FUCKING CORN, the other is pork that's been torched before serving. Ok, so your chef thinks it looks sexy with the black spattering of burn marks? Well, it tastes like shit. It's not pleasant to eat pork with a lingering taste of butane, it takes away the luxury of well made pork.
Of all the meals I have eaten in Penang this will go down as a disappointment. Not necessarily a terrible bowl of ramen, but just lacking those touches that elevate it to great. The broth was alright, but lacked umami. The egg was fine but had no marinade so was largely tasteless, the noodles at least were cooked well so they retained some integrity, but the pork... oh dear..
I think i'll just stick to Laksa since i'm in the land that perfected it.
You find gems in the most unnassuming spots. A tiny cafe specialising in pastries and coffee, who'd a thunk they did the best Taiwanese Beef Noodle soup in town? A recipe passed down from the owners mother, this soup battled against even the best over the ocean in Taiwan. Superbly dark and rich broth, tender as tears beef, decent noodles and crunchy greens served with a smile.
I'm telling you, if I lived in Penang i'd be here once a week.
Famous for both their white curry mee (before you tarnish it with chilli paste) and their chicken, it's highly advisable to order both if you make it out here.
Sensational curry mee with a delicious broth elevated even higher by their home-made chilli oil.
If there was an award for the sweetest owner/host in Penang, it would surely go to the lady here. Everyone is welcomed in a really kind, considerate way, her manner is so gentle and friendly, and luckily enough for us the food is also really good.
They do a couple of different Laksa, I only managed to try the Lemak Laksa because of other obligations, but it was delicious and slightly different to the Asam Bowls i've eaten in town. The prawn crisp was dynamite!!
Located around the corner from Penang Road Famous Laksa and Rabbit Hole Cafe, this non-descript place is partly concealed by large shutters. Peer inside, dare to walk in, be welcomed by a very friendly owner, and served with a delicious bowl of Curry Mee. Everything was on point here, tho I thought the broth lacked a little bit of depth.
Yet another "legendary" place in Penang, I had to visit the old lady who's been churning out bowls for decades.
The food is delicious, it takes a few sips to get used to the intense flavour, but when you do you'll be addicted.
The promise of Malaysian-ramen wafted through the computer screen. Pan Mee? With bacon? And egg? Sign me up. I followed the grab driver all the way to this small shopfront, walked in, people turned and looked at me in that odd "what the hell is he doing here" way, ordered, sat down and sipped on my ice-coffee.
Of all the bowls of late this wasn't the best, or the worst. The broth was decent, but definitely encouraged greater respect after dumping some chilli paste in. The noodles were pretty standard, the "bacon" was a salty addition and the egg held a deep Chinese spice marinade which was quite delicious.
Overall not a meal that you should smash down the doors to enjoy, but definitely worth trying if you have the time and stomach space.
My feet are a venerable fuck-fest when it comes to problems with my achilles, soles of the feet, arches, anything that goes really. It's been a real bone of contention (pun intended) for quite a few years now, and sometimes leaves me almost immobile which is fine if you have someone to fend for you, but quite problematic when you travel alone. Today the ankle struck!
I managed to hobble down the stairs at the hotel, slide into a taxi, head to a cafe to quell the caffeine pangs. Then set about searching for food within immediate vicinity. Lo and behold! A ramen spot, 25 meters away! I had to do it, for medical reasons.
Mad Ramen was visited, a bowl of black garlic tonkotsu broth ordered, green tea swilled, locale peered at. Bowl came, photos were taken, spoons dipped in, smiles returned to faces, pain momentarily forgotten, and the dance of the firm noodles took centre stage for a few hushed moments.
It's not every day I have a smoked duck ramen. Sitting alone in my hotel room in Ipoh feeling listless and full of regret, I scoured the internet for places to eat. This popped up on quite a few blogs with glowing reviews. 4.5 km away? Grab taxi! No problem. I managed to get there just before closing so I could eat in complete solitude, extra point already!
The noodles were soba, but solid. The broth was delicious and deep. The duck was pink and wonderfully smoked. The egg was quite good.
I am honestly shocked to find such high quality ramen in a small city in Malaysia, but as the past has taught me... discount nowhere or no-one!
With my stomach worse for wear after a dodgy Thali, I decided it canny to opt for something safe. Having eaten here almost 3 years ago, and remembering good things, I headed back. It's amazing how after so long, just the first sip of a broth can take you back. Immediately I remembered what the rest of the bowl would taste like, and I was right.
The overall review of this place is a good one, however there are things to work on. Firstly the pork is a bit chewy and lacking in flavour. Secondly, with no menma, nori or beansprouts to add texture it becomes a bit vacant. Thirdly, the egg is just an overdone boiled one with no discernable marinade.
If they tighten their apron strings and put a little more effort in, they will have a superb bowl soon. All the building blocks are there.
A tiny disaster of a ramen bowl. Overcooked eggs that were salty, menma that was inedibly salty, broth that was: you guessed it ......SALTY, and standard noodles and pork cut too thick for its level of tenderness.
This small ramen bar in the middle of Bassac Lane may be able to tempt in the late night drinkers, but if it wants to be taken seriously it's going to have to up its game substantially.
A hidden gem in a tiny bar area West of Mongkok. The shoyu ramen is a solid hitter without any of the added sparkle of MSG (something the ramen shop proudly displays). I personally have nothing against a little ajinomoto in my ramen, but to each their own.
I didn't get as much time as I wanted to check out multiple ramen spots in HK so I can't measure it against anything but a couple places, it was definitely worth a visit tho. Succulent pork, melt-in-your-mouth egg, slightly larger noodles with perfect chew, and a deep comforting broth.
Cocooned in the far corner, my favourite spot, I ordered a bowl of Tsukemen and waited quite a long time for it to arrive. The ramen shop is decorated heavily with Japanese memorabilia, and customer comment cards making it an interesting place to wile away the time.
The noodles were chewy and good, the broth had that fishy taste to it but wasn't overpowering. However, the sweetness of the broth was a tiny bit off-putting. I ended up overall enjoying the meal, but am questioning whether I would go back there or not.
20 minutes walk from Tsuen Wan MTR stop is this delightful, family run Malaysian eatery. I was tipped off about it from my local friends, who joined me for dinner so we managed to get through quite a few dishes.
The laksa was spot on! The Asam Laksa also, the rendang, literally everything on the menu was authentic and delicious. It's not a normal area for tourists to wander around but if you have the time, this place is a highlight.
Sometimes hunting a perfect bowl of noodles becomes a mini-adventure. I woke up in my hotel room in Mongkok, took the MTR to Lai Chi Kok, walked the streets temporarily lost, trying to guage my bearings, found the warehouse, found the right elevator, took it to the 1st floor and walked down the hallway until I started seeing posters and awards taped to the wall. The restaurant was JAM PACKED, so I was turned around and shown to the waiting room a little further down the hall.
Within 10 minutes a woman came in shouting my number and I was seated at the communal long tables, ordered beef noodle soup and a mountain tea and waited. The crowd of people in there were all smashing plates like they were going out of fashion, smiling rabidly. I grew expectant.
10 minutes later I had slurped the last of the broth down and eaten my last noodle. Who knew such good beef noodle soup could be made in Hong Kong in a warehouse. The beef was succulent and tender, the noodles still had bite, the broth wasn't amazingly deep but held its own and got much better when I added the home-made chili sauce.
This is one of those spots you have to be recommended, and when you do, you have to hunt it down!
The mighty men at Michelin awarded this humble noodle shop a coveted star. Even before that, the place was ram packed with locals in the know, so I simply had to spend over an hour getting there from Mongkok. I ordered the 3 topping bowl and set about attacking the monster. Not a super fan of fish balls, this behemoth was fantasic, the shrimp wonton was to die for, and the beef pieces were tender as hell. The only negative was the actual broth which lacked any real flavour, but I guess it's secondary to the toppings. Noodle-wise they were springy and had good texture, but due to the broths lack of flavour they suffered a bit too. I had to add a lot of chilli sauce to pep things up.
Look. I've had some bloody good bowls of ramen over the years in Saigon. Two of those shops being 100 meters from Mutahiro. On the ferry over from Vung Tau I decided to spend the 2 hours productively flicking through blogs and reviews of Pho, Ramen and Vietnamese street food since i'd be spending a couple more days in the city and needed some bliss. Mutahiro suddenly popped up at the top of quite a few different pages, despite me never having heard of it on previous visits. Intrigued I read on. After ploughing through countless 5/5 reviews, or blogs hammering on about "ramen perfection" I made up my mind to throw my bag into my hotel room and head straight there.
2 hours later I was walking through the tiny alleyways of "Little Japan" in Saigon, a seedy, lively part of town and home to all the best Ramen shops. Danbo was behind me, Tomidaya straight ahead, and Mutahiro appeared at the end of the street down an inconspicuously narrow alley. This wouldn't be a place you happened upon accidentally, you would have to track it down. Eagerness overshadowed by nerves I entered to the rattling shouts of "Irasshaimase!!". Both corners were taken (DAMN) so I had to sit in the middle next to two salarymen grunting into their beers.
The special shoyu was ordered with egg (of course), and a cold glass of water poured to dampen the insane pollution this city sweats out daily.
Sip Sip................... OH MY FREAKING GOD!... Memories came flooding back from the first time's I sipped the holiest of broth's in Tokyo amongst gasps for air, screams of exhortation and the ravaging need to spoon gallons more into your mouth in case you suddenly had a heartattack and wanted this to be your final mouth-memory. This was rich, deep, fatty (but not greasy) heaven. The noodles were actually buckwheat (Soba), so different to regular Ramen noodles, but tasted fantastic despite their slightly softer texture. There was a slice each of pork and chicken, something I had not encountered before. The chicken was some of the moistest, flavoursome chicken I'd ever eaten in a bowl. This must be sous vide? Not to be outdone, the pork shone through with it's delectable thicker cut tenderness and mountains of flavour. I slurped myself into a frenzy without paying any heed to the other people around me in this 12 seat shop. Dizzy with bliss I paid my bill, bowed and thanked all the chefs, and went on my merry way pinching myself to make sure this wasn't a dream.
A year ago I took some friends here and watched in reverence as they spooned silky broth to their lips and their facial expressions changed to utter glee. This time another friend was visiting and after spending some time at Kim Hideaway Bar we plodded off to get ramen.
I ordered the regular Tonkotsu with egg. As with memories, you sometimes doubt that it really was THAT good, and the slight shudder of fear begins to creep in after talking so highly of it. Fears were brushed aside after 1 tender dip into the divine porcine remnants. Everything about this bowl is perfection. Not one single goddamn complaint or excuse. Near perfection.
The first time I visited Momotoko was their other downtown branch, and left with a slightly let-down feeling. The broth was a bit insipid, the pork, eggs, noodles were all just that bit average. They also threw in snap peas and arugula which I thought odd, but each to their own.
Daniel said they had improved so we decided to give them another shot. Drove out there with the cousins and piled in our orders before hiding in the corner (I ordered mine without corn of course). The next 10 minutes proved that progress is possible. All the elements were better than last time, even tho the broth still needs a bit of depth. Overall it was a good bowl of soup and one that I would have again if in Helsinki and suffering cravings.
The curse of authenticity strikes again.
Drawing rabid adulation from the 20,000 strong Japanese ex-pat (immigrant) community in Jakarta, this ramen house is on the tip of everyone's tongues as being the place to go.
I read various blog posts about the Tonkotsu ramen here, and stumbled upon one by Ramengvrl who raved about it's dodgy exteriors but delicious food. Once again I summoned a Go Jek scooter, today was slightly milder so the ride was more pleasant. I'd read that its on the 4th floor of an unassuming office building and has a rather washed out sign outside. The scooter pulled up, I saw the faded sign, asked the guard and he pointed and said "4th floor". I climbed the first set of stairs which honestly looked like you were entering an abandoned building, and found the elevator. Walking out is like entering a mini labyrinth. The place is HUGE but is all dissected into seperate rooms, one brandishing an old Bar, another the "smoking room", and the one I chose was full of windows overlooking the city.
Tonkotsu Ramen, cold coke.
The chefs watched eagerly from the kitchen as I took my first sip. Hmmm... incredibly rich, with a slightly fishy aftertaste. It was decent, but no better or worse than many before it. The troubling thing was the manner in which 0.5cm lumps of white fat were floating on the surface like icebergs ready to sink the titanic. I tried to spoon them to the side and tried the egg. Marinated, cooked well, but far too sweet for my taste. The pork also was slightly disappointing, it wasn't super tender at all and was cut too thick. I added some togarashi hoping to cut the fatty taste a little, but it was pointless. The noodles were perfect ramen noodles. The soup tasted good, but it was literally like eating a stick of butter or duck fat. I only managed 1/3 before I had to throw in the towel or face a re-run of Tatsunoya where we both had to down miniature bottles of Aquavit just to keep the broth down.
I understand completely why this is super popular with Japanese people because in Japan every time we were recommended a place it turned out to be incredibly fatty or "heavy" taste. The only exception was when the 63 year old owner of JBS recommended the old school shoyu place Kiraku, which has forever remained the first stop I will ever go to in Tokyo after I land. Epic depth of flavour but no swimming pool of fat on top. Of course its a different style, but Kiraku, Danbo and plenty others manage to create immense depth of flavour and umami out of their Tonkotsu stock without it being sickly overwhelming.
Sometimes the hunt for perfection takes a sudden turn and spurs you headlong into an out-of-body experience, where life flashes before your eyes, memories of loved ones flood your sight-field, and a deep welling erupts from within at the first sip of broth.
Today was one of those days.
A literal hour spent in heavy traffic, driver blasting Ed Sheeran, finally arrive at the ramen spot and my heart sinks, there is a huge line. I hobble to the front and ask the server if I can just sit at the counter, since there are spaces for solo revellers. They go "Oh yes of course". I rush in, enormously relieved to turn my back on the screaming kids behind me, order the special Tonkotsu adding some bean sprouts..
After what felt like an eternity, the steaming bowl is placed before me and I knew instantly that this would be a winner. I took my first sip. BOOOOM! This is exactly what i'm talking about, rich, umami bomb of flavour, but not swimming in grease or fatback. Ironically enough, the place was rammed to the rafters with Japanese ex-pats too so I guess everyone appreciates a break from the gut-pummelling broths of other places here.
Noodles full of texture, chashu pork that filtered into oblivion at the mere touch, egg cooked to perfection and marinated in the exact way I like it, and the broth.. that deep, unctuous, divine broth that never got sickly or overpowering down to the last drop.
10/10 TAKE A BOW
The last time I was in Jakarta was in 2001 after an insane cockroach-infested 28 hour ferry ride from Singapore. The city was flooded, and we just headed for Jalan Jaksa like every clueless backpacker and left 2 days later on the train to Surabaya. I hadn't given Jakarta a real chance. Well, now was the time.
I headed to Mondo Bar and within 5 minutes a severely inebriated Japanese man came over introducing himself and offering me Sake! I gladly obliged, and sat with him for a few minutes chatting. He had lived in Jakarta for 15 years and immediately asked me if I liked Ramen. Well, yes.
Chicken broth Ramen: Seirock!! OISHI!
I woke up a tad worse for wear, and grabbed a Go Jek motorbike and rode 20 minutes through swarming traffic and the cough of exhausts. He dropped me off right outside the restaurant which boasted a huge NO PORK RAMEN sign outdoors to assure the Muslims. The ground floor was completely packed, and the sweat started appearing at the thought of having to share a table. The waitress came over and motioned for the 2nd floor... Hallelujah! Almost nobody upstairs, so I could find a distant table on which to focus my attention. I had heard good things about their Shio Ramen so I opted for that as an introduction. It came surprisingly fast along with a cold coke to mend the discrepancies of last nights enthusiasm.
This was a good bowl of ramen, in fact, it was a great bowl of ramen. There's only one problem. It was totally authentic, made for the Japanese palate, and not for westerners. This is a good thing, of course, but one thing that stumps me always in Japan is when the soup is too "thick", "heavy", "rich". Its literally like drinking gravy out of a saucepan, something that could be delicious for a couple of mouthfuls and then begins to tire you completely and cause your system to shut down.
I can't fault them for the execution, it's literally just down to what you're used to, or grown up with. Some things you can adapt to over time, for sure, but some things are just a stretch too far (like stinky tofu in Taipei).
Noodle-wise, they were excellent. Chewy and textured. The brown meat of the chicken was superb, really flavoursome. The white meat was rather dry and tough, much like the chicken in the fridge the second day of Christmas. The egg was nicely seasoned but slightly overdone for my taste. The broth was unctuous and rich, but incredibly fatty, so much so that your entire mouth was coated with it long after.
Thank goodness not all Ramen shops follow the "Heavy-Taste" ethos, so the rest of us can escape after our meals without having to lie down and drink gallons of Aquavit to cut through the curdling oils and fatback pieces. Each to their own
Authenticity of local food always throws up a lot of arguments.
- Is it palatable for the western taste.
- Should they alter their food to make it more accessible?
In Ho Chi Minh, there is a small enclave predominantly made for the huge Japanese ex-pat and business community that frequent the area. For this reason, the food they make here is 100% in keeping with what Japanese people like, and they are not watering it down to appeal to a few curious tourists. Having spent a lot of time in Japan, and eaten a lot of bowls of ramen this can be both good news and bad (for me). Good in the sense that I like a lot of what the Japanese find palatable, but also, they definitely have a tendency to like things "Rich", "Fatty", "Oily", "Heavy-taste", which can translate as being "I think i'm going to be sick after half a bowl". This is one of those establishments.
Before I ordered, the waitress gave me a card in English saying "This soup is for Japan taste, so maybe foreign think it too salt or rich". Well, I took my chance, and the problems were not the saltiness of the broth (even tho it was intensely salty, well, I did order the Shio-Tonkotsu knowingly), but the fact that it had very little other characteristics other than salt. It lacked the depth, the umami, of other great Ramens in the same area (Tomidaya + Danbo are both exceptional). The egg was a shade under so it still had "snotty-white parts" but tasted good, the noodles were bog standard, the pork was chewier than I like but fairly decent, and the wood-ear mushrooms were much more "toothsome" than i've experienced anywhere before. All in all it was an experience, and a place I am glad I tried, but won't be going back to because regardless of whether the textures or tastes were not to "our" palate, there also is the fact about good or bad TASTING food. This was not great.
I told myself that if I went out and got slightly badgered on Friday night I would wake up Saturday afternoon, walk the 600 meters to Biwako, and allow the healing powers of Ramen to enter my system.
I followed the plan despite all obstacles, including intense rain and no umbrella. Found the place, was greeting by two lovely waitresses and an old sleeping Japanese man in the corner. Got my seat, ordered a Miso Ramen with pork and egg, and a Kirin.
To review this ramen would be easier by breaking it down into distinct categories:
THE BROTH: Average, lacking any sort of umami, no depth, no real re-spoonable taste.
THE NOODLES: Possibly some of the worst ramen noodles i've had since Sapporo in Oslo. I order mine HARD in Japan, but these had the texture of raw noodles or noodles cooked in lukewarm water.
THE PORK: Extremely salty, decent texture and flavour apart from the saline overload.
THE EGG: Utterly forgettable. Overcooked, half the yoke was missing, no marinade.
THE TOPPINGS: Dead, soggy spinach? Strange, and very overpowering intense spring onion, far more acrid than anything I had in Japan or elsewhere to be honest.
4/10 (Because the service was good and the pork, although salty, gave it an extra point)
A collection of short blog posts about my daily bowls.