Mention ramen and a bowl of creamy pork broth with thin, straight noodles, topped with discs of chashu (Japanese braised pork belly roulade) and an ajitama (seasoned egg with a soft yolk) usually comes to mind.
This commonly seen style of ramen, which hails from Hakata in Japan’s Fukuoka Prefecture, is popular for its robust flavour and rich stock. It is by far the most famous style of ramen, characterised by its milky, pure tonkotsu (pork bone) broth. However it might be too rich and greasy for some.
For a more balanced flavour, there’s another type of ramen from Kagoshima Prefecture that might just hit the right spot for you.
Kagoshima-style ramen at Menya Sanji
To the uninitiated, Japanese-owned eatery Menya Sanji Ramen has been serving this lesser-known style of ramen in Orchid Hotel at Tanjong Pagar for seven years.
Last May, it opened another outlet in the basement of Hong Leong Building at Raffles Quay.
Named after the three warriors of the Meiji restoration, Menya Sanji specialises in authentic Kagoshima-style ramen. Pork bones are simmered with vegetables for several hours to create a balanced, yet rich and creamy broth. Collagen-rich chicken stock and a dash of kaeshi (Japanese sauce base) that is made with imported Japanese shoyu are also added to the mix to enhance the taste.
Inspired by a 1972 Kagoshima-style noodle house, the first Menya Sanji was opened in 2006 in Yokohama, Japan. The business prospered and expanded overseas to Taipei in Taiwan in 2011, as well as Guam and Singapore in 2012.
Slurp up a variety of flavours
Try the signature Sanji Ramen ($11.50++), which is topped with chashu, ajitama, bamboo shoots, beansprouts, kikurage (edible crunchy black fungus) and thinly-sliced leeks. This is served with the default medium-thick wheat noodles, but you can opt for thinner noodles reminiscent of Taiwanese vermicelli.
Other popular variants include Black Sesame Ramen, Spicy Ramen, and Rich Tonkotsu Ramen, notes Menya Sanji’s head chef Taku-san in Singapore.
The Black Sesame Ramen ($10.50++) is a delicious delight with the toasty, aromatic notes of black sesame paste and the subtle sweetness of bok choy and leeks, while the Spicy Ramen ($11++) delivers a kick with its special pork broth and homemade chilli oil. The latter may look daunting with its crimson colour, but I find that it’s more fragrant than spicy.
My favourite is the Rich Tonkotsu Ramen ($12.90++), which despite its name, is not as heavy as the usual Hakata-style ramen. To make this delightful bowl, a premium, more robust pork broth is combined with a light chicken stock, followed by a dash of a special Japanese shoyu. There’s no oily mouthfeel, only a pleasant full-bodied umami.
Top up just $3.50++ per ramen to make it a Special — more ingredients such as seaweed, half an ajitama and two slices of chashu will be added to your bowl.
Menya Sanji also has some special menu offerings, and some are created just for Singapore.
The comforting Chicken Broth Ramen ($11.50++), topped with chicken thigh, bok choy, black fungus and ajitama, is simply flavoured with special Japanese sea salt and chock-full of collagen and minerals.
Then try the Sanji Miso Ramen ($11.50++), a blended Kagoshima and Sapporo speciality, which takes a more harmonious approach to the addition of miso than the famous Sapporo-style miso ramen. Served with sweet corn, chashu and spinach, amp up this bowl by adding a free topping of butter, grated cheese, or original spicy sauce to the mix.
As for the Super Spicy Mala Ramen ($11.50++) which was launched in April, beware a good dose of heat from homemade mala (spicy-numbing) minced pork and chilli padi. Don’t underestimate this fiery bowl — just three spoonfuls were enough for me.
And if you prefer your ramen dry, go for the mazesoba (from $10.80++; “maze”, pronounced mah-zay, which means “to mix”). Smooth, al dente and satisfying, it’s like a Japanese-style bak chor mee but without the vinegar.
Sides that matter
Menya Sanji isn’t all about noodles. Its gyoza (Japanese pan-fried dumplings) is popular with diners too — almost a third of patrons order a side of gyoza, notes Chef Taku-san.
The perfect gyoza is juicy within despite being cooked till its bottom turns crispy. To achieve this level of perfection, freshly handmade gyoza are cooked in a special $10,000 machine imported from Japan that can simultaneously steam and fry a batch of it.
Taku-san tells us that the chashu (from $6 for five pieces for a la carte, also available with ramen set meals) is also made in-house. Unlike the usual fattier roast pork slices offered at other ramen shops, Menya Sanji’s tasty chashu is kept lean as many Singaporeans are health conscious. The side dish of deep-fried chicken “karaage” ($3.50++) is also prepared in house.
Love variety? Get a Ramen Set (from $13++), which includes a choice of full-sized ramen paired with a mini rice bowl or a side dish, plus a bowl of fluffy Japanese rice. If you tend to take light meals, consider the Ladies’ Set ($11.50++), which includes a choice of mini ramen, a mini rice bowl or side dish, and a drink.
Free ramen for those born in September
Place a minimum order of one full-priced ramen to redeem a free ramen worth up to $13. The birthday diner can redeem this complimentary bowl of ramen when he or she dines in with friends, colleagues or family. Valid at both Menya Sanji outlets on Sept 9, 10 and 11 from 2.30pm only. Other terms and conditions apply.
Other delicious deals/small bites for the afternoon
- Mini Sanji Ramen at only $6++ from 2.30pm to 5.30pm on weekdays (available at both the Hong Leong Building and Orchid Hotel branches).
- Make a beeline for mochi (traditional Japanese traditional grilled rice cakes) at the Hong Leong Building outlet from 3pm on weekdays and Saturday from 11am to 2.30pm. Choose from savoury Isobe-maki (above left), mochi grilled with butter and shoyu that’s wrapped with seaweed; and sweet Matcha & Anko (above right), mochi filled with red bean paste and dusted with matcha powder.
- Buy two special ramen bowls and get five free gyozas (all-day promotion). Only available at the Hong Leong Building outlet.