Written by Chenyze, Photography by Christine Leow
Ramen with a soup base of shoyu, or soy sauce, is quite easily found in Singapore, but black shoyu soup base is still rather rare. The term shoyu sounds alarming, and one would half expect overwhelming saltiness, but Menya Iroha’s rendition turned out to be remarkably pleasant. Addictive, even.
Menya Iroha hails from Tokyo, and was in fact the Champion for Tokyo’s lap for two consecutive years in 2009 and 2010. The menu looks rather confusing for first-timers who do not understand Japanese, but the friendly staff at the stall will take some time to explain.
Menya Iroha specializes in two types of ramen: the black shoyu ramen, and the traditional miso with chilli mara ramen.
Conveniently, the top half of the menu with the black background features black shoyu ramen with different combinations of toppings, and the bottom half of the menu set against a red background features their chilli mara ramen options. So don’t feel intimidated – the many different ramen options is really just a way for you to choose which toppings you prefer with your noodles.
For the purpose of this review, we went with the Negitama Ramen ($13.50). It’s the quintessential kiasu foodie’s choice because it’s got all the toppings: cha shu, bamboo shoots, egg, seaweed, and leek.
The noodles here have been cooked just a trifle past al dente. These curly noodles are yielding without being soggy. With its dark brown hues, it looks and tastes almost as if it had soaked up the goodness of the broth.
It’s hard to get over the ‘shoyu = crazy salty’ stereotype, but we’re honestly quite bowled over (pun happily intended!) by this black shoyu soup base. The black shoyu gives the ramen a rather complex taste. It hints just that teeny bit of garlic, albeit with some sweet, caramelized undertones. The chicken broth gives the ramen a flavourful richness without being cloying. Given the intense colour of the soup, I had expected the soup to be sharp and in-your-face, and yet it proved to be fragrant and delicate enough to finish the whole bowl without feeling like you need to come up for air.
Menya Iroha’s chashu comes in alternating layers of lean meat and soft, comforting fats. This contrasting play of textures may be deliberate – or it might be sheer inconsistency. It is also a tad salty, which is a shame to the elegance of the black shoyu soup. Nonetheless, it is indeed sufficiently decadent and satisfying.
Eggs are such tricky things. We prize that rather elusive achievement of brilliantly golden yolk that is marginally runny with a rim of wobbly egg whites around the yolk. But we know that’s a bit of a highfalutin expectation and truth be told, the egg at Menya Iroha is more than decent. The yolk is a shade more cooked than preferred, but it still retains a luscious creamy texture, and not the least bit powdery. The egg whites are delightfully supple too. The light seasoning for the eggs here was in fact just apt. Most of all, we appreciated the consistent turnout of the eggs over here at Menya Iroha. Some stalls in the competition oscillate a fair bit, and it is depressing to receive overcooked eggs.
Some love bamboo shoots, and some don’t. We happened to enjoy it, and the bamboo shoots here are simultaneously springy and tender. Negi, or leek, is often a hit-or-miss affair; fortunately, the hand-shredded negi at Menya Iroha was crunchy and refreshing without being acrid.
Overall, this was one heck of a black shoyu ramen and it did make converts out of us (from the ramen camp which favours immensely rich chicken/pork broths). And its consistently velvety eggs are a real bonus.
Check out what we have to say about the other stalls:
201 Victoria Street, ILUMA @ BUGIS, #04-08/09/10, Singapore 188607
Mon-Sun: 11.30am – 10.30pm
Tel: 6238 1011