Among the numerous popular hawker favorites, char kway teow has a special place in the hearts of many. It is a traditional fried noodle dish whipped up by street hawkers who gathered at the now-demolished Ellenborough Market just across Clarke Quay along Singapore River. The area was also a well known enclave of the early Teochew settlers who knew this place as tsah tsun tau 柴船头, owing to the provision of fuel-related goods like firewood, charcoal and kerosene in this area. At night, some of these hawkers take to the nearby old Thong Chai Medical Institution 同济医院 for the supper crowd who flocked here after a session of tua hee 大戏 aka Chinese wayang opera nearby or a movie produced by Cathay Organisation at Majestic cinema just a short stretch down Eu Tong Sen Road. But as peddling of street food waned in the 1980s as it became outlawed, gone were the days when these illegal hawkers had to scurry and run away from the health inspectors, colloquially known as 地牛 “tee gu“. Together with the establishment of hawker centres around the island, local delights like char kway teow spread to the heartlands and became everyone’s favorite as well.
I used to live along Upper Serangoon Road near the old Lim Tua Tow Market where there was lots of good and cheap hawker food around. Those were the days when our area were the only HDB blocks around and the vicinity was just nothing but a Teochew cemetery. Serangoon Central came later and NEX Shopping Mall didn’t even appear until 20 years had passed. The crocodile farm was still around and Upper Serangoon Shopping Centre was not a ghost town like today. Down my old block there used to be quite a good wanton mee stall, operated single-handedly by a middle-aged lady whom we refer to as the “wanton mee auntie”. Our favorites were her 鳳爪麵 “fung zau meen” with succulently braised chicken feet, that my mother forbade us from enjoying as it was believed that eating chicken feet during one’s pre-pubescent years can result in trembling hands and thus ugly handwriting. We ate nonetheless, secretly buying from the “wanton mee auntie” of course, telling her they were for my mum! So yummy! How to resist!? For us, wanton mee auntie’s 鮮蝦水餃 sin har shuei gau was something special as well. It was a time when 1.50 can get you a bowl of springy egg noodles in yummy soup along with three plump shuei gau and an additional 50 cents can get you two more. Long gone are the days of cheap and affordable hawker food of course, and long gone are the days of authentically cooked hawker food as well…
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There had been an influx of 拉麵店 “ramen ten” opening in Hong Kong over the last couple of years. Some are “imported” like 一蘭 Ichiran while others are practically “homegrown”. Together with other related F&B joints from convenient conveyor sushi delis to haute restaurants offering more elaborated Kaiseki meals, Japanese cuisine has become integrated into the gastronomic landscape of Hong Kong and woven into the social fabric of the daily lives of the people. But way before all this Japanese food craze had begun, there are some restaurants which started way back and have since tamed the palates of the locals which helped to pave the way for those who reached the shores of the “Pearl of the Orient” subsequently. One of these early “settlers” is 橫綱拉麵 Yokozuna Ramen, opening back in 1987. This year marks Yokozuna’s 30th anniversary as the first ramen ten opened by a “ninhonjin” in Hong Kong, so here’s a timely review on them. If you have not been there, read on to find out why you probably should.
Yokozuna Ramen is opened by 山本浩一Yamamoto Koichi, a Japanese who came in search of business opportunities back in 1987, naming it after the highest rank in sumo wrestling, traditionally a national sport in Japan. Nested on 永星里 Wing Sing Lane, a very short side street along the forever busy Nathan Road in Yaumatei, the shop has gradually built a name for itself over the years attracting a steady crowd especially during the lunch and dinner peak hours. Yes we do see slightly shorter queues in recent years, given the wider range of choices available now with many more noodle joints with very similar concepts dotted all over the Kowloon Peninsula as well as on main island, there is usually still a crowd nonetheless so do expect a bit of a waiting time, especially when the small shop can accomodate no more than two dozen diners in it at one go.
We tried the signature, 九州拉麵 Kyushu Ramen whose tonkotsu broth base is most definitely up our alley. The noodles are typical of ramen from that region, Hakata style, i.e. long, thin and straight. They have a nice chew to it, cooked most timely and provided good “slurp” too. Rather generous with the toppings, very classically Hakata style too charsiu, beni shoga, and sesame seeds over poached spinach alongside corn, bamboo shoots, narutomaki and bean sprouts. Very thinly julienned negi leek, a testament to good knifework though I would have preferred it to be lesser “refined”. The broth was decent too, flavourful yet not too overwhelming. A little too “clean” and “healthy” for me though, being almost completely void of the little droplets of oil/rendered lard which one would find floating on a tonkotsu broth but still rather good nonetheless. The slices of char siu were more than just a condiment. Like the broth, the char siu is what constitute the soul of a bowl of good ramen. The char siu we had that day was very good. Wonderful ratio of meat and fat, very well braised to almost fork tender yet still able to retain their shape.
Then we tried their 味玉拉麵, also tonkotsu based with a smaller spread of toppings but makes up for it with a generous amount of char siu chunks and of course the beautifully made 味玉子 ajitsuke tamago which lends this bowl of ramen its name. The char siu chunks had considerably more bite compared to the sliced version in the earlier bowl. Also they tasted a tad more “smokey” probably from a brief “aburi” treatment given which was a nice touch. The broth is slightly more satisfying than the first bowl though, with more dimension from, yes you’d guessed it, the oil!
While the char siu chunks were very good, the stars of the bowl for us were clearly the egg halves. This ajitsuke tamago was probably the best we had eaten so far in all our ramen eating days, putting some of the others, even those we’d had in Japan to shame. The yolk was runny just the way we’d loved it and golden like a brilliant sunset. The white was firm yet wobbly at the same time, delightfully flavoured from the overnight steeping in the shoyu based marinade. In short, it was perfect, or perhaps a little more than perfect.
I’d ordered a unadon as well to share. The rice was slightly softer and a tad mushy than what I would have liked though I absolutely loved the thinly sliced omelette which obviously had a higher yolk to white ratio from the gorgeous golden hues it carries. The chunks of unagi was decent but not quite stellar. Most definitely frozen and imported rather as with most and not “kabayaki-ed” in situ but it costed only a fraction of what one would have to pay in a proper unadon ten. Only an additional HKD22, as a tag on to our bowl of ramen as a lunch set deal to be exact. What was more important to me was their devotion to details, as with that small sprig of 木の芽 kinome which seemed no more than an embellishment, not unlike curly parsley to most, was really what brought this seemingly ordinary bowl of unagi rice to possibly the next level. Kinome is the young shoot of the 山椒 sansho i.e. Japanese pepper plant. It sprouts as the days get warmer in spring, timely so as it was when we’d visited. I broke off the leaves from the stem, crushed them slightly by rubbing them between my fingertips and ate them together with the rice and grilled eel, to which those few leaves lend their unique aroma and flavours which helped set this dining experience at Yokozuna apart from my other unadon episodes, making it all the more memorable.
In summary, we’d enjoyed our dining experience at 橫綱拉麵 Yokozuna Ramen. Their ramen ain’t the best we’d tried but we loved the display of effort and attention to details to make things more pleasurable. The shop wasn’t that crowded when we went so do take it from us and try to avoid the meal peak hours when you visit.
橫綱拉麵 Yokozuna Ramen
G/F, Yun Kai Building, 466-472 Nathan Road, Yau Ma Tei
（5 min walk from exit D of Yaumatei MTR station)
12 am to 11 pm, Mon to Sun
My pot of keng hua has been sending out blooms again. Around half a dozen around Valentine’s and now just barely two weeks later, 13 blooms, the same number when I got it last August. Friends said this is probably the best 12 bucks I’d ever gonna spend and I cannot disagree. Anyway, I’m making a sweet broth dessert again with these latest blooms and I’d changed the recipe slightly compared to the previous one. There isn’t really a fixed recipe for this. You can just cook with whatever combination of ingredients use in both versions and I’m sure they would taste delicious nonetheless! Read the rest of this page »
While many bloggers strive to continually blog on new recipes, sometimes rolling out dishes which they’d tried only on the first attempt, I find myself constantly revisiting my old recipes in hope to find ways to refine them, be it to suggest alternatives for ingredients, or perhaps to streamline the workflow of the recipe to make things work better. Just yesterday, I revisited a dish which I’d cooked many times over the course of the last few years. It is definitely one of my all-time favorites，柱侯蘿蔔焖牛腩 Braised Beef and Radish in Chu Hou Sauce…
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You know when you’d tried a certain dish at a new joint, and after that tell yourself that the “gastrorgasmic” experience you’d gone through had just breached the boundaries of what you’d think was the best rendition that could possibly exist out there for that particular dish, hitting all the right spots, making you nod your head periodically, albeit uncontrollably as you close your eyes in attempt to shut off the other senses so as to concentrate on extracting every ounce of gastronomic pleasure from each bite, smiling to yourself without even knowing you are smiling, only to be overwhelmed by that oddly tingling sense of sadness that creeps in as you partake that last mouthful or slurp, savouring every bit of lingering morsel in the mouth, or waft of aroma in the air, bittersweet as you can’t help but let out a sigh of contentment and gratitude for the experience, interspersed with hopeful yearning for the next episode. Sounding both phenomenal and incredible at the same time while wondering how could that be even mortally possible. Well you could be if you live a life to eat. We’d experienced that before, on several occasions in fact, most notably with Mutekiya Ramen when we first visited a couple of years back and also my first personal encounter with Sugino’s mousse creations, and most recently, 金子半之助天丼 Kaneko Hannosuke Tendon.
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Being more or less creatures of habit by now, we often set aside time to revisit some of our favorite places whenever we are in Tokyo. That said, we also try to make it a point to try out some new joints which we had not been to before, especially for foods we love. 凪 ゴールデン Nagi Golden Gai Ramen is our latest venture down the alley of sampling ramens from all over Tokyo and the experience here was quite an eye-opener to say the least!
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