Ah, ramen. Arguably Japan’s most popular export after sushi. It’s loved by people all over the world for both its unparalleled accessibility and straightforward indulgence. It’s hard to find a country that doesn’t have a healthy stable of popular ramen joints and that includes our sunny island as well.
But while Singapore has an infatuation with tonkotsu-style broth since the infancy of the ramen scene here thanks to pioneers like Ippudo and Keisuke, ramen is a highly varied dish with hundreds upon hundreds of styles born of regions all around Japan. One particularly interesting style is the Sapporo style, which Sapporo Nishiyama at Great World brings to our shores with plenty of heart.
Many people have been fawning over Sapporo Misono, the latest in the Keisuke group’s concept but Sapporo Nishiyama is a hidden gem that’s already gotten traction in some circles before the well-received new concept was even opened. Of course, it’s understandable why this particular stall has been under the radar all this while. It finds its home in the food court of the Japanese supermarket Meidi-Ya, away from the general public’s view in the basement.
It may be easy to write Sapporo Nishiyama off as an overpriced food court stall, as just another run-of-the-mill joint that offers middling-to-slightly-above-average quality. But as the overused adage goes: don’t judge a book by its cover.
What I tried
They are the real deal, putting intricate moves every stop of the way to fastidiously cook and present each bowl of their ramen. You can watch it all unravel in the windowed kitchen as you see, and smell, the smoke streaming out of the stove.
A smoke show while making ramen? No, you’re not reading that wrong. One of Sapporo Nishiyama’s signature ramen is actually—quite bewildering—doused in what I can only describe as “wok hei”. The same kind you’d find in a plate of hor fun at a zi char.
Don’t come here without ordering their Miso Butter Corn Ramen (S$19.80)—a weird-sounding combo on paper, but the end result is quite intriguing. In fact, the final product doesn’t really quite taste like what the ingredient list suggests. What goes into this bowl of ramen is actually a healthy serving of vegetables, except they aren’t really all that healthy.
These greens are wok-fried and inundated with a sensual lick of smoke that bleeds into the broth. By itself, the broth already packed a robust umami edge from the miso but there’s a certain chemistry between the smoke, the umami and, the corn’s sweetness that really pieces everything together. Improved by stirring in a dollop of butter, the broth is given a creamy boost and the mouthfeel feels a bit plusher than it was by itself. While the broth is the focal point, Sapporo Nishiyama doesn’t skive off on the remainder of the bowl as well.
Those curly strands of noodles sported that pristine bouncy bite, while the charred vegetables provided a nice crunch as a counterpoint to the carbs. However, as someone who abhors bean sprouts, I found myself digging into an overabundance of bean sprouts nearing the end—quite the painful trawl through the bowl to salvage any strands of treasure.
On the other hand, their Sapporo Gyokai Noko Tsukemen (S$17.80) is another great choice if you’re looking for something with a very different flavour and textural parameters from the Miso Butter Corn Ramen. Tsukemen is a style of ramen that consists of a bowl of dry ramen served with a piping hot bowl of concentrated soup meant for dipping.
Wanting some diversity for our dinner at Sapporo Nishiyama, we went for the Gyokai Noko which is a seafood broth over the Sapporo Miso Tsukemen, and it was the right call. If you’re an avid fan of fragrant bonito notes, the dipping broth has an abundance of it.
While I want to say there’s complexity and balance to the intensity, there’s not—but that’s to its merit. Unlike the multi-layered broth of the Miso Butter Corn Ramen, this was a more straightforward enjoyment that might actually suit the palate of many ramen fans used to the blunt, unadulterated oomph of the popular tonkotsu-style broths.
Through some wizardry, the thick soup actually slicks snugly onto every strand of noodle, which is of a heftier, chewier make than the ones Sapporo Nishiyama used in the soup ramen. Plus, it comes with a good array of ingredients including some delectably crunchy bamboo shoots, which are one of my favourite ramen toppings ever.
In a scene that’s traditionally dominated by tonkotsu-style broth, I wholeheartedly welcome any new additions that buck the trend. While many novel styles of ramen have popped up in recent times, I say we still need more variety especially since travel to lesser travelled areas of Japan is still a faraway option for us.
If you do a quick check through their social media, you’d notice that most of Sapporo Nishiyama’s reviews are written in Japanese—having strong word-of-mouth popularity amongst Japanese expats always bodes well for a ramen joint. After our trip down, we know that’s true—what we got were novel, but authentic flavours such as Miso Butter Corn that will make you cheat on tonkotsu.
Expected damage: From S$17.80 per bowl
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