Bites: Ramen Two Ways, Tonkotsu Kazan Ramen, JEM

Sometimes we see a place so often we can’t recall what it looks like. Sometimes we leave a place so long it seems to have changed dramatically when we return, even if they haven’t. So it is with Chinese Garden. Walking through it with Dad, about ten years after my last visit, and everything is nice – but somehow off. It turns out I’ve been remembering locations and scenery all wrong all this while.

In short, it was nice, but also disorienting. The sort of feeling that makes you want some food that anchors yourself. So it’s a good thing Jurong’s got plenty such places – places like Tonkotsu Kazan.

Tonkotsu Kazan’s schtick is a nice bit of drama – their signature ramen is served in a searing hot stone bowl into which some stock is poured, then a cover like a tagine lid goes on and steam spurts out the top like a kazan (volcano). But that aside, the generous portion sizes make it difficult to review this place alone. It’s a job for two hungry men.

We order two flavours – curry and karamiso (spicy miso) – that turn out to have the same basic ingredients. Broad, slightly flat noodles, plenty of bean sprouts and hard cabbage, and large slabs of chashu, some of which are firm to the point of toughness. But in the roiling steam, everything is nicely tenderised – and some of it even a little charred, to add to the flavour.

But the key to the flavour is still in the soup and tare, or seasoning paste. In the curry bowl, the paste is so thick it turns the soup into a slightly gloopy mixture, which coats everything thickly and evenly. The mix of spices is typically Japanese – rounded, subtle, everything blitzed together into a well-tempered whole.

But this subtlety and mellowness also means it’s not as impactful as the karamiso, which is simpler – but feels deeper and more diverse. The miso’s umami melds with that of the soup, leaving its nutty, lighter notes to stand out – reinforced with a hit of chilli heat.

I do wonder how much the stone bowl’s heat affects the whole ensemble – charring and caramelising everything, even the components of the stock, forcing them to mingle and churn together. Is that the broth’s own sweetness, or is also that of the cabbages and bean sprouts? Does the shredded mozzarella, which melts without a trace in the curry soup, reappear as that faint lingering back-note latched to the curry’s aroma?

But I stop myself before I get disoriented again. Better to just relax, mix some of the (included) rice into the broth, and just let it come together by itself.

 

Tonkotsu Kazan

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