February 29, 2012

Hokkaido Ramen Santouka, Tokyo Street@ Pavilion KL: Where Slurping is a Requirement!

A Ménage à trois with Ramen and Komi Tamago!

Another new found Japanese cuisine has found its way into Malaysia and its here to stay! Ramen is the essence of noodles in Japanese cuisine and although many have tried to impersonate true authentic Japanese Ramen, only minimal restaurants have succeeded in my opinion in Malaysia.  Ramen has a history tracing back to the Chinese origin but it was not apparent when it was introduced to Japan. To read up about ramen, check out Wikipedia here.

When Hokkaido Ramen Santouka first open at Tokyo Street in Pavilion Kuala Lumpur, news spread like wild fire and everyone braved their way to the city and join in the queue for a taste of authentic Japanese ramen! Raved reviews followed pursuit, hence it was only a matter of time I joined the crowd to see what the rave was about.

What started as a little ramen shop with only one type of ramen in Hokkaido is now being savored worldwide! I actually had this meal a few months back and never found the opportunity to post this. Upon arrival, I notice how cozy the whole ambience was with its light khaki walls and dark wood and hints of navy blue as contrast. A huge Japanese motif chandelier seeks attention while a glimpse of the kitchen is previewed in the background. Wait staffs shouts out greetings as a token of welcome and bids you farewell after the meal added the traditional Japanese culture to the restaurant. Service was fast and efficient and this is a good sign as the restaurant was bustling with diners and its long queue of customers waiting patiently outside. I had to wait about 15 mins before I was seated and I was there bright and early on a Sunday morning.

While I was waiting outside, I checked out the Japanese infamous display of the restaurant’s dishes portrayed through the art of Japanese plastic food or Sampuru. The plastic food display is a niche market from Japan and each model is crafted to replicate the exact appearance of the dish. I heard from a Japanese restaurant owner that these cost a bomb (more than RM100 each piece at minimum) as every model is custom-tailored made!   

Orders locked and arrive a few minutes later showed service was once again efficient! Since I was out to savor the best, I ordered the house specialty of Tokusen Toroniku Ramen (RM36 – regular). Limited quantity serving per day due to the supply of the premium pork cheeks, it was a no-brainer to order this since I was early that morning!

The meat on the pork cheeks is worshipped by the Japanese to have the most tender and flavorful meat and thus, is considered worthy to be savored with the mighty ramen. Each hog is only said to have about 200 to 300gm of this precious meat. The slices of the meat were braised in an aromatic shoyu sauce, lending a deep and earthy aroma to the meat. Tender and fairly moist, the meat had a texture equivalent to the tenderloin but had more flavors. Served on the side with shredded black wood fungus, bamboo shoots, leeks, fish cake and a rosy plum, one was to tip the whole accompaniments to the noodles to your likings!

I wanted the original flavor of the ramen that made Santouka infamous, so I had the choice of Shio Ramen or Salt Ramen. The broth amped up with a porky essence was boiled for more than 20 hours according to the restaurant’s proclamation and exuded a lustrous and silky appearance. A sip of the luxurious broth will tingle your senses of an ultra rich, luscious and almost creamy broth. I could identify the salt as the main star of the broth. Yes, a tad salty but it does show off the brilliance of the broth to its max!

The ramen noodles were equally at par with the fabulous broth. Medium thick, the ramen had a medium bouncy texture and was able to soaked up the flavors of the broth without getting soggy or mushy. I do have to say that fresh ramen tasted more robust than those instant ones and is another plus point for Santouka on why their ramen is so worship by many!

The second order was a Small Shoyu Ramen & Char Siu Rice Set (RM33) featuring a small bowl of Shoyu Ramen, a small bowl of Char Siu Rice, the ever popular Chawan Mushi, salad and pickles. It was a joyous sight to behold as variety is the spice of life!

The Shoyu Ramen had the same noodles but with different topping and broth base. Topped with two slices of medium thick char siu, seaweed, bamboo shoot, fish cake and leeks, the combination was a perfected noodle! The shoyu broth had the distinctive taste of shoyu and was another luscious broth in its own category. Equally creamy and ‘thick’, the broth was also a tad salty for my taste. Don’t get me wrong, apparently this is how it should taste according to a Japanese food connoisseur who I had the opportunity to dine with in another ramen outlet overseas a few years back when I had my first taste of authentic ramen.

Char Siu Rice faired mediocre. Simply the same cut up pieces of braised char siu topping white rice. A bit dry since there was no sauce on it. I do like the simple corn salad and the Chawan Mushi was quite perfect with its smooth and egg flavors.

The pièce de résistance of the meal was a stellar snack in the form of Komi Tamago (RM2 each). It never fails to amaze me that the simplest thing in life, in this case an egg, is ultimately the pleasure on my palate! Served cold, the egg was soaked in a dark sauce to taint its egg white to a light brown while the golden yolk remains a thick luscious gold liquid. Popping half the egg in the mouth is highly recommended for that opulent sensation of a firm and silky texture in the mouth!! My partner had to stop me from ordering a few more of these sumptuous eggs… J

Being the gluttons we portray, we had to add in an order of Chicken Gyoza (RM10), simply because we saw almost every table had one!

Condiments were placed immediately on our table and the wait staff politely informed us to mix a little of shoyu, vinegar and chili oil together for the dipping sauce.

Five fragile looking pieces of Gyoza were neatly arranged in a row and sear to a crisp on its base. Minced chicken and bits of vegetables were detected but this one was a letdown for me as it was a bit too mushy in texture and flavors. The overall was just forgettable in my opinion.

Nothing could deter me from planning my next visit for these dishes coming soon.

I finally understood the rave reviews and I have to join the crowd to say that this is the Best Ramen I have had so far in Malaysia! Santouka certainly lives up to its promise of an authentic ramen in luxurious broths. The Komi Tamago was phenomenal and stole the show for me. As premium quality is obvious, price is also on the higher end for the bowl of noodles. I felt very comfortable at paying the price as the dishes were deemed worthy in every sense. Santouka may not be a daily affair for me but it definitely warrants a medal for making my day that Sunday!

Ramen ga daisuku desu!! J

Hokkaido Ramen Santouka

Lot 6.24.03 Level6 Pavilion KL
168 Jalan Bukit Bintang
55100 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 603 2143 8878
Business Hour: 11am to 10pm daily

February 27, 2012

Kah Hing Restaurant and Fan Cam Mei Restaurant, Kepong: Killing Two Birds with One Stone!

Not a new Discovery but definitely something Worth a Try if you like Vietnamese!

I have patron both restaurants quite a few times and suddenly it clicked on why I kept going back! Kah Hing Restaurant and Fan Cam Mei Restaurant has been serving street fare next to each other for a few years and these two restaurants does a really brisk business each day to cater to its loads of noodle lovers like me! Simply home-style fares served in no-frill ambience, so just enjoy their specialties for what it is… J

Kah Hing Restaurant

Kah Hing Restaurant serves home-style Vietnamese fare and is also managed by a group of Vietnamese locals. What is truly magnetizing is that Kah Hing serves Pork! Menu is limited to noodles and some snacks but I felt that it is quite sufficient as you only need a few great dishes instead of a whole lot of average dishes.

For Kah Hing, Vietnamese Coffee (RM3.00) is a must! A coffee Not for the faint-hearted, take this black or with milk, hot or cold. Vietnamese uses a small metal coffee press that allows the coffee to drip slowly into a cup to produce jolts of caffeine enough to compete with the Italian espresso! Vietnamese coffee, known as Ca phe da or Ca phe sua da, is super strong or ‘kao’ with dark and deep aroma and the milk version is really sweet with strong bitterness.

Strong, milky, sweet, bitter and bursting with a caramel aroma, I loved my Ca phe sua da icy cold! Black or White? You decide… J

Vietnamese Springroll (RM4.50) is served as authentic as it can be with crispy rice paper enveloping minced meat and chopped vegetables. Dip these babies into the pungent garlic, chili and fish sauce dip for extra oomph!!

Braised Pig Stomach and Ear (RM7.00) anyone? Spare part lovers, this one is braised in soy sauce and spices till fragrant and tender. I love the stomach more than the ear. The dish screams for beer!

Hoggers would be please to know that Braised Trotter (RM8.00) served ala Vietnamese is also available at Kah Hing. Chunks of fatty trotters are braised in a soy sauce to produce a savory and slightly sweet flavors. One can have this simple ala carte or with rice and noodles. The braised egg rounds up the dish… yum!

Lemongrass Free Range Chicken (RM6.00) features another braised dish of chicken spiced up loads of lemongrass, garlic and chili. Very aromatic in my opinion and the gravy would be glorious on steamy white rice. I polished this one sans the rice.

Noodle lovers, Pork Steak Mee (RM5.00) is a salad of chilled noodles, lettuce,  grilled lean pork steak, roasted peanuts and the distinctive garlic, fish sauce and chili dressing. Mix this up for a combination of savory, sweet, spicy and slightly sour flavors. Love the tender grilled pork and peanut… slurping is a must here!!

Vietnamese medium thick rice noodles are used here together with bean sprout and some herbs for texture and aroma. One can also order rice to go with the pork steak or simply enjoy it on its own.

Prefer soup? Check out Pork Rib Noodle (RM7.00) where pieces of ribs are braised with carrot to lend the porky essences to a slightly sweet and peppery broth. I sense tomato in the background flavor. Although my eating companions thought it was slightly too sweet, I don’t mind it as the flavors are quite unique and truly Vietnamese in nature where combination of all essential flavors are a trademark in the cuisine. Available on Sat or Sunday only.

There is also a Vietnamese Chicken Curry Noodle (RM5.00) where a creamy curry broth laced thin Vietnamese chewy rice noodles and chunks of chicken, bean curd puff and long beans completes the cast. The curry broth was surprisingly not heavy but had a good creamy and lemongrass flavors to it. It was not too spicy for me and I could drink the gravy easily. One slurpi-li-cious curry mee!!

Here’s something else worth mentioning, Kah Hing’s special Lemongrass Chili. Aromatic, spicy and addictive, make sure to ask for this to spice up your meal!

Check out Kah Hing Restaurant for a simple Vietnamese noodle experience. The restaurant is super packed especially on weekends and closes early in the afternoon as soon as they ran out of soup and dishes. Go early if you happen to itch for some Vietnamese caffeine and noodles with hawker price!

Fan Cam Mei Restaurant

Fan Cam Mei’s specialties are fish head and seafood noodles. As the restaurant owners were kind enough to allow customers to order from each other, I decided to order Fish Paste Soup and Dumplings in Soup from Fan Cam Mei Restaurant next door for my child.

Fish Paste in Soup (RM6.50) faired decent. Fish paste is freshly made and has a natural texture compared to those bouncy ones. One can taste the fish flavors so it tends to have a slight fish smell. Basic and decent but nothing to shout about.

Dumplings in Soup (RM5.00) fared slightly better as the dumplings were filled with a good amount of minced meat, carrot, water chestnut and strips of black wood ear fungus. You get a texture of soft, crunchy and a bit bouncy in the overall and flavors are savory and delicious.

My favorite drink at Fan Cam Mei is their Cucumber and Lemon Juice (RM2.80). The flavors are amazing and so refreshing… best of all, superbly healthy and cooling!

The fish head noodles at Fan Cam Mei Restaurant are quite good as the soup is laced with rice wine and creamy with hints of pickled sour vegetables. I don’t have pictures for this but if you are trying to satisfy a few people’s taste bud while getting a taste of Vietnam, you get to kill two birds with one stone here at Sri Sinar, Kepong!

Kah Hing Restaurant & Fan Cam Mei Restaurant
Jalan 6/38D
Taman Sri Sinar
Kepong Baru
52100 Kuala Lumpur
GPS coordinates: 3.1894025, 101.6527605

February 24, 2012

Kakigori, One Utama: Japanese Fluffy Snow Ice to Melt Your Hearts!

Talk about desserts and ice creams, here’s another one to Melt your Heart!

Strolling in the ever popular One Utama shopping mall, one should be overwhelmed at the number of eateries there! My recent visit to One Utama was filled with awed at how much has changed since I was last there a few months back. I was there to meet up with college friend who had just opened Kakigori, a booth selling Japanese flavored shaved ice.

Call me biased but don’t you think the whole booth is adorably blue and cute?

Kakigori is the Japanese word for shaved ice. The flavored ice is frozen at -25c and put through a special shaver to produce an extremely fine textured ice that melts the moment it touches your mouth!

There are 11 natural flavors with a bit of everything to please even the pickiest eater!

Seen here is an uber cute ‘Ms Snow Ice’! I wanna carry this home with me… hehehe

One can choose to dine in or take away. The snow ice has two options with a cup or a fresh and crispy Waffle Shell (additional 50 cents charged for shell). I preferred the waffle shell as it was crispy and so aromatic to munch on!

Here’s a quick look at how the snow ice comes about! The huge block of ice is put to the ice shaver to produce the snow ice and dress with the toppings to complete it… voila!

My personal strategy is to feature these icy sensations in four distinctive series…

Fruity Tutti

Fruit lovers, check out the Strawberry, Mango and Peach flavors. Each one showcased the fruit flavors really well and my pick would have to be the mango since I love that fruit a lot. As they served dried fruit, peach slices, sea coconut and popping yoghurt balls, the texture and flavors was really delicious! Strawberry also faired decent as the flavor and aroma had the natural touch of strawberry with none of those fake essence! I was told that the popular one is actually peach though. Paired with peach sauce, peach slices, yoghurt balls and sea coconut, this one also tasted sweet and fruity.

Citrus Power

For the citrus flavors of Orange, Lemon and Calamansi, the snow ice flavors were really refreshing and sour. With my passion for sour flavors, I had a hard time deciding which one was my favorite. Orange was really fragrant while Lemon and Calamansi really brightened up my taste bud.  Lemon was also fragrant with orange slices, sea coconut, yoghurt balls and a sprinkling of lime zest to jazz up the citrus. Orange was simpler but nevertheless invigorating. What really energized my senses was Calamansi with its sweet orange and sea coconut slices, popping yoghurt balls and the fabulous plum powder! Calamansi is one flavor you have to try if you love sour flavors!!

Dreamy Creamy

The creamy flavors are Milk, Green Tea and Chocolate! Basic-to-basic milk was a bit light on flavors but the toppings of nestum, crushed oreo, chocolate syrup and stick did the trick to boost the milky flavors. Green Tea got a round of approvals as the fragrance of the tea was deep and aromatic while creamy mashed red beans and sunflower seeds provided extra flavors and textures! Ok… who doesn’t like chocolate? The chocolate snow ice was deep with cocoa flavors and is simply irresistible for me… seriously how to resist a mountain of fluffy cocoa with crushed orea, peanuts and chocolate syrup!

Nuts about You!

Peanut-smeanut… I love my Peanuts! Aromatic and nutty, the creamy peanut snow ice was accentuated with almonds (another Nut!! wink), irresistible oreo, healthy nestum and chocolate sticks. If you are a little nutty like me… then get this wacky but scrumptious concoction! Black sesame was another favorite with its earthy and aromatic black sesame fragrance. Another nutty creation of black sesame seeds, peanuts and almonds, this one was also my favorite!

This is one hard decision to make as I found so many lovely flavors that I enjoyed very much that day. The icy sensation was really fluffy and so light that I could savor easily. It’s not my first time having snow ice but I do have to point out that the plus points for Kakigori are the flavors are very tastful compared to other brands that I have tried and the price of RM6.90 with 2 – 4 toppings for all flavors (exclude waffle shells) are deemed very reasonable. (I had one brand that cost RM5.90 with only one topping and it was quite flavorless!) So if you are ever in One Utama and is craving for an icy sweet, do check out Kakigori at lower ground floor old wing!

LGK103A, Lower Ground Floor,
(near to Kenny Roger and Bisou cafe)
1 Utama Shopping Centre,
No 1, Lebuh Bandar Utama,
47800 Petaling Jaya.

*Thanks to Kenny & Annie for the icy sensations!