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SINGAPORE - We love ramen. We'll queue patiently for it and we can't get enough of it. It's official: Singapore adores ramen probably as much as it does bak chor mee, and the number of ramen joints across the island - no less than 50 - is an irrefutable proof of it.
Ramen may be a Japanese dish that has spanned generations, but it only took Singapore by storm in the last decade. The dish had a slow start here in the late 1990s but, by 2005, plenty of ramen shops could be found across the island.
These were mostly middling at best, though Singaporeans didn't seem to mind. We slurped them all up eagerly - while, of course, lamenting the lack of the truly good stuff that many of us had tasted on trips to Japan.
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Those laments must have reached the right ears, for in 2007, Marutama Ramen came to town. The first ramen restaurant to serve an all-chicken broth in Japan, Marutama attracted snaking queues as soon as word got out of its arrival. The lines didn't let up until two years later, when Ippudo - one of Japan's biggest names in ramen - arrived. The hungry hoards quickly decamped to Ippudo's entrance, hidden away in the posh maze that is The Mandarin Gallery.
Not only did Ippudo bring with it a new standard for ramen, it also brought its own ramen factory to uphold the quality of its noodles in this new outpost. Others, like raven-haired Japanese celebrity chef Keisuke Takeda, followed suit in 2010, having persuaded his noodle supplier, Kanenji, to join him in Singapore.
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Besides supporting the restaurants that they had come with, these noodle factories inadvertently helped to elevate the quality of ramen across the island, as other restaurants began buying from them, too.
Today, there is no lack of stellar ramen in Singapore, as purveyors from all over Japan (and others spawned by enthusiastic Singaporean ramen-philes) have set up shop at every turn, serving everything from Kyushu-style tonkotsu (pork-based) ramen with their almost creamy soups, to the more nuanced shio (salt-based) versions made popular in Sapporo.
At Ultimate Ramen Champion in Illuma and Changi Airport Terminal 3, for instance, one can sample bowls from a clutch of stalls deemed as some of Japan's best. These stalls have been battling it out for the past year in the hopes of winning a permanent space at the two locations when the competition culminates this July. However, business has been so brisk, the word is some of the stalls are already considering finding their own secure spaces - whether or not they emerge champion.