Photo: The Straits Times/ Alphonsus Chern
Get ready to slurp up ramen on the go, as Ippudo launches its first Kuro-Obi takeaway concept in Asia at Marina Bay Sands today.
The quick-service counter is located next to the new 90-seat Ippudo outlet beside the Rasapura Masters food court and skating rink.
Kuro-Obi, which means “black belt”, opened in New York two years ago and now has two outlets there. Mr Yota Shiiba, 29, deputy general manager of Ippudo Singapore, says Singapore was picked to launch its concept in Asia because it is a popular destination for business and leisure travellers.
The menu here focuses on tori paitan, unlike in New York, where Kuro-Obi’s soup base is a mix of pork and chicken. Tori means “chicken” and paitan, which means “white soup”, refers to a thick and creamy soup.
Mr Shiiba notes that chicken- based ramen has become popular and ramen chefs have become creative with their offerings. “Ramen has no guidelines,” he says, “As long as there are soup and noodles, you can create anything.”
Kuro-Obi’s version is cooked for six hours using chicken bones and meat and topped with tender chicken chashu, chopped onions, egg and seaweed.
The noodles are thicker and shorter in length than the usual thin and long noodles at Ippudo and are made with tapioca flour, among other ingredients, to ensure that they do not get soggy or lose their bite within a short time.
Mr Shiiba, who has been with the company for seven years and handles overseas openings, says: “The soup for the tori paitan is more oily compared with the usual tonkotsu. The layer of oil helps to keep the soup hot and the thicker noodles ensure that they do not overcook.”
For takeaway, the soup and ingredients can be packed separately.
The signature Kuro-Obi is priced at $12, while its spicy version, Aka-Obi, costs $10. Cha-Obi ($9) comes in a clear vegetable and shoyu broth, topped with vegetables.
Side dishes include takoyaki ($5 for four pieces, $8 for eight) and chicken karaage ($5 for three pieces, $8 for five).
Kuro-Obi is not the first takeaway concept here by the brand, but the quick-service Ippudo Express – which serves ramen and rice bowls – has a different menu.
Ippudo was founded in Hakata in 1985 and its first outlet in Singapore at Mandarin Gallery opened in 2009. Ippudo at Marina Bay Sands marks it ninth store and its 10th restaurant is slated to open at the new Tanjong Pagar Centre by March.
Mr Shiiba admits that the opening of Michelin-starred Tsuta Ramen at Pacific Plaza has affected the business of its Shaw Centre branch across the road.
But he says: “Tsuta may be our rival, but we are all selling ramen. We have to learn from each other and improve.”
The Ippudo brand has expanded greatly over the years and now has 63 Ippudo outlets outside of Japan in various locations such as Paris, Hong Kong, China, Sydney, Thailand and the Philippines.
In Japan alone, there are 119 outlets and counting.
There are also udon, soba and bakery concepts under Ippudo’s parent company Chikaranomoto Holdings – all of which are located in Japan.
Mr Shiiba does not rule out bringing them to Singapore.
He says: “Since opening Ippudo in Singapore eight years ago, the ramen market has been expanding continually and I feel the expectation is rising rapidly too.
“It is not just about improving our product, but also our hospitality and service.”
The original version of this story was published in The Straits Times on Jan 12, 2017.
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