[编辑 Editor 吕大人 英译 Translator 刘大人 摄影 Photographer 刘大人]
Few dishes are supposedly simpler than ramen. Originated in China, this soul food staple is little more than a bowl of soup noodles with toppings. To us, ramen also arouses intense passions, and noodle fans worldwide have debated endlessly on social media and food discussion boards about the merits of different restaurants and it’s infinite cooking styles.
1991年，在日本兵库县姬路市一家仅9坪的店铺前，200人耐心在门外候着，就只为了享用一碗让人幸福的美味。在38年后的今天，从关西起家至今已在日本全国拥有34家直营店的希望轩，依旧坚持守护这信念 － 手作每碗「让大家展露笑脸的面」。
而这家位于新山永旺地不佬广场二楼的希望轩 Tokyo Kibou-ken，为品牌旗下首家海外连锁店，自2017年3月开张后就连庄成为日本村拉面巷子里的门面担当，「话说两年前，大人有回与友人途经日本村时，面对着眼前数家毫不熟悉的拉面店时，神使鬼差地居然就走入了位居尽头的那一家。」或许是上天眷顾爱食之人，喝过希望轩的汤，尝过希望轩的面，就好像签下了不离不弃的终身契约。
When we mention ramen in Johor Bahru to any Japanese and local foodies, Tokyo Kibou-ken is the first place that comes to mind. Started in 1991 as a small restaurant of about 30 m² in Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture, Kibou-ken have had queues of over 200 people waited in line to enter this legendary restaurant.
A Japanese franchise with 34 outlets in Japan and this being the chain’s first overseas outlet, it again speaks volume about Johor’s growing F&B scene that Kibou-ken has chosen JB to enter the Malaysia market. Located within AEON Mall Tebrau City, its first store, one of half dozen ramen shops inside the Ramen Street on level 2, has received very positive feedback since opening its doors on March 2017.
A true labour of love
在日本，希望轩各店铺皆拥有「上汤师」负责调制面汤，仅有受过特别培训并考试合格者才能胜任特有资格称号。「每天到店的第一件事，就是确保汤汁的味道与每一个昨日雷同，稳定度相当重要。」来自大阪的赤松先生 (Tomo-San) ，正是新山希望轩的主理人，从日本总部迁居至新山多年后，每日风雨不改到店试味，就为了让迢遥而来的饕客们，享一碗幸福的滋味。
To the serious ramen eater like us, one quality is prized above almost any other. The hardest thing to achieve is consistency. Almost anyone can make a good bowl of ramen, but it’s an entirely different matter to reach the same quality, day-in and day-out. The challenge of maintaining flavour and textures can make or break a restaurant.
Enter Tomo-san, a native from Osaka and a certified “Soup Sommelier” (or Shantan-shi in Japanese), awarded only to those who pass a series of strict examination. Only qualified Shantan-shi can be in charge of Kibou-ken’s soup to bring out the optimal flavour, and this is why this ramen speciality shop keeps their standard so high.
While some overseas establishments who tweak their recipes for our Malaysian tastebuds, Kibou-ken lauds itself for serving ramen prepared according to its staunch no-MSG policy, fastidious in-house cooking strictures, flavour ethos and ingredients, even to the boiling point and selection of water (gasp)! Back in Japan, Kibou-ken’s broth and noodles are made exclusively with “soft water”, which many Japanese believe is the best choice for ramen soups. Due to its low levels of inorganic salts, soft water will effectively bring out the umami components, providing intense flavours and aromas. Soup made with soft water is also milder and smoother to the palate.
Supposedly the best ramen in town, Kibou-ken‘s reputation has spread near and far, from neighbouring Singapore to Segamat, where one of our hardcore fans regularly braved the two-hour drive every two weeks just to savour its taste. Despite its modest capacity of maximum 43 seats, Tomo-san is adamant about keeping everyone happy even at its peak, so feel free to make a pre-order in advance while shopping to your heart’s content, before returning “on time” to be seated and served!
As with many noodle soup dishes, ramen should be eaten in the first ten minutes of when it’s made, and piping hot is best. In Japan, whoever comes in would drain a bowl in 10-15 minutes. On the other hand, over 30 for a bowl of ramen is a little bit overboard, even if it goes against our instincts to eat slowly, count our bites, or be mindful about what’s going in our mouth. To partake, we have to resist the convenience of home delivery or takeaway, and our reward is this piping hot bowl, made freshly for us. When we are done, bask in the glory of our ramen coma and savour the lingering aftertaste, but be mindful of others who may be waiting for a seat to open up so they too can enjoy the ramen fix we just had.
The soul of ramen is in the broth
「每一家拉面店都会精心制作专属不外传的自家口味，紧锁饕客的心胃。」而不同粗细度的拉面则用以搭配不同的汤底，细面条衬豚骨汤与味噌汤最优；粗面条搭酱油汤底与盐味汤底最合拍。大人在翻阅餐谱时发现，饕客们亦可选择面条的软硬度，从 Super Hard 至 Soft 的五度之选，大和民族倾向偏硬的口感，而本地饕客则喜偏软，「Super Hard 的面条大约在汤里烫了25秒；Very Hard 需30秒； Hard 为40秒；Normal 用了50秒；最软的 Soft 则需时1分钟。」连面条口感皆精准以秒计，大人心想待会儿拉面上桌时，可得赶紧饮一口灵魂汤汁，接着再举筷吃面，千万别辜负厨师们蕴含的匠心，稍候片刻可就吃不着最佳口感了。
We wouldn’t necessarily call ourselves a soup person, but we found our craving for the liquid gold that comes in the form of slurp-worthy broth when it comes to ramen. Kibou-ken also offers two kinds of noodles: one thin and soft, for the standard ramen soup (tonkotsu and miso); the other thick and wheaty for the more savoury shoyu (soy sauce based) or shio (salt-based). And the best part? We get to choose our noodles firmness, from soft (60 seconds), normal (50 seconds), hard (40 seconds), very hard (30 seconds) to super hard (25 seconds). For our upcoming ramen dishes, we opt for “super hard” noodles that had a snappy firm texture which made it very enjoyable to slurp.
「记得大声得啜食每一口拉面，那可是对料理人极大的肯定啊！」大人深怕会错意，立即向在旁的日籍友人芳子询问是否享用任何料理都以此声响为标准，「只有在品尝 Soba, Udon & Ramen 时才会大声啜食。」看官们下回记得给料理人一个最实际的鼓励吧！
Also, be sure to slurp the noodles loudly to send your compliments to the chef. Pretty obnoxious elsewhere, but it is totally acceptable and a sign that we are enjoying our bowl of ramen. Indeed, slurping is so integral to ramen that most Japanese will think there’s something strange if they see people eating in silence.
Tonkotsu Ajitama Ramen
源自九州的猪骨拉面绝对是希望轩里的人气之选。这碗溏心蛋猪骨汤拉面 (Tonkotsu Ajitama Ramen, RM29.30) 的汤底乃以猪鸡骨合熬长达10小时之久，乳白色的浓郁汤头满是胶原蛋白，搭着大人点选的特硬口感细面，与入口即化的特色叉烧、溏心蛋、葱花、木耳丝等相聚一堂，「绝对经得起考验的汤头，嘴里竟有庆团圆的融洽氛围。」
Of course, our first bowl of ramen had to be the Original Tonkotsu Ajitama Ramen. The rich, creamy and very satisfying broth was cooked for more than 10 hours over high heat and constant stirring. The ajitama (seasoned ramen egg) was spot on as well, with the sweet marinade permeating the entire egg while the yolk had a nice gooey, lava-like consistency. Combine with tender char siew slices, black fungus and scallions that infused the broth with a pleasantly faint aftertaste as well, overall, an excellent rendition of tonkotsu.
Tonkotsu Chashu Ramen
叉烧猪骨汤拉面 (Tonkotsu Chashu Ramen, RM36.30) 即是当初让大人一见钟情的那一味，温和醇厚的汤头，与片片薄切的特色软濡叉烧绕场一周，4小时的精工细作极尽诱惑着咱的视线，此刻贪心无罪，吃不完才是罪过啊！
The carnivore in us was super satisfied with this bowl, as the Tonkotsu Chashu Ramen was surrounded by a generous portion of chashu that consist of lip-smacking goodness! Using leaner cuts to balance out the rich fattiness of the belly chashu in a perfect ratio of fat to lean meat, the pork was fork-tender, having been braised long and slow for 4 hours, elevating the dish instead of overpowering it.
PIRIKA Miso Ramen
辣味噌拉面 (PIRIKA Miso Ramen, RM27.80) 以味噌、鸡肉与芝麻所熬制的汤头原是发祥於北海道，「日本的四大拉面汤系果真各具地方特色，平日鲜少尝试的辣味噌汤，层次多元的口味偏厚重，颇似四川担担面与酸辣汤的影子。」
When our bowl of PIRIKA Miso Ramen was served, we noticed little globs of fat floating around the surface of the soup. They add a ton of flavour, so please don’t scoop them out in the name of healthy eating. Topped with chilli oil for spice, seasoned ramen egg and sesame seeds for sweetness, plus thinly sliced chashu for savoriness, we would label this spicy miso version as the best all-rounder in this lot.
盐味拉面 (Shio Ramen, RM26.80) 以四国德岛县的天然盐入味，汤底以鸡骨慢火熬制后清澈滋美，搭配粗面条最是合拍。「盐味拉面里滋味最出彩的配料，莫过于嚼起来脆卜卜的日本笋丝了！ 」RA-MEN MEISTER 果真名不虚传！
大人自认在餐桌上极易感到空虚，薄脆多汁的煎饺子 (Yaki Gyoza, RM9.90)、让芳子一尝就思乡的招牌炒饭 (Chahan, RM9.80) 与外脆内嫩的炸鸡 (Tori No Karaage, RM8.80)，将它们列为希望轩必点的小食三宝，一点也不为过！
As all ramen was originally shio-flavoured, our bowl of Hakodate style Shio Ramen kept the tradition of making ramen soup flavoured with natural sea salt from Shikoku has remained unchanged even as new flavours and styles were introduced all over Japan. Unlike our previous bowls, the lightly-salted version also comes with a few seasoned bamboo shoots for that extra crunch.
While we do not advocate having side dishes that interrupt and slow down the eating of ramen, nor it’s a good option for long conversations, except maybe to share just a few bites with friends while waiting for the ramen bowls. The Yaki Gyoza, Chahan and Tori No Karaage are equally delicious and worthy on its own, without having to play sidekick to their superhero: ramen.
若非这回与日本朋友一起做客，大人还真不晓得原来大和民族在品尝拉面时极少将汤汁饮尽，「如果觉得吃下一碗拉面后仍意犹未尽，我们通常会另点 Kaedama 替え玉（かえだま）放入汤里，一般选择不外乎多一份细面或白饭，与剩余的汤汁拌着吃，既饱足又不浪费那灵魂好汤。」芳子就提及在日本本土的拉面店，一般餐谱选择极为精简，向是叉烧猪骨汤拉面拥趸的她，迁居新山后仍不作二想心牵此味。
Thanks to Yoshiko-san, our travelling Japanese counterpart, we learnt the customary “kaedama’” as we ask for another serve of noodles to go with our leftover broth. Surely one serving isn’t enough! Alternatively, we can also enjoy the broth by adding rice into the leftover soup mixture to make delicious zousui (soupy rice). Ooishii ne!
With the ongoing irresistible promotion where we can get a side dish free of charge when we buy the main course (see above), we need no second invitation. So, if you find yourself at AEON Mall Tebrau City and craving a bowl of actually tasty ramen, you don’t have to travel to Japan to satisfy your craving anymore.
Tokyo Kibou-ken 希望軒
📍 Level 2, Aeon Mall Tebrau City, 1, Jalan Desa Tebrau, Taman Desa Tebrau, 81100 Johor Bahru, Johor
📞 +607-361 5537
🕙 Daily from 10:00am to 10:00pm
💻 Tokyo Kibou-ken Ramen