Brandon, Calvin and Gao, the trio at Menbaka, came across a video clip they saw online of their master and were in awe of his fire techniques in the kitchen. It is all about having “an experience of the wok hei guaranteed flavour ramen,” shared Brandon. With an innate desire to share this unconventional wok hei ramen experience with fellow Singaporeans, they went on a hunt to find master Masa-san in Japan.
Cooking the unconventional way: bowls set on fire
Dating back to 1984, Menbaka was founded by Masamichi Miyazawa in Japan, now manned by the second-generation owner, Shin Miyazawa. Fuelled to be distinctive unlike other ramen shops in Japan, Miyazawa decided to try different techniques to boost his business. While heated stones and many other techniques were adopted, his efforts were to no avail. There, he came up with the most unconventional way of cooking – setting his ramen bowls on fire. Hence, the birth of Menbaka.
Wok hei guaranteed flavour ramen that you can’t find elsewhere.
Brandon, Menbaka Singapore franchise owner
Wok hei is all about that charred aroma, boosting depths of flavours. It is metaphorically translated to the “breath of the pan”, where wok is described as a deep-frying pan and hei, the breath. Capturing the art of wok hei is not as simple as it sounds, as it all boils down to hard work and practice. Gao shared, “It’s hard to an extent, not everyone can just come and light the fire easily. You need to practice a lot of times.”
Their road to fire paradise
While being trained in the art of pouring fire would take a trained chef one to two months, the trio at Menbaka only had 20 days to learn the ropes.
“(Our master) was very strict,” shares Calvin, as he recalls the eventful learning experience back in Japan.
During their first two days in Kyoto, Calvin and Brandon were not allowed to touch the fire just of yet as per the master’s orders. Calvin shared, “We helped to serve, clean and wash. (Followed by helping out at) the ramen station to fried rice, to karaage then gyoza.” It is all about taking gradual steps as great things are not done by impulse.
Eventually, on their fourth day, master Masa-san allowed them to start pouring fire in the ramen. As they say, practice does make perfect. To master the art of cooking, Calvin recalled, “During training, we poured about 100 to 200 bowls, and we were sweating all the way.”
The hardest part about it? Withstanding the temperature of the fire which ranged between 300 to 400 degrees celsius. It is all about consistency and setting the fire to the right level which gives Menbaka ramen a unique concentrated flavour and aroma, cooked to the optimum level. While their journey through the land of the rising sun was not easy, their sacrifices paid off.
Menbaka’s burning signatures
Menbaka not only serves authentic Japanese cuisine but provides you with a once in a lifetime, amazing fiery experience. First up, dive into Menbaka signature item, its Shoyu Fire Ramen ($20.05).
But before you do so, watch your ramen burn up in front of your eyes, with Menbaka chefs’ theatrical performance art that will make you go ooh and ahh. House-made negi oil, also known as spring onion infused in oil is heated up to a certain temperature and ignited by the chefs, creating a breathtaking, giant fire that will be poured over your ramen.
This unassuming, piping hot bowl of noodles features a 226-year-old shoyu recipe from Hyogo, specially created for Menbaka’s shoyu fire ramen. Compared to other Japanese eateries, Menbaka use of high-quality shoyu gives you the umami taste and not just the saltiness. Paired alongside its chicken broth, simmered for over 6 hours, the broth provides a nicely flavoured shoyu with a tint of smokiness. Indeed, wok hei ramen is guaranteed.
Next up is Menbaka’s Charcoal Karaage ($11.09 for 5 pieces), a sight to behold. Unlike its charcoal-grilled dark, fiery exterior, Menbaka’s Charcoal Karaage is tame and holds a crispy and savoury bite. Dip them into the flavourful ponzu based sauce which complements the karaage perfectly. It is as unique as it looks.
End of this fiery Menbaka experience with a luscious Hot Matcha Latte. Made using premium Matcha powder from Uji, the matcha latte is fragrant and thick, both the matcha and espresso coming together as a formidable unit. Available as Iced Matcha Latte ($11.09) online.
“It’s not as simple as flying to Japan, learning from a master, and coming back to set up a store of your own,” described Brandon. Mastering the skills needed to create the perfect fire ramen experience “requires a lot of endurance to the heat, perseverance on getting all the things right, on getting all the flavours and notes of the flavours from Japan back to Singapore.”