Trust Keisuke Takeda to acquaint us with yet another dish in Japan's canon of good food. The lucky 14th jewel in his crown is Champon King, a hop away from his mini empire of tendon and ramen shops in Tanjong Pagar. True to his modus operandi, the self-proclaimed ramen evangelist has reimagined a Japanese favourite through his lens. This time, the object of his creativity is champon, a rustic, comfort Nagasaki speciality dish that’s a little like ramen but a bit rougher around the edges, and with dashes of what appears to be vague Hokkien inflections. Yes, Hokkien. As lore will have it, the noodle dish, loaded with plenty of vegetables like cabbage and a motley crew of seafood and meat slices in a thick pork broth, was first created by a Fujian expat in Nagasaki, Kyushu, in the 1600s, as a way to nourish Chinese scholars studying in the port town.
Apparently, the creamy pork bone soup in champon was also the inspiration for Kyushu’s famed tonkotsu ramen. But please, do not call champon ramen. Nagasaki natives like Hideki Akiyoshi, who handles public relations for the Keisuke group of restaurants, says: "To us folks from Nagasaki, champon is not ramen," he explains. "It's its own dish."
At Champon King, diners are treated to heady wafts of frying garlic when the bowls' ten basic ingredients (cabbage, spinach, Chinese-style fish cake, Japanese kamaboko fish cake, onions, corn, quail's egg, pork belly, black fungus and carrot slices) are sauteed with chewy ramen-style wheat noodles, made with the same ingredients as Keisuke’s other restaurants, but shaped slightly thicker here. They sizzle when doused with an unctuous pork and chicken broth to serve, so you'll find Champon King a little noisier than your average ramen joint.