by Eric Khoo
I have always been intrigued by food and the role that it plays in our lives. As the noted food historian Ben Rogers says, “Food is, after language, the most important bearer of cultural identity”. I feel that what food signifies goes beyond that, it defines who we are and shapes the lives we lead. On top of that, I also think that food is a unifying force. It has the power to bring people together under the most mysterious circumstances. I started work on this project when a producer friend Yutaka Tachibana asked if we could work on something to celebrate 50 years of Japan and Singapore’s diplomatic relations. I felt that food would be a perfect vehicle as both countries are crazy about good food and because there are so many stories about food that have moved me. Hence we started to look into the food of each country that we could incorporate into the story. We settled upon two iconic dishes from each country, Bak Kut Teh and Ramen. Themes such as acceptance, forgiveness and reconciliation appear in the film. I want to celebrate relationships, not only amongst people but also between food and people. It is a reminder that more than just sustenance, food can warm our hearts and feed our souls.
I am excited that Ramen Shop is now opening in theaters throughout North America and thought a little background and a recipe might be fun to accompany your enjoyment of the movie and the food.
Ramen has been traced back to its origins, as a distinctly Chinese soup that arrived in Japan with Chinese tradesmen in the late nineteenth century. Until the 1950s, Ramen was called Shina Soba (⽀支那 そば, literally “Chinese Soba”) but today, Chūka Soba (中華そば, also meaning “Chinese Soba”) or just Ramen (ラーメン) are more common. It consists of Chinese-style wheat noodles served in a meat or (occasionally) fish-based broth, often flavored with soy sauce or miso, and uses toppings such as sliced pork (Cha shu), dried seaweed (Nori), Menma, and green onions (Negi). Nearly every region in Japan has its own variation of Ramen, from the Tonkotsu (Pork bone broth) Ramen of Kyushu to the Miso Ramen of Hokkaido. Bak Kut Teh Bak Kut Teh, or pork ribs soup, is a popular Chinese dish in Singapore. There are two varieties – a Teochew style which is customarily prepared through many hours of simmering meaty pork ribs in a broth of pepper and garlic and a Hokkien styled version featuring a mixture of fragrant herbs and spices such as garlic, cloves, cinnamon, star anise, fennel seeds and coriander. In Singapore, the Teochew Style Bak Kut Teh is more popular. It was popular with Chinese immigrant Labourers who would begin their day with this hearty yet humble dish.
Bak Kut Teh
Bak Kut Teh, or pork ribs soup, is a popular Chinese dish in Singapore. There are two varieties – a Teochew style which is customarily prepared through many hours of simmering meaty pork ribs in a broth of pepper and garlic and a Hokkien styled version featuring a mixture of fragrant herbs and spices such as garlic, cloves, cinnamon, star anise, fennel seeds and coriander. In Singapore, the Teochew Style Bak Kut Teh is more popular. It was popular with Chinese immigrant Labourers who would begin their day with this hearty yet humble dish.
When my Japanese producer Yutaka Tachibana and I were working on the script of Ramen Teh (Ramen Shop), we often wondered aloud how exciting it would be not only to present the film to audiences but also to let them taste the dish we had invented for the movie. In the film, Ramen Teh is a dish of marriage between Bak Ku Teh and Ramen, two dishes synonymous with Singapore and Japan respectively. Now some audiences and travelers can discover what Ramen Teh actually tastes like. Keisuke Takeda, founder of Singapore’s biggest Ramen chain Ramen Keisuke, has come up with his own version of Bak Kut Teh Ramen. Mr. Keisuke, a Ramen chef and champion, was roped onboard the film project as he shared with the creative team his own personal experiences as a Ramen chef and his ideas of incorporating local tastes into his Ramen recipes. After which, Mr Keisuke was inspired to come up with the new dish.
I tried the dish and it is the combination of two of my favourite childhood foods. Previously only available in Ramen Keisuke’s Japan outlets – where only 15 bowls of this special flavour were reportedly made and sold daily – Singapore can try it at Ramen Dining Keisuke at Suntec City.
Here is a recipe for one of my favorites from the young chef, William Soh excerpted from “The Singapore Heritage Cookbook: Past, Present, Future.”
ERIC KHOO is a Cultural Medallion recipient and award winning film maker who helms Zhao Wei Films and Gorylah Pictures and has been credited for reviving the Singapore film industry and for putting Singapore onto the International film map in 1995. He was the first Singaporean to have his films invited to major film festivals such as Berlin, Venice and Cannes. Khoo was awarded the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Letters, from the French Cultural Minister and his feature, My Magic was nominated for the Cannes Palme d’Or in 2008. Eric Khoo was profiled in Phaidon Books, “Take 100 the future of Film – 100 New Directors.” The Pompidou Centre in Paris held an Eric Khoo film retrospective and he served as President of the Jury at The Locarno international film Festival in 2010. In 2011, he released his first animated feature, Tatsumi, which was invited to the 64th Cannes Film Festival and made its North American premiere at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Eric Khoo was invited to be President of the Jury at the Rotterdam International Film Festival and at The Hong Kong Asian Film awards in 2012. He was head of the Jury at Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival 2013. In 2015 he directed Cinema for 7 Letters and his sixth feature, In the Room, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. He paid tribute to Singapore’s hawker landscape with Wanton Mee, which was invited to the Berlin International Film Festival Culinary Section in 2016 and he executive produced Boo Junfeng’s second feature Apprentice that premiered at Cannes Un Certain Regard. In 2017, he was on the jury for the Cannes Short Film Competition Palm D’or. DIRECTOR’S FILMOGRAPHY Ramen Shop – 2018, Berlinale Culinary Cinema Wanton Mee – 2016, Berlinale Culinary Cinema In The Room – 2015, Toronto Film Festival 7 Letters – 2015, Busan International Film Festival 60 Seconds of Solitude in Year Zero – 2011, Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival Tatsumi – Cannes Film Festival, Un Certain Regard My Magic – Cannes Film Festival, in Competition Digital Sam in Sam Saek 2006: Talk to Her No Day Off – 2006, Locarno Official Selection Be with Me – Cannes Film Festival, Directors’ Fortnight 12 Storeys – 1997, Singapore FIPRESCI/NETPAC Award Mee Pok Man – 1996, Singapore FIPRESCI/NETPAC Award – Special Mention
Thank you to Strand Releasing and MK2 for helping gather the material for this article.