Do you live to eat, or eat to live? For Singapore’s residents the answer is clearly the former – after all, we love to eat. Chinese, Malay, North and South Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Mexican, European – whatever dishes you’re craving you’re likely to find it here. Indeed, one fast food that seems to be increasing in popularity is Japanese ramen (a noodle soup typically topped with sliced pork, egg and vegetables) judging by the snaking queues seen outside some of Singapore’s most popular ramen houses at peak times, with Ajisen Ramen which is owned by Food and Beverage (F&B)…
Do you live to eat, or eat to live? For Singapore’s residents the answer is clearly the former – after all, we love to eat. Chinese, Malay, North and South Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Mexican, European – whatever dishes you’re craving you’re likely to find it here.
Indeed, one fast food that seems to be increasing in popularity is Japanese ramen (a noodle soup typically topped with sliced pork, egg and vegetables) judging by the snaking queues seen outside some of Singapore’s most popular ramen houses at peak times, with Ajisen Ramen which is owned by Food and Beverage (F&B) group Japan Foods Holding (SGX: 5OI) one of the biggest and most popular chains.
The company was founded back in 1968, when Mr Takaharu Shigemitsu, who had developed his own noodle recipe, opened his first Ajisen Ramen fast food restaurant in Kumamoto, Japan. The noodles proved popular and Shigemtisu Industry was set up to mass-produce his Kumamoto Noodles both for his restaurant and for export.
The company prospered and by 1994, Shigemitsu had expanded into Taiwan where he opened 20 Ajisen Ramen restaurants.
Changing the recipe…
However, a lack of experience in overseas operations was to be his downfall. The local franchise holders decided to change Mr Shigemitsu’s recipe, believing the Taiwanese would find the soup too salty. As the dishes failed to meet the quality observed in Japan, the restaurants quickly slumped.
Fortunately, good news was on the horizon. Two Hong Kong entrepreneurs, Cheng Wai Tao and Wai Poon, who had experienced Ajisen Ramen in Japan, believed the restaurant chain would prosper in Hong Kong and China. In 1996, together with Mr Shigemitsu they opened the first Ajisen Ramen in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong – which proved an instant hit.
The company was soon opening Ajisen Ramen outlets in Beijing, Shanghai and across China – and interestingly their success was down to adjusting the menu. Whilst changing the soup recipe in an effort to suit local tastes proved a disaster in Taiwan, adding dishes such as grilled fish and yakitori (chicken skewers), which would be unheard of in Japan, proved very popular with the Chinese.
However, despite this success it wasn’t all plain sailing in China. In 2004, many Chinese, angered after learning that Japanese textbooks were downplaying the Japanese army’s role in the atrocities in China during World War II, protested, and threw eggs and stones at the windows of Japanese restaurants.
Ajisen Ramen explained that it was actually a Hong Kong company, managed by Chinese people and eventually the demonstrations ended.
In 2007, the company was converted into a public company in Singapore under the name Japan Foods Holding Ltd.
But did you know…
- “Ajisen Ramen” means “a thousand tastes” in Japanese.
- The little girl in the red dress featured in the Ajisen Ramen logo is called Chii-Chan.
- Ajisen Ramen’s central kitchen produces its soups and noodles and provides 50% of the total food ingredients to its 42 outlets, allowing them to reduce kitchen space and enlarge the dining areas – maximising income.
- The word “ramen” is said to come from the Chinese word “la mian” meaning hand-pulled noodles.
- Ajisen Ramen reckons its signature Tonkotsu soup, a milky broth made from the slow cooking of tender pork ribs is not only good for health, but can prevent aging due to the fact it is packed with collagen – the protein that helps make our skin smooth and bouncy (and which breaks down as we get older).
However Tonkotsu fans should probably concentrate on the soup’s delicious flavour rather than expect to leave with the complexion of a 19-year-old, as many scientists say there is no evidence to support the belief eating collagen itself provides any skin benefits.
Today, Japan Food Holdings is one of the biggest F&B groups in Singapore specialising in authentic Japanese cuisine.
The group owns not only its flagship Ajisen Ramen brand, but also familiar Japanese restaurant chains such as Aoba, Botejyu, Botejyu Yatai, Botejyu San, Menzo Butao, Osaka Ohsho, Kazokutei, Menya Musashi, as well as F&B brands Fruit Paradise, Osaka Town and Japanese Gourmet Town.
Japan Foods also owns the Botejyu Yatai and Ajisen Ramen stalls that feature in a number of Singapore’s food courts.
Additionally, Japan Foods franchises the Ajisen Ramen and Menya Musashi brand names to sub franchisees in Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Hong Kong – and in total, operates 56 restaurants and food court outlets.
As for the future, Japan Foods’ Executive Chairman and CEO Mr Takahashi Kenichi says that the company’s aim is to have “two to four of its food concepts” in each of Singapore’s busiest shopping centres – a goal it has met in the Plaza Singapura Mall which features four Japan Foods restaurants.