The Pioneer of Ramen in Singapore: Hokkaido Ramen Santouka

Ramen is now widely accepted all over Southeast Asia. Singapore is no exception. We can easily find ramen restaurants in popular public spaces.

One of authentic Japanese ramen restaurants here is Hokkaido Ramen Santouka.

Recently, J Passport team got a chance to meet Santouka’s Managing Director, Kanoi Koji. He told us about the first time the restaurant opened a branch in Singapore.

“The first time I came here, Singapore probably only have less than 10 ramen shops,” – Koji.

It was about 10 years ago when Santouka first ramen restaurant opened. Originally, Hokkaido Ramen Santouka was founded in March 1988 in Japan.

No one like the ramen yet at that time. Singapore people don’t know ramen when we first open our restaurant. Only Japanese people came here.”

Koji mentioned that one day, 8days magazine wrote about ramen ranking anonymously. Unsurprisingly, Hokkaido Ramen Santouka is considered as the number 1 ramen in Singapore. The report has made Santouka became famous and finally visited by local people.

“All over the world, Santouka branch have toroniku ramen. But only Singapore use Kurobuta, which is premium pork. I think this is also the key for the rise in Santouka’s popularity and taste,” explained Koji.

After ramen popularity grows in Singapore, more ramen shops from Japan also opened their branches here. Hence, ramen is being famous all over Asia.

Koji estimated it has been 9 years since ramen became popular food in Asia.

Yet, things are not as easy as it seems. Koji also told us about his struggle when opening the first Santouka branch in Southeast Asia. His main issue is language barrier. There is communication error between his Japanese employees and locals. For example, his Japanese chefs are strict and never teach local staffs.

As the time goes by, he realized, the key to success not only lies with the food quality, but also the wellness of the staffs and customers.

“Business is business, but with only business, it is hard to survive. Now we will get back to how can people and my staffs can enjoy ramen happily, with friends and family.”

And he succeeded in making Santouka the place where family and kids can enjoy and have fun at the same time. However, the shop isn’t as popular as in Japan. Santouka in Japan always have good sales, but things are different in Singapore.  Then, Koji started to go digital promotion.

“I think I’m one of the first people in ramen industry to start 1-for-1 promotion. Santouka is the first ramen brand to start digital promotion.”

“We started on digital media to make Singapore people try our ramen. Even in Japan, there’s no 50% off for ramen!” Koji says.

At the moment, Santouka is already big enough in Singapore. Koji is the one who started it, and now still managed Santouka all over Singapore. For those who have not tried Hokkaido Ramen Santouka, he explained why their ramen is so special.

“The ramen quality here is top notch. We use iberico pork from Spain. It’s number quality all over the world. We serve premium toroniku (pork cheek). Our noodles melt in the soup and has rich taste,” promotes Koji.

Koji believes that people in Singapore thinks high price means high quality. However, he’s trying a new breakthrough to present affordable price for high quality ramen. Should his breakthrough is proven to be successful, this family-friendly restaurant could easily expand in Asia and even Western countries.

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