October 2017 update: Menya Shi Shi Do has closed down its outpost in Sri Petaling. Head to Menya Hanabi for great mazesoba and decent shio if you’re in Sri P. For the best tonkotsu ramen, get the kuro black garlic from Menya Shi Shi Do in Jaya One.
You’re in Sri Petaling. You’re hungry, but you’ve heard horror stories about the mediocrity permeating most restaurants in this part of town. Which isn’t great because you want great food. Or good food, at the very least. Damn those food blogs that keep unreasonably raising your expectations and destroying your retirement savings! After all, this is KL, not Penang. One must settle for straightforward nourishment or bear a significant lightening of the wallet to have a good meal here.
Or so you think.
You stumble onto a narrow alley choked between the main arterial road in front of the 24/7 McDonald’s and the long, winding Jalan Radin Bagus that houses an ever-rotating cast of generally sub-par eateries, salons and massage parlours. Google Maps tells you this is Jalan Radin Bagus 9. Your more biological senses tells you that this is a crazy little street packing the strangest assortment of establishments. There’s Sourakuya (crunchy buttered yam, hearty oden, and some surprisingly good sushi), The Vow (gorgeous floral design), Le Pont Boulangerie (huge, yuge, bigly, not good), Mr. Dakgalbi (dakgalbi), Herserlef (ridiculously cheap co-working space with free flow make-your-own-coffee and snacks, which coincidentally is where this post is first being written – and which has since blown up into one of the most popular spots in Sri P), Dessert Bar by Stanley Choong (pretty patisserie that has sometimes great, sometimes expensive, pastry-delights), and what looks to be some sort of spa for cars.
Then there’s Menya Shi Shi Do.
If, as James Richardson said, sophistication is upscale conformity, perhaps that makes Menya Shi Shi Do’s Sri Petaling branch an accidental emblem of individuality. It’s rough around the edges in a cheap, plasticky and completely non-intentional sort of way. Which is to say that it’s a relatively dull, franchise-y looking dated place that somehow stands out in its earnestness amidst its more aspirational neighbours. Even right when it launched, it was a new restaurant that already felt dated!
You go in anyway. Actually, you start to go in quite regularly, until one day you realize that this has become a weekly routine: a regular pilgrimage for sufficiently satisfying bowls of ramen to round out the workweek without overly straining your precariously balanced finances. I mean, we’re not looking at economy rice prices here, but it’s not quite Bankara Ramen either.
It’s better. Taste-wise. Bankara used to hold the title of best ramen in KL, but quality has slipped away gradually. Before them, Ippudo was the best before THEIR quality slipped. And before that was Menya Musashi. Which is interesting, because the chef for Menya Shi Shi Do formerly used to be at Menya Musashi and Menya Kamikaze. Explains a lot!
You begin adding on half-bowls of noodles with your orders. When the original ramen is halfway done, you throw in the fresh batch of noodles and enjoy the difference in texture. It’s firm, moderately springy, decently resistive. The soup is delicious. The soup is always delicious. The Shiro is the purest, most unadulterated form they have. It’s delicious.
You order the dinner set. It’s too good of a value meal not to.
The fried chicken skin is inoffensive, artery-clogging stuff. It’s crunchy. Lightly salty. Not too flavourful. Not too oily. You gobble it down.
Your weekly visits here gradually become the one thing you look forward to on a Monday morning. The wage-slave drudgery washes off you, no longer able to cling on like the broth to the noodles at Menya Shi Shi Do.
The Kuro (black garlic – like in that one episode of Bob’s Burgers) ramen doesn’t differ substantially in taste from the Shiro (plain old porky porkiness) but it does lead to a very different eating experience. The garlic notes seep in slowly at the end of each mouthful. By the middle, there’s a throaty salty pungency with every slurp.
There are changes over time, with each visit. The noodles used to be perfectly firm. Not so anymore, unless you specifically ask for harder noodles. Could it be because they’ve started serving the broth at a higher temperature? Is it because of the average Malaysian’s aversion to noodles that aren’t of the limp, soft and dweeby variety? Who knows. You don’t ask. Words get in the way of eating. And Menya Shi Shi Do’s inexhaustible range of different soups (and half-and-half and three-way variations) demands dedication from even the most experienced of eaters. You never quite eat your way through the entire thing though. You stick to the classics. The Kuro. The Shiro. The Yakibuta Ramen, which is a thing of beauty. Occasionally you venture out to the more peculiar picks, like the basil.
It’s interesting. Like the spicy ones are interesting. But you stick to the classics. And when you want to splurge to wash out the bitter dredges of the workweek, you return to the Yakibuta Ramen.
The Yakibuta Ramen is possibly the best bowl of ramen in town. It’s not Keisuke Tonkotsu King, but neither is Keisuke Tonkotsu King in Malaysia, so there! And they don’t have this porky goodness either, do they? That photo above is deceptive. It doesn’t show just how ridiculously thick these hunks of pork get. Here are some better depictions:
There’s nothing quite like it in Malaysia. It decimates your wallet. It pleasures you in ways you didn’t know were possible. You have to take a break from it after a while, if only because you are abruptly struck by the realization that you are now destitute.
And a new range of tsukemen bowls are on the way, you hear. You can’t wait to try them. But you have to wait because they’re not here yet and because you don’t have the money anyway.
You look forlornly at your emptying bank accounts and long-emptied wallet. You wonder if there’s a way to make more money. Perhaps you could write about food. Write about your experience finding Menya Shi Shi Do. Write about all the food you eat, even. A food blog, of sorts. The Malaysian food scene sure could use some incisive food criticism. Perhaps you could start an Instagram profile too. You mull it over in the humid night under the drone of the dying air-conditioning unit you can’t afford to get fixed, and you think of a blog name.
You decide to call it Foodgazer.com.