It’s clear when you see the small kiosk on wheels that appears on the riverside every evening around dusk, that this is the culmination of someone’s dreams. It’s evident they are not in it for the money or the glory; whoever is behind Champion Japanese Ramen is in it for the love of ramen.
The small stand is much like a Japanese yatai, a petite mobile food stall popular in Fukuoka. This one seats just three people, and even that is a tight squeeze. The street stand is bedecked with the traditional red flags that proclaim “ramen!” in Japanese, and a hanging paper lamp. It’s spotless and simple, but at the same time adorable, probably because it’s so incongruous on Phnom Penh’s seedy riverside.
Supplies at Champion Ramen are limited. Every day they make a small amount of broth, and once they’ve served ten bowls of ramen, they pack up and go home. Bone broth is all the rage in New York and London, but ramen aficionados have long know the delight of a savory, creamy broth made from from long-simmered bones. The most common is tonkotsu ramen, made from pork bones. The broth at Champion Ramen is lighter than tonkotsu — it’s made from chicken bones — but it’s nearly as rich.
Champion Ramen’s bowls are filled with ramen noodles, cooked al dente so there’s a little bit of resistance when you bite down. Half of a marinated soft-boiled egg is floated in the bowl, and a few thick slices of fatty chashu pork are added. The ramen is then adorned with finely sliced spring onions, and on most days, a type of marinated bamboo called menma. This is, without question, an authentic bowl of ramen, that eschews all of the strange toppings that you’ll sometimes find in what often passes for ramen in Cambodia — baby corn, bok choy, carrots, bean sprouts, and sweet corn, to name but a few.
It’s my firm belief that you’ll never get a good bowl of ramen at a regular Japanese restaurant with a full menu of different items. The best ramen is made by people who make nothing else. At the best ramen places in Japan, you’ll find little more on the menu than a few types of ramen and fried gyoza. So the fact that Champion Ramen serves literally nothing but ramen is a good sign. And their ramen is pretty damn good. Maybe not the best I’ve ever had in my life, but probably the best I’ve had in Phnom Penh. The riverside ambience doesn’t hurt.
Bowls of ramen cost just $3.50, and since they only serve 10 bowls per day, it seems unlikely that the business is very profitable. The very sweet counter guy told us that the owner is a Japanese architect who just loves ramen. If you love ramen, too, you should check out Champion.
Open daily, 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. (or until the ramen runs out)
Location varies, Phnom Penh riverside, usually across from La Croisette, Phnom Penh
T: 016 510 104