Celebrating ambition: Enishi Tantanmen
As surprising as it may seem, it is unnaturally rare for a Japanese chain to open internationally, so when I see a restaurant chain like Enishi (えにし) that is confidently attempting to expand into Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and other parts of Asia, I am compelled to support them. Their newest location, located in Kobe Sannomiya, is a noodle bar serving a deeply complex Tantanmen (担々麺), a noodle dish with reportedly 32 ingredients including a chili oil made in-house with 20 different spices.
The logo looks familiar… (Image credit: Eugene Lee)
The rarity of Japanese franchises expanding outside Japan could be due to a number of factors, but my personal theory is the Japanese island mentality. There is a widely accepted term in Japan known as Galapagos syndrome (ガラパゴス化 Galapagos-ka), which has become popular jargon for business practices where Japanese companies focus exclusively on selling products to the Japanese market. This is why old-school flip phones still in circulation in Japan are known as Gara-kei (ガラケー Galapagos cellphones). Sometimes this mentality is shocking to the world, such as when Konami considered dropping out of the video game market in order to focus solely on producing pachinko machines. Luckily Konami has rescinded this plan and has resumed making games for a grateful world and franchises like Enishi are worthy of my support.
Delicious and edible lemon wheel baton. (Image credit: Eugene Lee)
Enishi occupies a particularly rare position in the Japanese restaurant space. If restaurants can be viewed from the same lens as movies and media, I would argue that Enishi is almost postmodern in its execution of merchandise, food, and social media focus. In many ways the current ideal in postmodernism is the belief that parody, and sincerity can be achieved simultaneously. A worldview where it is acceptable to poke fun at something while loving it sincerely. The merchandise design is clearly meant to parody famous brands, particularly Supreme and Balenciaga but with a noodle theme.
Nokotantanmen (left) and Tantanmen (right). (Image credit: Eugene Lee)
This same postmodern perspective is representative of the dishes served as well. Rather than focus on traditional tantanmen, Enishi prefers a much more eclectic blend of ingredients that offer a greater variety of flavours and textures. My Nōkō tantanmen (濃厚担担麺) (¥980) brought out a dish of slightly wide, flat noodle topped with Japanese, pink Shibazuke (柴漬け) pickles, cashews, Japanese Mitsuba parsley and sweet raw Awaji onions add textural contrast to a deeply complex chili spiced ground meat and the entire dish is covered in anchovy oil. Offered on the side were a variety of condiments including an orange-infused vinegar, the aforementioned chili oil, anchovy oil, and a pepper grinder filled with a multitude of different styles of peppercorn. The orange-infused vinegar was fantastic on the boiled gyoza (水餃子 sui-gyoza) (¥400). Tiny bite-sized dumplings filled with pork and topped with a crispy spice topping and more Mitsuba parsley. The perfect accompaniment for my meal was a whimsical Oni Lemon Vice (鬼レモンバイス) (¥700) which was a refreshing shiso, lemon slushie served with a frozen lemon wheel baton.
The facade of Enishi’s branch in Singapore. (Image credit: JR Times)
A Japanese restaurant chain expanding both domestically and internationally is a fantastic thing and worth celebrating. In a world where sushi is a totally normal weeknight meal, it seems insane that the most known Japanese chain restaurant is Yoshinoya or Beard Papa. Enishi noodle bar is a delicious way to embrace creativity and bold ambition.
Kobe Enishi Sanomiya (三宮)
Address: 1-8-1 Sannomiyacho B1F, Chuo Ward, Kobe, Hyogo 650-0021
Nearest station: JR Sannomiya station (JR三宮駅)
Opening hours: 11am–4pm and 5pm–8pm (Monday-Sunday)
Header image credit: Eugene Lee