Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Ramen Ramen Everywhere

My dad taught English in Japan after completing a Peace Corps term on Truk (one of the Caroline Islands) in the late 1960s, and I frequently recall how he described ramen as a popular fast food in Tokyo at the time. This seemed kind of funny to me when I was little, as I much preferred the idea of a hot dog or some fries over a bowl of hot soup when craving a snack. While there have always been ramen shops in Vancouver, they have become neighbourhood fixtures over the past five years and are improving in overall quality. Here are a few that I have tried over the past year:

Ramen Santouka - West End - 7/10
Even though this tiny soup shop has been open since 2010, I only heard about it this past December. Located in the Ramen Triangle, Santouka is easy to find because it always has a line outside of the door. With a big open kitchen, bar seating, and only a few tables, the servers have no choice but to be quick here to counteract the lack of space. This is actually the only Canadian franchise of a huge Japanese chain that prides itself on its milky tonkotsu broth, which also contains dried fish and kelp. When I ate here, our table ordered the shio (plain broth), shoyu (soy broth), and some gyoza. The quality was great, the noodles were not too soft, and the gyoza were pan-fried perfectly. My shio contained the right amount of salt, and the kikurage and bamboo that came with this dish contributed to the awesome textures going on in my mouthpiece. However, the portions were relatively small for the price, and there were not really any elements that made this place stand out. I was peeved that they do not accept credit card, but the fact that they are licensed quelled this irritation. If you happen to be in the West End and notice that Santouka is lacking a line-up, go for it! Otherwise, walk a bit further down to Kintaro.

Tonkotsu Shio with Tasty Egg

Menya Japanese Noodle - Main St Area - 5.5/10  
Menya is like that puny kid you always see on the playground near your house trying to reach the monkey bars, while the other kids can reach them easily and are clearly lovin' it. You just want to go over and lift that little ankle-biter up to the bars so it can produce food...I mean, so it can have fun...like the other children. I have eaten at Menya twice in my life, despite living in the neighbourhood, and forgot about my meals before digesting them. This is a family-run restaurant, with decent dishes, but there are a lot of great places near/on Main. I tried the ramen here once. The packaged noodles and watery broth turned me off the idea of soup for a while. Perhaps I didn't know what I was ordering at the time and mistook the Chinese/nagahama broth for tonkotsu. Regardless, it didn't make an impression. The second time I dined here, I enjoyed my gyoza and noodle salad. It seems as though Menya is better for snacks and light meals, rather than massive feeds. To reiterate, Menya is the vertically-challenged kid on the playground, not the abnormally tall bully who hogs the swings and dominates the monkey bars. If I ever go back I want to try the tan tan soup. Props for this local boy...errrrr, restaurant...taking credit cards though, and charging less than $9 for a bowl of soup!

Sanpachi - Kits - 7.5/10
Sanpachi Wings!
There are good things and bad things about having a ramen joint in Kits. The good: you know they will have interesting menu items and a TV to show Canucks games, in order to appease the students of UBC. The bad: it's going to be a bit pricey and lack an authentic ramen/izakaya vibe. While Sanpachi's straight-up ramen is well-made - with succulent slices of cha-shu and a milky broth - it is the izakaya tapas that set this restaurant apart. The chicken wings are surprisingly good here, as are the oysters on the half shell. Unlike stupid, bland Benkei, Sanpachi has a liquor license. You neeeeed beer with those wings, dawg. There is another branch at Alberni and Bute if you want to avoid the students in their pajama bottoms and Canucks jerseys.

Keywords: "Santouka Vancouver", "Vancouver Ramen",  "Alphabet Review"      

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