When in Vancouver, we eat ramen–the real, fresh, hand-made kind that engages all of the senses—the ramen dreams are made of.
We are on an ongoing quest for the best ramen, but it’s not really about declaring a winner. It’s about the journey.
The last time we were in Vancouver we ate at Motomachi, Hokkaido Ramen Santouka, and Benkei, arguably some of the best ramen-ya (ramen shops) to be found in Vancouver. We had also planned to try Kintaro, but found ourselves standing outside the closed restaurant on a Monday afternoon, noses pressed to the glass, gazing at a counter heaped with mountains of noodle dough and tantalizing piles of freshly made ramen noodles, and had to go away unsatisfied.
This time, we are determined not to miss out again. You know a ramen-ya is going to be good when there is already a line out the door by the middle of the afternoon, even on a freezing cold February day.
Inside Kintaro, we are handed menus and make our selections while still waiting for seats. We choose miso ramen and BBQ pork ramen and are then given options on our broth: rich, medium, or light, and on the pork: fatty or lean.
Once seated at a large, communal table, we have just enough time to watch the cooks in the open kitchen, eavesdrop briefly on the conversation about skiing going on amongst the college students at the other end of our table, and surreptitiously check out what everyone else is eating. The crowded restaurant is warm, full of good smells, and noisy with laughter.
Within a few minutes I am leaning over my bowl of miso ramen, topped with pork, corn, green onions, sprouts, and bamboo shoots. I lift a strand of noodles with my chopsticks and set them briefly in my spoon to cool. I try to emulate the expert staccato slurping of our neighbor across the table, with limited success. Regardless of my poor slurping skills, I enjoy my bowl of ramen. The surface of the rich broth glimmers with beads of flavorful fat. The noodles are fresh and chewy. The generous bowl is so filling that I can barely waddle back up Robson Street to our hotel, groaning all the way. We coin the term “food concussion”.
The next day, a day of bright clear skies and arctic temperatures, we sit down for lunch at Sanpachi Ramen, a sunny space with sleek wood counters facing wide windows, delicate lacquered dishes, and jazz music playing softly in the background, a distinct contrast from the shabby and boisterous Kintaro. I have the tan tan ramen—a spicy broth with peanut and sesame sauce, minced pork, eggs, sprouts, and barely wilted spinach. Michael chooses the yatai, a simple bowl of pork broth, noodles, sliced pork, green onions, and bamboo shoots.
I just look for a long moment before even lifting my chopsticks to taste, watching the steam rise from my bowl and twist through a shaft of sunlight before dissipating. When I finally start eating, the contrasting flavors and textures are a joy. It’s all there: spicy and umami and salty hit my tongue; my teeth encounter smooth, crunchy, bumpy and springy. I begin devouring the ramen, bite after slurpy, steamy, messy bite.
And that’s where it happens. That magic that hits without warning, the one you can’t plan for, but can sometimes find when traveling or eating or making love, that shimmer that descends over reality and you realize that time has stopped for just a fragile instant, if you will pay attention and stop with it. Now. There is no past or future, nothing to hope or wish for beyond this beautiful now, elbow to elbow, bathed in winter sunlight, slurping noodles with full concentration.