Muku Japanese Ramen – Calgary, AB

Muku Japanese Ramen
326 14th St. NW
Calgary, AB
Tel: (403) 283 6555

Muku Japanese Ramen on Urbanspoon

Discovering that the first ever, Calgary-based restaurant specializing in only Japanese Ramen had opened for business, I knew that I had to make a visit to eat at Muku on my recent Alberta trip.  By reading third party reports and through discussions with friends who have already eaten here or knew something about it, I had built up some expectations ahead of time.  Although I am someone who has had hundreds of varying bowls of ramen in Japan, I do not consider myself a full fledged “rameniac”, but do feel that I’ve accumulated enough ramen experiences over the years to allow me to accurately evaluate if it meets a certain standard of what you would expect from a really good bowl in Japan – especially the tonkotsu variety which is a personal favorite.

Muku has taken over the former Globefish location, that gave rise to the growing fushion maki revolution that seems to dominate the scene these days.  Two and a half years since first opening its doors (including the birth of a second outlet), it appears that a larger and more spacious location for restaurant number one was required and fortunately for the owners, they were able to take over a building right next door.  But what to do with the old location?  Turn it into a new concept (for Calgary anyways), and see if a stand alone ramen shop can survive.  Their journey has just begun.

Introducing Muku’s Tonkotsu Ramen.  Relatively low to mid-range consistency broth in terms of its richness.  The oily component of it was quite noticeable, and it didn’t have the white flecks of fat that you’d see at say Kintaro in Vancouver.  The range in which you can prepare the base broth using pork bones can result in varying textures and consistencies, so there is no “right” or “wrong” here, just different levels.  The resulting mix comes down to your personal preference.  Having said that though, there is one consistent element – that is the flavor of the broth.  Ideally, the finished soup should be one that is complex, creamy with distinct scents and taste properties derived from the long cooking process involving the pork bone and marrow.  Here at Muku, this is where it was weak in my opinion, and the general oiliness made it seem even more “watered” down in trying to compensate for the absence of a multi-dimensional flavor.

The noodles, granted what you can source in Canada, is limited and their choice wasn’t all that bad.  They were cooked, or rather on the undercooked side or katamen.  I wish they would give you some options as they do in Japan on how you’d like to have your noodles done, as Muku’s was a bit less cooked than I would prefer.  It would be fine if they were of a more thinner variety as they would soften while in the broth while eating, but this was not the case here.  Again, this is personal preference.

Next, the toppings.  As you can see in the visual above, there were some slices of chashu, as well as some smaller chopped bits that were a bit leaner.  I must say I’d never seen this dual cut of chashu before in a bowl of tonkotsu ramen.  It stuck me as odd.  Then there were the two pieces of baby corn, again an oddity.  I would much rather prefer some fresh cob corn, but only in a miso ramen soup as it is just not a usual occurrence in tonkotsu broths.  Finally the slices of ordinary sushi gari –  another unorthodox twist.  They really should have beni shoga that you find at Menya in Vancouver, for the reasons I listed in that post.  In terms of authenticity, its like replacing butter with margarine in a pastry recipe.

My dining companion had the Miso Tonkotsu Ramen.  Probably one of the least mainstream pairings of the four base broths you find in ramen, but it does exist in some parts.  Unfortunately, Muku’s take on it really blew me away (in a negative way).  For a premium over the regular Tonkotsu Ramen, you get a single dollop of miso paste!  Now if you have had a proper miso-based ramen before in your lifetime, you know very well that it is supposed to be incorporated into the broth, adding more body and depth of flavor.  In terms of balance, it should be slightly on the side of the tonkotsu, but clearly in greater proportions than what this drop could do here.  The way it was lying on top of everything like that dreaded spicy sauce that many people put on their creative sushi rolls, just about made me wish there were some heavy handed ramen policemen, who could charge them with this injustice to the ramen world.

Given the unsteady reports of customers coming in, including many who still confuse this place as serving more than just ramen and step inside only to walk out (some of them no doubt still confusing it for Globefish) or those out there that think that they need to add other “noodles” to the menu, ala soba or udon (which is another insane proposition I won’t get into as I can already feel the Ramen Gods have had enough suffering), I think a hard challenge lies ahead for Muku.  That is to increase awareness among the masses and educate customers as to the finer details and appeal of ramen.  Will it one day line up on the podium with the likes of Japanese staples such as sushi and tempura in the West?  Time will only tell.

Calgary is at a slight disadvantage compared to the west coast (e.g. Vancouver, California) for the sheer greater numbers of people who already have a greater understanding of ramen living there (either permanently or short term ex-patriots), not to mention already existing ramen choices.  As well, the incredible culture of ramen in Japan is so difficult to convey, in its importance in pop food culture.  I sense that Muku’s ownership will struggle to achieve the same level of popularity they have with their other chain for these vary reasons.  Though I wish them well, my fear is that a wave of first time ramen eaters will begin to think that some of the elements they find here are the norm – when it clearly is not – and the taste is among the better representations of tonkotsu ramen – again, not true in my opinion.

Muku Japanese Ramen on Urbanspoon

14 thoughts on “Muku Japanese Ramen – Calgary, AB

  1. >launate

    Its still early days and many things can happen in the meantime. My suggestion at this stage is that I wonder if ramen in general, especially a place that serves mainly that, can find a regular customer base in a market that is not as knowledgeable and who’s interest in this dish may not be up there with the likes of other Japanese food. Time will tell. If you have any updates in the future through your own visits, please do share with us.

  2. Thanks for the review. We were about to head down there looking for some authentic Japanese ramen – and I think we would have been pretty disappointed with a dollop of miso paste… Yes, there would be a market for a cozy ramen shop if it were done right. We’ll be sticking to Wa’s for the real deal ramen (too bad they don’t do miso ramen).

  3. I agree Steve – until we get a good ramen shop, Wa’s is the best we have for tonkotsu ramen. The miso paste was really disappointing, not to mention almost inedible. Here’s to hoping they kick things up a notch, or someone brings a good bowl of tonkotsu ramen to town. I’ve been suffering for long enough!

  4. > Steve

    I’d be interested if they ever get around to making a proper blend with the miso, rather than what foodosopher and I saw. Shikiji makes a passable Shiyo Ramen if you are so inclined, or than the Tonkotsu offering at Wa’s.

  5. My wife and I ate there last saturday and left disappointed. My wife is japanese and I’ve lived in japan for a number of years, so we’re both familiar with how a good bowl should taste. My wife had the Miso on recommendation of the staff and I the Hokkaido style miso butter and a salad to start. The salad dressing tasted a little like cleaner the chashu in my ramen was hard and leathery, noodles tasted like they picked them up from the grocery store and the soup was thin. The green tea wasn’t much more than hot water. It was officially the first bowl of ramen I didn’t finish.

    I came online looking to see if they had a website to provide some more constructive feedback or a little nudging that they should rethink their recipes, because it would be great to have another place to go to. Wa’s and shikiji are nice, but to have a restaurant dedicated to one thing and fall so flat is really disappointing. I hope they improve.

  6. >dale
    It sounds like you two had the same letdown meals that Foodosopher and I had which is reflected in this particular post. As it has been several months since our visit, I was a little curious if anything had improved there, but from your account, it does not sound like it has (to those who know their ramen anyways). If you do stir up the courage to visit again down the road and if you do find it better, please do share your thoughts here once again…

  7. Definitely. I don’t wish them failure, its just the tease factor is off the charts! The owner is from Hokkaido, delicious ramen recipes should be in his blood!

  8. I paid a visit to Muku today and I’ll answer the question as to whether I liked it this way:
    Short answer – No (with an “and”)
    Long answer – Yes (with a “but”)
    I would agree with you on all points as this was not true or good ramen in my opinion.
    I found the “meal” to be okay and liked the “soup” I was served. I’m no ramen Otaku and my experience is not vast, however I’ll not likely visit again.

  9. I wasn’t impressed with Muku.. and I was a little sad about that. I actually had my hopes high, looking for a great ramen place here in Calgary. Oh well.

    • Its been like 3 years since this post. Haven’t been back myself, but since its had some staying power, I guess it has its fans. I might try dropping by again on my next visit to Calgary to see if my initial meal experience/letdown is still the same.

      Do you have any favorite in Calgary for ramen by chance?

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