G-Men Ramen – Richmond, BC

G-Men Ramen
#1101-3778 Sexsmith Road
Richmond, BC
(778) 296-3779

December 2009 re-visit post here

Original post below:

Yes, another ramen post from yours truly.  I suppose its become my staple and fallback.  And if you have not guessed by now, my preferred comfort and post-drinking meal.  Old Tokyo habits never die…

G-Men Ramen opened in March of this year to some fanfare given its backing from the Gyoza King Group – operators of the famous Gyoza King joint in downtown Vancouver, as well as Nan Chu in Richmond and Gyoza King’s Robston Street neighbour, Chico Coffee & Dessert Bar.  Creating their latest enterprise as a ramen offering and in the heavily Asian population of Richmond sounded like a smart decision, given this demographic’s tastes for noodles.  I decided though to give it a few months leeway and smooth out its operations before visiting.

As noted on the operating hours sign posted at the front entrance, you will be in for a surprise if you come mid-week and find it closed.  Actually, my first visit on a weekend afternoon resulted in a seriously disappointing announcement by one of the servers that they had RUN OUT OF SOUP!  A serious violation of the ramen-ya‘s code of honour and no doubt a black mark on their record for true rameniacs.  Despite her plea to come in and try one of their non-soup noodle dishes or other items, I declined and pledged to come back.

On each of the three occasions that I’ve come here so far, there has been a lineup or active wait list to get in.  I’d say an average of about 15-20 minutes.  Even when its been brutally hot outside (plus 30), the string of people exists, much to my amazement.

Though not pictured above, on my last visit I noticed that there was a hand written mark next to the four ramen options now, noting that the Tonkotsu (in reality a Tonkotsu Shoyu) and the Miso (Tonkotsu broth) were only available in the evening, and the other two (chicken-based broths of Shoyu and Shio) could only be had for lunch.  I suppose that is their solution to minimizing their soup stock supply run outs.  I’m hoping they resolve that and allow for all four options at all times of day, and never run out.

As one would hope in a ramen-ya, there is a counter bar here (four stools), plus table seating for at least another 25 behinds.  Only with the bar, it doesn’t give you full viewing access to a food prep station behind the counter, like you get at say Kintaro.  Instead, the kitchen area is further back and behind a barrier wall, with only a small cut out window where you can see the master in the kitchen.

Design-wise, it’s clear the developers are going with a retro theme, of Showa-era Japan.  Much like what you see at the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum.  Overall, it has that outdoor stand-type of feel (yatai) that reflects the roots of ramen.  The hand picked driftwood adorning the windows are also apparently the manager’s personal design touch.  The from-a-previous-time Japanese motorcycles placed in the window and outside the front door, are also some nice aesthetic touches to complete the theme.

Once inside and seated, upon seeing the old school television program playing on the flatscreen above the counter bar, I made the connection as well as the play on words with the place’s name.  You see, G-Men, is derived from the G in Gyoza and the Japanese word for noodles (e.g. men).  And one of the most popular televisions shows of the mid ’70s in Japan was a cop drama called G-Men 75. The owner must clearly be a fan of that bit of pop culture and of that time in Japan’s modern history.

As some readers might have caught on, there’s been a rush of hiyashi chuka dishes in Vancouver this summer.  G-Men was not left out of this trend as they had a separate menu sheet displaying their version.  It was a bit unorthodox in terms of its toppings, and quite plentiful.

So much so that they overwhelmed the noodles that were completely hidden from view when the plate was brought out to the table.  The fried garlic chips were very much something I hadn’t seen before on this dish, but they added a nice crunch to the otherwise mainly soft textured toppings.  The flavored sauce was a soy/rice vinegar mixture, though for my tastes the soy sauce could have been stronger. All in all, I’m holding a favorable opinion of it, though wasn’t totally blown away.

Lastly, the Tonkotsu Shoyu Ramen.  Off the top, I have to say this is my current ramen favorite in town, when it comes to the kotteri (heavy) type.  An even balance with the shoyu base cuts the heaviness of the pork broth, resulting in a more fluid soup.  The thin slices of chashu, of which there were too, nice and rich and fatty.  I’ve sampled it twice now and can guarantee I will be back for a third and more.

Sure, the other broths beckon, as well as the more izakaya-like donburi.

The thing I noticed at our table and scanning the bowls of nearby dinners, is that G-Men gets it right with the careful allocation of thicker noodles to the likes of the Tonkotsu Shoyu and Miso broths, and a thinner strand for the Shio and Hiyashi Chuka.

Finally, a look at the gyoza.  Being the backbone of the group company that runs the place, I was slightly taken back by the lack of oomph I got from these morsels.  They were so-so, nothing to write home about, and frankly I think my homemade ones taste better. 🙂  I wish they had come out in a more timely manner though, as they came out at virtually the end of the meal, when the noodle dishes were almost all gone.

Still a few things to work out is what I get from my multiple visits here.  The constant flow of customers probably doesn’t quite enable them to take it easy and re-group easily and the servers are doing their best.  Perhaps the kitchen could use some more help in cranking out the bowls as well.

On another note, I am still kind of amused by the way locals here take in their ramen.  I’ve never seen such a leisurely group of customers, taking their time well after a meal to sit around and chat even though they can see people clamoring at the front door.  You see, ramen to me is fast food.  Order, get it, eat it, leave.   And do it all quickly.  Say what you will about the danger of wolfing down a steaming bowl of soup, but to allow others to partake a solid ramen, is something you have to acknowledge.  I’m thinking a few times eating in really popular ramen-ya where waiting customers are literally standing right behind you waiting to get a seat, is what’s needed to entice the crowd to speed things up, especially when there is a lineup.   Oh well, rant over. 🙂

G-Men Ramen on Urbanspoon

Hiyashi Chuka at Menya Japanese Noodle & Deli Nippon – Vancouver, BC

Menya Japanese Noodle
401 W Broadway
Vancouver, BC
(604) 725-9432

Deli Nippon
3913 Knight Street
Vancouver, BC
(604) 568-6101

As much as I love a hot bowl of noodles, especially ramen, I tend to put a stop to such consumption once the summer arrives.

Food to me is very seasonal, I think its ideal if you eat what is best at that time of the year, whether that thing is grown, raised or caught.  It’s also part of the reason why I could never live in a place where there does not exist a clear distinction between spring, summer, autumn and winter.  I’ve actually turned down work opportunities to go and live in everyday hot climates because of it twice in my lifetime.

And thus the idea of wolfing down a steaming bowl of soup when the mercury rises over 25 degrees C, is something I consider irrational.

So what’s a rameniac to do?

Simple…  hiyashi chuka.

Breaking down the Japanese language, “hiyashi” being cold, and the characters for “chuka” shorthand for “chuka-men“, or the generally yellow colored, crinkly flour-based noodles.

Hiyashi chuka, sometimes also called hiyashi ramen (in northern areas of Japan like Hokkaido), or reimen down in the Kansai region.  As with most noodle-based dishes in Japanese cuisine, you can find a wide variety from prefecture to prefecture in terms of the flavoring, toppings, etc.

By chance, on a recent visit to Menya, I spotted the small chalkboard posted on the wall inside that noted a summer special of cold noodles.  On closer inspection, I determined that indeed it was hiyashi chuka.  I was interested in how they might do this Kyushu-style, as they do their regular ramen, so that was instantly determined as my order.

Besides the traditional soy-vinegar based sauce ($7.75) , they had what they called an “original sesame flavour” ($8.25), so guessed that might be the southern Japan version and went with the latter.

The first thing I picked up on was that they had changed the type of noodle since I was last there many months ago.  Gone was the thinner straight type, which was replaced by a much thicker variety.  I wasn’t sure if this was just for the hiyashi chuka, but a few looks around at other diner’s bowls confirmed the same noodle was being used for their hot bowl.  I wondered about this clear change in their product (was it a supplier change, a philosophical adjustment to move away from Hakata tradition, or customer demands?) as I began to dig into my plentiful plate.

The toppings here were the usual cucumber, tomato, and egg, with some added shiitake, chicken and shrimp.  The aromatic sesame sauce was mixed in throughout the noodles and some black sesame seeds were sprinkled on top.

Perhaps it was the much more filling type of noodle but this was quite a meal in itself.  The thicker noodle did seem to match well with and allow the sauce to cling nicely.  The toppings were plentiful and fresh, though the shrimp was a bit tougher than I would prefer.  The balance of textures, from the crispy cucumber to the juicy soft slices of tomatoes were complete.

All in all, I’d consider this a more “upscale” or “luxurious” representation of hiyashi chuka, and it was a wonderfully flavourful dish.  I’m not sure how much long into the summer this will be around, but would recommend you give it a try while you still can.

Upon learning from another message board that Deli Nippon was also currently serving up this creation, I knew I had to make a visit.  This very bare bones, cafe-looking place is obviously a place where you don’t go for the decor.  A strange unused, stainless steel buffet-type of contraption inside behind a panel of glass that separates the dining space from the kitchen, just adds to the mystic (and questions about the “designer”).

As at Menya, there are two flavours available. The orthodox soy-vinegar ($6.50) and a miso style ($7.00).

Aside from the oddly-placed slice of pineapple, the cherry on top, and the fake crab meat, this representation of hiyashi chuka is the more homey arrangement that I am accustomed to seeing in Japanese households with the thinly sliced ham, cucumber and egg.  The accompanying soy-vinegar sauce was on the weak side from a flavour profile, and a few bites into it, I began thinking I could make a better one at home.  For the price though, I could stomach it and the noodles were cooked right and the main trio of toppings were fresh.

Though different interpretations and slight variance in price, I would have to give the edge to the one I ate at Menya, despite it being the less traditional (at least to my Kanto-based tastes) of the two.

For another look at a hiyashi chuka, refer to an image in this older post.


As an added bonus, here is a look at the okonomiyaki offerings at Deli Nippon. Now I must admit I don’t hold high hopes for this dish in Vancouver, after experiencing the slothered with oil, undercooked version at Modern Club a while back.

At least the ones on hand at Deli Nippon were very reasonably priced (compared to Modern Club), so if a total disaster, I could live with it.  I was a little thrown off by the “Italian” option, but for me, okonomiyaki always means pork, so “buta” it was.

As it was brought to the table later than the a fore mentioned hiyashi chuka, I couldn’t help to be pleasantly surprised as it was nice, wide disc, but not overly dense and thick.  All the requisite toppings were there too.

Breaking it down some more, the base was cabbage and onion, topped with a layer of the same chuka-men used in the hiyashi chuka and a thin layer off egg on top.  Though not horribly bad tasting by any means, it lacked the punch of a really solid okonomiyaki, I think the rather bland pork slices (which were kind of few and far between as well) being used led me to feel this way – they lacked the really crispy, bacon-like texture that I prefer.  One thing to keep in mind, the small bottle of extra okonomiyaki sauce that they bring out, is simply just too thick for the small narrow spout, so you have to take off the lid and pour out the top directly.

Deli Nippon on Urbanspoon

X-talk: Makanai Ryori

[As with all of our posts, please click on any image for an enlarged view]

Returning to the tiny subfolder here that the Foodosopher has dubbed “X-talk”, for anything that is off the usual path of restaurant reviews, I thought I would touch on a topic that is known as “makanai ryori” (Japanese in origin).

Literally translating the characters for this word, it means “to make due”, “to cover off”.  It also has a connotation of “providing” (as in a supplier) but in this case it refers more to the former definition.  Simple stated, “makanai ryori (cuisine)” are dishes that are made by those working in the kitchen for their own consumption while on the job, using ingredients or materials that would be considered “waste”, not worthy of being used for preparations for actual paying customers, or whatever might be left over in the refrigerator (to clear it out).  This could entail things like the hard core of a head of cabbage, the lower quality ends bits off the end of a rack of pork ribs, the remnants of a braising liquid, etc.  It might not sound like much, but in essence, this is a little known training exercise for apprentice chefs looking to improve their culinary skills and/or impress their bosses in the kitchen to give them a bigger role during service.

Traditionally, it is the younger cooks who are tasked with making these meals for the rest of the kitchen crew.  It’s their chance to show what they’ve learned, especially in those kitchen environments where nothing is formally taught, and any newbie must keep his eyes and ears open to take in any technique or bit of knowledge more senior members of the kitchen may be wielding.  In Japanese, this is called “minarai“, literally “learn by watching”.  So things are taken quite seriously when their turns comes up to prepare for the whole entourage of their peers in the kitchen.

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