Toride – Tokyo, JP

Shinsencho 20-23, Shibuya-ku
Tokyo, Japan 〒150-0045
+81 3 3780 4450

With the chilly weather and ongoing fog that has engulfed the west coast, it has me craving for a good bowl of ramen. Unfortunately, when it comes to ramen, my thoughts go back to Japan. No offense to the ramen operators in Vancouver, but there is just something that cannot be matched by the “real deal”. As I think about it, its not only just the difference in the taste, quality of ingredients, dedicated “masters” who put so much into their creations, but also the atmosphere that I have a yearning for on a cold winter’s night.

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Ramen Santouka – Quarry Bay, HK

Ramen Santouka – Hong Kong branch
1F, JUSCO Kornhill Store
Kornhill Plaza (South), 2 Kornhill Road
Quarry Bay, Hong Kong
+852 2967 4044

Now if you are at all familiar, you know that authentic Japanese ramen in Hong Kong is hard to come by, even in that food crazed place. Amid all those miserable, wannabe places serving up their Hong Kong-interpretations of the dish, many of them with weak, one-dimensional broths that are always dreadfully lukewarm (why is that?!?!), you will appreciate Ramen Santouka coming into this market and straightening things out before the perception of ramen in SE Asia hits rock bottom. In essence, I am looking at Santouka as the guardian of ramen in this part of the world with their recent entries (July 2008 – Hong Kong; January 2008 – Singapore), and appreciate their efforts in this culinary fight against more poor “copies” out of China.

With their humble beginnings in Asahikawa, located in the upper part of the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, Ramen Santouka began as a simple nine-seat shop in the spring of 1998. The proprietor started out the business with a basic premise – to serve the best ramen he could to his family – I know, it sounds like something out of that cult classic flick “Tampopo“. They further built upon this motto by striving to achieve what they call a ramen that “is easy to understand, and that can be eaten many times over the years and you won’t tire of”. With this simple start, an capitalizing on the popular boom in shio-tonkotsu ramen, the Santouka empire has grown over the past twenty years into what is fast becoming an expanding global operation – as along with its 44 outlets spread throughout Japan, it now boasts 8 overseas branches (6 in the United States, 1 in Singapore and 1 now in Hong Kong). I’d say they have achieved their early goals.

Having been familiar with Santouka’s offerings from eating at their Shibuya and Shimokitazawa locations in Tokyo over the years, I was pleased that my recent visit to Hong Kong enabled me to sample it in their latest overseas venture. With the extreme popularity of the JUSCO hypermarket (run by the Japanese AEON group), I immediately learned that Santouka will not have any issues with foot traffic. I believe in America, they have followed the same strategy by placing their outlets within existing Japanese food/cuisine-friendly confines such as shopping centres catering to the local Japanese community, etc.  As you fight through the hoards of traffic, the moment you enter the main doors and walk down the steps to the first floor, you run smack dab into the window display and entrance way of Santouka. Their distinct noren, complete with their trademark backwards spelling of their name is retained, along with some supporting flags bearing the same characters.

Nearby are other notable Japanese shops that have been transplanted here, selling sweets, desserts, etc. but Santouka clearly garners most of the attention here. An impromptu waiting area made up of about twenty stools closed off by a taped-off series of poles, try to prevent waiting customers from getting in the way of the people headed to the supermarket section of JUSCO. On this day, the seats were all occupied as I arrived on the early Saturday afternoon (regular business hours are 11am to 10pm with last order called at 9:30pm), causing one staff member to come outside and pass out menu booklets to give those waiting a chance to see what could be had inside and also pre-order.

A smart strategy, as it not only built up the anticipation but also helped give the hurried kitchen a chance to know what was coming. For those in a rush and unable to wait, on the other side of the place was a take away window, though only ramen dishes were available. I am not sure if they put the soup and noodles in separate containers for this, but wonder why anyone would want to eat ramen as take away, as for me part of the experience is eating inside a ramen-ya.  You would think that non-ramen dishes would be better suited for take away, but hey that’s just me.

As I was more interested in catching up with an old friend who had come down from Guongzhou just to see me on my trip, I didn’t really catch much of what was going on around me – though I did feel the tables were fairly closely put together (resulting in plenty of stares when I whipped out the camera from my bag and started shooting away). After about a twenty minute wait after being seated inside, our meals arrived. With the last of the late-summer heat still present outside, I elected to go with the Tsukemen (cold noodles, with the hot broth used as a dipping sauce), and an Ikuradon to add more volume as I was feeling quite hungry.

The noodles were of a thicker variety (as you get in their Japan outlets), perfect for this dish as the broth clung beautifully to it, probably aided by the difference in temperature between the soup and the noodles. The tonkotsu-shoyu soup was as bold, fragrant and teetering on the delicate line between sweet tones (from the vegetables and sanma used in making the broth) and savory as I remembered it. Inside was a boiled egg, menma, onions, nori, and chashu. For some people, I could see them saying that this is on the salty side, but for me, who prefers stronger flavors, it suited me just fine. It is always so nice though, to find that even after several years, and in a different country to boot, that the memories I had of the soup were intact and well represented by the Hong Kong branch.

The second component of my meal, the Ikuradon, was nothing special. The rice was a tad undercooked (or had dried out from sitting in the bowl during prep), but the ikura itself was fresh and full of that tantalizing pop when you bit into each morsel. For its small size, it was just right in terms of adding some more volume to the combination meal. I think others around us had not seen many people eating a ramen bowl and a rice dish together, as I got some inquisitive looks (and this was after my camera was put away).

The challenge in making sure an original dish is duplicated successfully by the same food operation is critical in any expansion plans. For without it, you will run into those customers who know the basic offering and compare it negatively to any offspring and say that its not the same. That alone will end your path to business growth. Not to mention the countless other first time customers who will come away saying that it is not good, without even knowing the rich history and taste properties of the main menu items that exist at the home base. I suppose whenever I visit a branch outlet of a personal favorite/well known restaurant, I am reminded of a quote from Michael Jordan that went something to the effect of “I play hard every game and give it my all, because there will always be someone out there in the crowd who is seeing me for the very first time”.

I think food and restaurants should hold that same standard, if they are courageous enough to operate and even more so, when they are actively growing their operations organically and taking steps out of their home base (or country for that matter), for many will have an impression built up in their minds of the original and demand it, time and time again. Santouka has succeeded in this regard in my opinion, bringing to Hong Kong a solid ramen selection, that is on par with what you get in their Japan-based outlets.  Job well done!

Wa’s Japanese Restaurant – Calgary, AB

Wa’s Japanese Restaurant
1721 Centre St N
Calgary, AB
(403) 277-2077

[Editor’s Note: Our first double posting! We figured it might be interesting to write a posting with two points of view on the different flavours we experienced. Hope you enjoy!]

Foodosopher: Japanese people like eating at places run by Japanese Chefs. I cannot explain why, but In many ways, this is true of most cultures. They prefer to eat from their own. From an authenticity standpoint, this makes sense, but in an era of globalization, I am not sure if this is true any longer. Does a native chef offer better cuisine than an import? Does growing up in a culture make one more aware of a specific food culture than someone with a great palate, a passion for the food, and the energy to learn?

Shokutsu: If I may answer what seems to be a rhetorical question from Foodosopher above, I must admit that I do tend to sneak a peak at the kitchen whenever possible, and try to learn who is actually doing the food preparation and cooking, whenever I am in an ethnic restaurant.  Mostly this is due to such places being more understated, simple family run operations where more often than not, the food that is being created does come from the native land of its operators.  In the case of some cuisine that I am less familiar with, this “authenticity” does help alleviate some apprehension I may hold about how good it could be and ease any fears that I am getting an untrue representation of that country’s food culture, especially when I may not know a whole lot about it myself.  My version of a culinary Linus Van Pelt “security blanket”.

It also helps when a server is also knowledgeable and is open to kindly sharing information on what one should look for in an accurately constructed dish from a country – Foodosopher: recall that North African restaurant with the “preachy” server,  he was a bit overbearing, but at the end of the day I found it useful in my learning.

In the end though from the kitchen/chef standpoint, I feel that it should not matter where the cook is coming from, provided he has been well trained in the particular cuisine he is serving up by someone who him/herself has been trained well.  Unfortunately, this is where we see a lot of faults in North America, especially from the sushi point of view – with the mass development of “Japanese” restaurants on as many corners as Starbucks, out to capitalize on the craze, but having no formal training in the cuisine they are serving.

Foodosopher: Wa’s is a Japanese-run restaurant on the North side of downtown Calgary. Not just sushi, they carry a variety of Japanese dishes – offering a large cross section of dishes from tempura, ramen, and a variety of dishes cooked and raw. A typical North American Japanese restaurant.

As an aside, when discussing the typical “North American Japanese restaurant” with one Japanese chef in Calgary, I found it interesting that he complained about parts of his business – specifically, sushi. He didn’t train as a sushi chef, and found it stressful to prepare fish, being much more comfortable in his domain of serving up teishoku meals. It leads me to wonder how many Japanese restaurants have chefs who are trained in one specific discipline, and yet working in a multi-discipline restaurant because that is what the local market demands?

Foodosopher: Back to Wa’s, located in a small, recessed strip mall backed away from Centre Street, it is easy to pass it by without noticing it. In fact, the first time I was looking for it, after a Japanese co-worker had continuously expounded on the qualities of Wa’s, I drove by it 3 times until i finally noticed it. For some reason, this reminds me (quite pleasantly in fact) of Tokyo, where trying to find the location of a specific restaurant is often like trying to find Waldo. You know it’s there, but it takes a while.

Shokutsu: My first visit to Wa’s was the result of me one day lamenting the fact that I was missing the Shochu-based “sours” from izakaya establishments in Japan and wished I could get some in Calgary.  My Japanese friend told me flat out that I could get them at Wa’s and we made a quick stop and sat at the counter to partake in some drinks and some appetizers.  It’s been a while since that first visit, but as you note, had I not been introduced, I could have easily drove back and forth in front of the building and not know what that place housed inside.  For those who are not aware, the Japanese character you see on the exterior signage is read as “WA” (meaning Japanese); and is often used with the character of “SHOKU” (which means cuisine or food).  I am thinking that many people assumed the owner’s name was “Wa” or something, but this is not the case. 🙂

Foodosopher: The interior is quite small, and has a dark, simple, wooden feel. A simple room, circled by some booths and tables, and a simple sushi bar. In many ways, it reminds me of a classic Japanese Izakaya, albeit smaller.

Shokutsu: The layout and design of the space does lend itself well to the laid back atmosphere that I’ve experienced every time I’ve been here.  I’ve never experienced one of those loud, bustling scenes here that you may find in some of the izakaya in Vancouver – that is both a good and bad thing I suppose, depending on your point of view.

Shokutsu: With the cold brisk Alberta night air cutting through my Vancouver weather-appropriate jacket like a knife, I wanted to get something both warm and comforting in an appetizer, thankfully the Agedashi Tofu met these needs and then some.  The broth (shoyu, dashi, mirin) was very flavorful and the chunks of fried tofu were a good size requiring a few bites each to finish off each cube.  The bounty of toppings including green onions, daikon oroshi, ginger, etc. made for an authentic mix of flavors that complemented this dish very well.

Foodosopher:I didn’t find the weather too bad, it would be a bit wimpy to complain about such a pleasant evening, so i decided some fresh fish was in order. The aforementioned Japanese coworker comes here for sushi, which as i mentioned previously, is also one of my three places I am willing to eat sushi in Calgary. Generally, it is quite reasonable, very fresh, and very well selected, cut, and prepared. This evening was no exception.

The saba was honestly some of the best i’ve had in North America. Fresh firm, with a slight hint of the sea, without being overwhelmingly sour, salty, or fishy. A fantastic piece of fish. If we weren’t on notice for “last call”, which occurs 30 minutes before they close, I would’ve ordered more.

The tamago was standard North American fare. Nothing worth writing home about.

Foodosopher: The maki was fairly impressive as well – more often than not made from trim loss, I know it sounds a bit ironic but it was high quality trim! Good fish, good nori, decent rice, not the best “roll” i’ve seen, but good flavour.

Foodosopher: The salmon nigiri was impeccable – a nice rich fattiness, cleanly trimmed of any undesirable pieces. Good rice. From a raw standpoint, salmon is one of those fish that is hard to go wrong with in Canada. I’ve had a lot of the best salmon that Japan has to offer, and I can tell you Canada’s average salmon stands up to it without fail.

Shokutsu: As much as I wanted to reach out and snatch a piece after seeing how beautiful they were, I was afraid of what the Sushi Monster in front of me might do to my hand if I dared encroach on his meal.  Just based on visuals alone, I knew the salmon nigiri must have tasted incredible!

Shokutsu: Sometimes I am not in the mood for nigiri.  It might be due to being a bit shell-shocked through having some really bad stuff all too often in Vancouver.  And then other times, I desire the simplicity of sashimi, to allow me to get a true taste of the quality of the restaurant’s offering.  Furthermore, sometimes I still crave the sushi rice.  Best solution, get the Chirashi Sushi.  They do it very well here at Wa’s, albeit a bit pricy.  The balance of ingredients ran the gamut of their sushi menu, and what surprised me most of all was the volume of sushi rice – the bowl was deceptively deep.  The quality of the sushi rice was very good, which made finishing off the entire bowl a challenge, but a welcome one at that.  As very often with chirashi, I end up not eating the provided sushi rice as it is a gooey mess (Uptown Sushi in Calgary was a repeat offender on this) , but not here at Wa’s.

Foodosopher: Finally, though they run out of it fairly frequently, I had a bowl of Tonkotsu Ramen ($8.95). While on the small side, It is well topped: chasu, menma, spring onions, konbu, and beni shoga, in the hakata ramen style. The chasu is nice and well-flavoured,  a good balance of fat and pork. The noodles were a little less appropriate. Cooked to the soft side, they failed to shine in this bowl. They tasted like they were purchased from some local, pre-packaged noodle provider. The broth I enjoyed, had a decent flavour, though it lacked any real oiliness expected from a tonkotsu broth, was a bit thin, and was definitely a bit salty. I found out later than they buy their tonkotsu broth in a can, which would explain the saltiness, though I still stand by the fact that the broth is surprisingly decent. Overall, definitely much better than Muku, and for me, on par with Shikiji for a ramen offering in town.

Shokutsu: Surprisingly, I’ve never had the Tonkotsu Ramen here at Wa’s, despite hearing of it being the only place offering it, pre-Muku.  It is on my list for my next visit to this southern Alberta city, after Foodospher kindly offered me a spoon tasting of the broth.  It did seem a bit dense/thick to me, but I tend to like it that way as it clings to the noodles (especially if they are of the crinkly variety).  A more thorough tasting is required by me, but based on my single tasting, I was in agreement that it was a good offering.

Foodosopher: There’s actually a lot to like about Wa’s. Though it is fairly small and often full, they serve up some good, fresh Japanese food at decent prices. As a “general” Japanese restaurant, I feel they would fail to standout in a city with more specialized choices, with restaurants that did a better job at specific dishes and styles. However, in Calgary, there are a lot of redeeming qualities. Wa’s is worth visiting, not just because they are Japanese run, but for me, start and end with the freshness and quality of the fish.

Shokutsu: I will say that I concur with Foodosopher’s stance that the quality of the fish and the preparation of it is indeed top notch here at Wa’s.  They also do a good job with items from the kitchen as well, which warrants some more exploration on my part, as there are still some standard items I like to use as benchmarks when eating at all-encompassing Japanese restaurants in Canada.  Please feel free to leave us your feedback, comments, questions as usual in the box below…

Wa's Japanese on Urbanspoon

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

Menya Japanese Noodle – Vancouver, BC

Menya Japanese Noodle
401 W Broadway
Vancouver, BC
Tel: (604) 725-9432
Hours: Lunch, 11:30 to 3pm; Dinner, 5pm to 9pm

Menya Japanese Noodle on Urbanspoon

May 2010 re-visit post here

Original post below:

Hakata ramen. with its roots deeply implanted in the Kyushu island ramen culture of Japan, is responsible for the establishment of the milky white and creamy tonkotsu (pork bone) soup as one of the most popular ramen broths, rivaling the stalwarts of shoyu (soy sauce), shio (salt), and miso.  It has also had an impact in creating hybrid soups, such as the well liked tonkotsu-shoyu, that you find most often in the Kanto (e.g Tokyo) region.  My first exposure to tonkotsu ramen was in the spring of 1997.  I was in Fukuoka (capital city of Kyushu island) and was taken to the eye-opening outdoor ramen stall alley found in the district of Nagahama.  It is a well known tourist site, bringing in ramen fanatics from across the country, and is located on a side street near a major wholesale food market.  It operates at night, and when it becomes dark, the lights from inside the various tents and stalls on this road come on and attracts diners like moths to a flame.  There are also more proper in-building ramen shops operating in the area, but for me, the lasting impression of the street stalls remains with me to this day.

So I was strongly looking forward to the opening of Menya Japanese Noodle on West Broadway, near the Cambie Street intersection (the one with the dreaded, ongoing Canada Line construction), after hearing rumors that tonkotsu was their soup of choice.  With the growing base of places to eat ramen building in the downtown west end, it was refreshing to see another option that was not located in the city core.  Opening its doors on September 8th, I planned to wait at least a month to allow them to settle down, but a recent rainy day made me long for a nice hot bowl of tonkotsu ramen, so I broke with my intended plan.  Despite the dreary weather, the room was full as I stepped inside during the lunch hour.  No doubt, word had spread already about this place, and many other curious people had joined me in trying it out.  Couples, families with children, people of all ages and ethnicities were here, providing evidence that ramen has become more widely accepted in the city as another definitive dish from Japanese food culture.  An inquiry to a member of the all-female serving staff led to a good piece of information as I sat down with the menu – the owner/head cook had actually worked and trained in a Fukuoka city ramen shop (name withheld).

The top of the menu board featured a Nagahama Ramen ($6.75); in Kyushu, Hakata-style and Nagahama-style ramen are basically inter-changeable in terms of vocabulary, as both are tonkotsu-based.  Next to it was a Tonkotsu Miso Ramen ($7), as well as a Ramen Set ($10) that would give you a bowl of ramen, one onigiri (rice ball), and gyoza (I think four pieces).  Rather than fill up on these extras, I decided instead to add some more toppings in the form a nitama (flavored boiled egg; $0.75) and chashu (slices of pork belly; $3, which came with some marinated bean sprouts).  I split these added toppings with my dining companion, who also ordered the Nagahama Ramen.  The tonkotsu broth was what I’d classify as mid-level in terms of heaviness. I detected some slight pork fat added to the mixture, giving it a slightly more oily consistency than what you’d typically find in Hakata-style ramen (you see this more often in Tokyo-style).

It was very creamy and a respectable representation of a solid tonkotsu broth, and to top it off, there was none of that distinctive pork scent that you can find at times in tonkotsu soups.  The Nagahama Ramen did come with the usual toppings of beni shoga (thin slices of ginger that is pickled) and konbu (kelp), along with chopped green onions and bamboo shoots.  The beni shoga is a key one here for tonkotsu-based ramen, as its used as a refreshing element and to help mask any notable pork scent coming from the soup stock.  Lastly, I did notice another element that is found in this style of ramen in Japan was missing, a spoonful or two of some garlic-infused flavored oil.

Kyushu region ramen commonly uses a thin straight variety of noodle.  This holds true at Menya.  In ramen joints in Japan, it is often possible to order oomori (e.g. a large serving of noodles).  But here in lies the problem with an bigger volume of noodles in a bowl of hot soup.  The thinner the variety, the less its able to hold up over time.  Even a few extra minutes of sitting in the hot soup can be detrimental, and cause the noodles to completely lose all of their texture, become overcooked and turn into limp strings.  To get around this, ramen shops in Kyushu came up with the concept of kaedama (literally translated as “replacement ball”).  At Menya, they have also implemented this into their menu.  Basically, once you have consumed all of the noodles, you can order a followup serving of only-noodles, to add to the soup that you still have remaining (provided you are not one of of those overzealous types who drink down all of the soup as you go).

I appreciate all that Menya has done in their early days, bringing to Vancouver a pure representation of Hakata-style, tonkotsu ramen, as well as including the little nuances of ramen culture into their menu setup.  By focusing on this soup broth, and this alone, I think it can carve out its own niche.  Geographic distance from the Kintaro kingpin in this market will also no doubt help.  Judging from the packed house, it seems there are plenty of ramen fans who will come to this non-downtown location.  But ramen is such a personal preference.  Myself, I do enjoy tonkotsu, as well as shio soups.  I tend to prefer a more crinkly noodle, and probably consume more lighter broths than denser ones.  At times, I enjoy a fuller bowl with lots of additional toppings, which often goes better with miso broths.  If it is a complete mishmash for me, I am guessing I am not alone in enjoying variety in my ramen.  But Menya deserves consideration for your tonkotsu option in your Vancouver ramen preference set.

Menya Japanese Noodle on Urbanspoon