The Top Food Trends and Who Does Them Best: Ramen
An invasion of specialized noodle spots feeds our slurpy obsession
Ramen is now Toronto’s preferred midday fuel. A wave of noodle restaurants began to open a year ago, prompted by the arrival of Momofuku’s Noodle Bar, and never stopped. There’s a hipster factor behind ramen’s popularity (a video circulated last fall of a guy who shaped his beard into a bowl, which he filled with Sriracha-doused noodles), but a major part of the appeal is the dish’s egalitarianism, combining cheapness with a gourmet sensibility.
The superior ramen kitchens, much like the best sushi counters, have cooks who’ve apprenticed in Japan and treat each step of the soup-making process with disciplined reverence. Baldwin Village’s Kinton, part of the Vancouver-based Guu izakaya chain, makes a pork broth infused with raw garlic and chili oil that people tell me has rid them of lingering head colds. There’s usually a lunch-hour lineup outside; it’s so popular, they opened a second location in Koreatown this winter. At the bustling Santouka, a glass-fronted spot on Dundas East, I’ve sat beside tables of Ryerson students who posted Instagram pics of every bowl they slurped, comparing subtle differences in broth and noodles. The restaurant is part of a Hokkaido chain known for its cloudy pork broth, which the cooks pour over a hefty portion of slow-roasted pork belly slices and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and green onion. The only disappointment at Santouka is the noodles, which are factory made and nowhere near as good as I’ve had at Touhenboku, a narrow new room on Queen West near the MuchMusic studios. They pull fresh noodles daily from a machine imported from Japan, and the result is a dramatic improvement in springiness and chew. Touhenboku specializes in sea-salted chicken broth, which swims with bubbles of fat and is so intensely flavourful, it doesn’t need a squirt of the optional chili oil or black garlic sauce.
The most varied ramen is at Raijin, another Vancouver arrival on Gerrard that resembles a minimalist temple designed for noodle worship. They serve several versions of both pork and chicken broths, plus two thicknesses of noodle. One variation of miso chicken broth is mixed with a food-grade charcoal powder that supposedly cleanses the body of toxins—a spa treatment and lunch in one. I can’t say I felt healthier, but it left me warm and happy.