One food trend that I’ve long ignored is the fresh ramen houses.
I’ve eaten the packaged instant ramen since I was kid, and still do occasionally. I never quite understood the appeal of a $10 bowl of ramen that (I thought) could be replicated at home for $1. I actually did try a fresh ramen place many years ago (back in the late 1990s) long before the explosion ramen noodle shops started. That visit did nothing to change my opinion. The noodles were thick and chewy, and the miso broth was basically a really salty. I don’t think I finished by meal. Thus my reticence to retry all these years.
Well my resistance finally wore down, and I decided to try again. I decided to start at Benkei Ramen, on West Broadway.
This was once a small chain of ramen houses around vancouver, but it appears to have consolidated down to this single location. I arrived at the start of the lunch rush, and got one of the last remaining seats at the communal bench in the middle of the restaurant. Shortly after I sat down, a line of waiting patrons formed at the door.
I chose a combo, that starts with a small order of pork gyoza.
These are pretty good. The wrappers are thin, and there’s a nice sear on one side that gives a little crunch. The filling tasted more of garlic and onion than of the pork, so I’m a little disappointed there. It comes with a tangy black vinegar and soy dipping sauce (no pictured).
This was followed by my order of miso ramen.
This is a generous bowl of fresh ramen noodles in a miso broth, with fresh bamboo shoots, blanched bean sprouts, minced scalllions and a few slices of chasu.
I have to admit, this is better than my previous visit to a ramen shop back in late 90s. The noodles, while slightly chewy (or shall I say al-dente) were much better, and the broth was rich in miso flavor without being too salty. The other toppings (the bean sprouts, scallions and bamboo shoots) added some freshness and crispness to the meal. The chasu was pretty lean and a little skimpy (the bowl needed another a couple of slices, I think), but had decent pork flavor.
The room is quite crowded and boisterous during peak hours.
The servers were characteristically japanese with their enthusiastic greetings upon arrival. They were fairly attentive and expedient with their service.
Now, this is certainly an improvement over my past experience with fresh ramen. Not enough to make me a convert, but enough to encourage me to try again.