Passion for Pork

Ramen! – A pork lovers noodle bowl.

Mijune - Thursday, August 29, 2013

Ramen! – A pork lovers noodle bowl.

It’s the end of summer and many of us are putting away the barbeques and perhaps looking for something more comforting. Barbeque feasts are pretty comforting, but a hot bowl of noodles and soup is a meal I look forward to during the colder months.

Ramen has become widely celebrated outside of Japan over the last few years, and Vancouver has fully embraced it. It is particularly appealing to pork lovers because the rich broth is based on a pork stock which takes days to prepare. This savoury pork broth made from roasted pork bones (sometimes unroasted) makes for a milky soup that is intensely infused with delicious pork flavour throughout.

Traditional ramen is often topped with char siu (barbeque pork slices made from the pork shoulder, pork butt, or pork cheek).

In Vancouver there are several traditional ramen shops, but some restaurants are putting a local twist on it by using local BC pork products. It would be great if Japanese restaurants used BC pork as well (which some do), but I highly recommend trying all styles of it. Ramen, is the pork lovers noodle bowl.

Here some recommendations for where to find modern and traditional styles of ramen.

Modern ramen

Harvest Community Foods

Harvest Community Foods doubles as a local artisan foods store and a casual ramen shop seating about 10. The style of ramen is Westernized, but that is not to say it is not good. Their ramen with pork shoulder, radish, egg and candied bacon is a much lighter, healthier and colourful version of the Japanese-style ramen. The candied bacon (from Two Rivers Meats) and radish (from North Arm Farms) is not typical of authentic ramen, but they believe in the “eat local” movement and their ingredients are sustainable. | 243 Union, Vancouver

Burdock & Co.

The owner of Harvest Community Foods, chef Andrea Carlson also opened her sit down restaurant Burdock & Co., which offers the Harvest Pork Belly Ramen with candied bacon, nori and a fried egg. It was a house made pork broth, but the soup base was very mild and not as intense with pork flavour compared to the ones I will mention below. 

The pork belly was my favourite part and not because I’m writing for Passion for Pork. It was partially because it was pork belly (which is almost always good), but also because it was well made. The skin was crisp and not chewy and it was well seasoned and savoury without being too salty. The fat was well rendered and it was more meat to fat which I prefer. It needs some fat for flavour, which there was, and the fat was very tender and creamy and the pork melted in my mouth.

The Harvest Community pork shoulder ramen came with a slice of pork shoulder which is more traditional, but with Andrea’s style I prefer her pork belly.

The paper thin candied bacon was from Two Rivers Meats (local) and that was crisp and barely sweet for being candied, but good (as bacon usually is). | 2702 Main, Vancouver

Traditional ramen

Motomachi Shokudo

There are many to choose from, and while the ramen scene in Vancouver can get even better, I prefer Ramen Santouka or Motomachi Shokudo for my ramen fix. Both offer traditional Japanese ramen but represent very different styles which are regional in Japan.

Motomachi Shokudo is sister restaurant to Kintaro, which was the first specialty ramen shop in Vancouver. Kintaro still gets line-ups, but I prefer Motomachi, just a few doors down. Their healthier Bamboo-Charcoal Dark Miso Ramen option with Japanese leek, menma (bamboo shoots), soft-boiled local organic egg, green onion, BBQ pork, thinly sliced chili pepper, white pepper, seasonal green vegetable, and chili pepper powder is a signature dish and not available elsewhere.

Address: 740 Denman, Vancouver

Ramen Santouka

It is apples and oranges to compare the mentioned ramen bowls and shops, but my favourite is Ramen Santouka. They specialize in a Northern style of ramen, which is different than ramen from Tokyo, Hakata and Sapporo, three cities known for the dish. Their Toroniku Shio Ramen has a very rich and creamy, savoury, milky broth made of simmered pork bones. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is healthy though; this is pure Japanese indulgence.

Standard toppings include Toroniku pork jowl, menma and “wood ear mushrooms” also known as Auricularia auricula-judae — a fungus popularly used in Chinese cuisine. There is no candied bacon, and in the context of Vancouver these toppings might sound more exotic, but this how traditional ramen is served. It might be an acquired taste and it is not about the “eat local” movement here, but traditional is traditional and they make Japanese food with Japanese ingredients.

Address: 1690 Robson, Vancouver