viva la vancouver eats: ramen santouka

So how does one end up having a third ramen experience on a 4-day trip to Vancouver?  Well, let me tell you how it all started…

One of Mark’s high school friends, Thomas (the one we met up with to check out Soirette) asked us if we were interested in meeting up with him for lunch downtown at one of the many food trucks.  Apparently this one serves awesome tacos, but he couldn’t recall the name.  All he said was to meet him at a specific intersection at 11:45 a.m. near his workplace and the food truck would be just around the corner.  I had a sneaking suspicion that we might be out of luck, since it was Easter Monday (even though it appeared that tons of people went back to work as per usual).  Nevertheless, we set out to the agreed-upon meeting place and waited for Thomas.

Well, it just so happened that the food truck was nowhere to be seen.  Now what?

We decided to set off towards Robson Street to see if anything would inspire us.  Thomas wasn’t too much help since he lives in Burnaby and only goes out in that area, and by that time, I was fresh out of ideas as well.  The suggestion of Japa Dog came up a couple of times, but Mark was weary of trying it that time around.  What about sushi?  Burgers?  With all the choices around us, why couldn’t we make a decision?

It wasn’t until we were close to our hotel that Thomas suggested a ramen place, which was at the other end of Robson Street.  The food truck idea turned into walking for nearly 40 minutes until we finally made it to Ramen Santouka, where there was already a line-up out the door.  We were informed that it would be at least a 30-minute wait.  Having come all this way, it seemed like a waste to turn around and try to find another place, so we stuck around watching people eat delicious looking ramen while the line-up continued to become longer.

The place was bustling and felt hot and humid, just how I would imagine a ramen shop to be.  There’s a large communal table in the front of the restaurant, with bar seating and individual tables in the back.  I watched as bowls of ramen were prepared in the kitchen; there’s actually a glass wall that separates the kitchen from the bar area, to prevent people from getting splashed with ramen broth, I imagine.

Three seats finally opened up at the communal table and we sat amongst a group of middle-aged Japanese men and some younger couples.  The service was fast and friendly and it took no time at all to get a glass of water and our orders taken.

I’d read about their Toroniku ramen, which comes with a plate full of simmered toroniku (pork jowl), the tender cheek meat.  Apparently it melts in the mouth and they only have a limited quantity per day (the menu said something along the lines of “first come, first serve”).  All three of us were lucky enough to get the toroniku.  I opted to get the shio broth (salt broth); the other two choices are miso broth or shoyu broth (which has soy sauce added).

I loved how we got the bowl of soup and noodles with the plate of toppings on the side.  The creamy broth was nicely seasoned, with the noodles perfectly chewy.  And the verdict on the toroniku?  WOW!  It truly was melt-in-the-mouth pork goodness.  It even fell apart being picked up by chopsticks – it was that tender.  I’ve never had pork like this before and now I can see why it’s so special.  It was wonderfully salty and rich.

The communal dining experience was quite interesting.  As much as we were sitting with a bunch of strangers, it was like we were all connected by a singular mission – to have a delicious, satisfying bowl of ramen on a Monday afternoon.

We were acutely aware of the ginormous line-up, so we left as soon as we were done.  I suppose it’s an unspoken courtesy – enjoy your soup, but please be on your way so that others can have their turn.

I would rate the ramen at Santouka as #1 out of the ramens I tried on the trip.  It’s perfectly portioned and the toroniku is an absolute delicacy.  Perhaps I have that food truck to thank for not showing up…

Ramen Santouka
1690 Robson St
Vancouver, BC V6G 1C7
Phone: (604) 681-8121

Hokkaido Ramen Santouka 山頭火 on Urbanspoon


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