I want to talk ramen today because I don’t think it gets as much love as it should. The most common form of ramen is the staple of university students. Yes, instant ramen. In a cup or in a bag, at one point or another, I think we’ve all been on the instant noodle diet, whether it was due to financial hardship or that stage you go through in life where you eat whatever the heck you want and your body bounces back just fine (those days, sadly, are long over for me). But over in Japan, ramen is like its own religion. Just like Koreans have the Chinese to thank for introducing jjajangmyun, the Japanese took Chinese noodles and made it their own. They even have a ramen museum – that’s how deep their love for ramen goes.
Noodles are the comfort food of Asians. Nothing soothes the soul quite like a piping hot bowl of delicious broth and a mound of slurpable noodles. My love of noodles has grown exponentially in the last few years; I think I crave comfort foods more so as I age. I can’t pass up a good bowl of noodles, whether it’s the aforementioned Korean favourite jjajangmyun, Vietnamese pho, or of course, ramen. I feel like ramen has been misunderstood. In its natural state, it’s a profoundly complex, flavourful creation. For me, ramen is like a warm hug in my belly; it reassures me that everything is gonna be just fine. When I’m having a bad day, ramen instantly makes it better. Ramen has a calming, comforting affect on me. It’s emotional sustenance.
Ramen is slowly making its mark in North America, most notably in Vancouver and Toronto where it’s done so well, and now the Ramen Revolution is coming full circle to Calgary. One random day, I picked up on the newsflash that a new ramen joint was set to open in Bridgeland. I think it was just pure dumb luck, or maybe the Noodle Gods were gently guiding me to noodle paradise, but I’m grateful for receiving the news about Shiki Menya, an answer to my ramen prayers.
Shiki Menya is an off-shoot of Shikiji, one of my go-to Japanese restaurants in Calgary. Their menu is exclusively ramen, the star of the show, but they also offer a few appetizers and rice bowls. They currently serve only 150 bowls per day; first come, first serve. It’s survival of the fittest (or hungriest). Eat early or go home hungry. Basically, it’s like a challenge against all ramen lovers of Calgary to see who can beat who to one of 30 coveted seats at this small eatery.
Our first visit to Shiki Menya was on the Saturday of the week they officially opened. We intended to make it there before they opened, but ended up arriving at about 11:10 a.m.; the place was already quite packed by then. We sat at the large communal table, all cozy with diners Japanese-styles.
To start, we ordered 4 gyoza (you can get 4 or 8). They were your standard order gyozas; decent, with a nice pork filling, but nothing to write home about.
I opted to try their Tonkotsu Classic (negi, soft tamago, menma, char siu, spring greens) to start off my ramen journey. I was expecting the milky broth of typical tonkotsu ramen, but their take on it hit the spot. I found the broth to be perfectly seasoned with layers of complexity, and that signature umami that’s inherent in all good ramen. I was surprised to see the fresh mixed greens as that’s not a typical ramen topping, but I actually liked the freshness and bitterness that cut through the rich broth. The hand-made noodles are simply divine – the right amount of chew and perfect al dente texture. That’s the way ramen noodles should be. Mushy ramen noodles are the worst offense, but Shiki Menya’s noodles are near perfection. I can’t forget to mention how awesome it is to get two slices of char siu, and the soft-boiled egg.. oh my. SO GOOD.
Mark chose the Kara Miso Garlic (negi, soft tamago, menma, char siu, corn, garlic “ra-yu” chili oil), one of their new school bowls. It comes with thicker noodles to hold up against the more substantial broth. The miso base is creamy and the chili oil gives it a nice amount of spice. It comes with all the usual fixings, and the addition of corn gives it a bit of sweetness to balance out the more savoury elements.
I was so impressed by our first visit that I decided to put myself through the Great Ramen Challenge: Try ALL THE RAMEN at Shiki Menya. For research purposes, of course.
My next visit was on a weekday with a co-worker who is a fellow ramen lover. We made it there fairly early and secured a table. It was a lot quieter than the Saturday I had visited, but it soon started to fill up as it neared the noon hour.
I’d heard good things about their Char Siu Tacos with Pineapple Salsa, so we ordered it to start. You wouldn’t think a Japanese taco would work, but this was a winner. Large pieces of beautifully charred char siu, topped with the usual taco fixins on soft corn tortillas? Heck yes.
This time around, I ordered the Miso Classic (negi, soft tamago, menma, char siu, spring greens). It’s basically the Kara Miso Garlic without the spice of the chili oil. A very creamy, satisfying bowl of ramen.
And now, the rest of the ramen varieties:
Goma Mazemen (negi, poached tamago, char siu, spring greens, dried chili, sesame peanut tare), another new school bowl. This one is my favourite. Mazemen is a type of ramen that has less soup as all the ingredients are meant to be mixed around in the tare (seasoning). It comes with the thicker noodles as they hold up better in the saltier soup. It’s the perfect balance of heat from the chili and the sweet nuttiness from the peanut tare.
Tonkotsu Black (negi, soft tamago, menma, char siu, black garlic oil, squid ink garlic), which rounds out the new school offerings. This is Mark’s favourite. It has a pleasant garlic aroma throughout and the squid ink gives the broth a slight ocean flavour (which is not a bad thing); all in all, the broth is incredibly aromatic, deep, and complex. Mark described it as “mature”. He doesn’t dole out compliments that often, so this means he really likes this ramen.
Chili Goma (negi, chopped pork, menma, mustard green, sesame, peanuts & cashews). Similar to the original Shikiji version, but slightly lighter, thinner broth. I found the broth to be too salty for my liking, but enjoyed the chopped pork topping and the noodles.
Lastly, the Veggie Classic (negi, menma, spring greens, corn, age tofu). Obviously, this is made with a vegetarian soup stock. Despite it not having the complexity and umami of the other ramen broths, I really enjoyed how light and clean tasting this soup was. As a tofu lover, the age tofu was a nice addition, as was the corn for the sweetness. This is a good option if you’re in the mood for noodles, but want something a little lighter than the usual fare. I would get this again, but would add char siu on the side.
I can’t forget to mention their Premium Cold Ocha, basically a chilled green tea. It’s earthy and refreshing, perfect for cleansing the palate after a satisfying bowl of ramen.
Besides their delicious ramen, I love their modern decor and all the staff are really friendly. The prices are mid-range and the portions are quite large, so it’s good value. I would recommend going early to nab a seat (especially on Saturdays – line-ups start before they even open), otherwise the wait can get pretty long and there’s always the risk that they’ll run out before you get a seat.
Sure, it’s not perfect, but Shiki Menya is pretty damn close. What I found to be clearly evident is their meticulous attention to detail. Does it kinda suck that they’re only open for a very brief window during the day? Yes. But for them, it’s all about the quality and putting out a product that is lovingly and carefully crafted. I can’t fault them for that.
827 1st Ave NE
Phone: (403) 454-2722