If I could fill my new camelbak‘esque hydration system with anything, it would be Hakata-style ramen broth. And so it was perhaps no surprise, then, that after a recent trip to Mountain Equipment Coop my wife and I tried out Menya, a nagahama ramen place we stumbled across on Broadway Street (here) in Vancouver.
Nagahama ramen, by the by, is noodles in a lovely, pork broth. It is NOT diet food. Ramen is a bit of an institution in Hakata (part of Fukuoka, in Japan) and is best enjoyed slurped. Check out this (above) great clip from the classic movie, Tampopo. Yes, that is a young Watanabe Ken.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am a Hakata ramen purist, having spent a couple of years in the lovely city. I like my broth robust, but not so robust that you mistake it for its little cousin, the thicker Kurume-style ramen. I have been jilted by many a crappy ramen places in Toronto – would I suffer the same fate this time? The answer is: No, not really.
I ordered the Nagahama Ramen Set which, for $10.35, gets you a bowl of the good stuff, 4 pieces of gyoza dumplings, and your choice of rice balls. A pretty good deal, relatively speaking. The gyoza weren’t great (they tasted as if they came out of a pack) but the takikomi rice ball was really nice.
The ramen was a success, too. The noodles were cooked well (just a little firm), the pork was moist and tender, and the other fixin’s were nice. The broth was actually quite good, though it could have done with a little more depth of flavour. One partial answer to my depth issue was a mysteriously labelled “Ramen Sauce” squeeze bottle sitting lazily on the counter. One whiff of its contents (I realize this is slightly undignified) was a revelation. I’m not sure what was in it, but it smelled like liquid, rendered, pig fat. A little squirt and my ramen got a big taste bump. I would highly recommend giving this sauce a try.
The food aside, I thought that the restaurant was actually a great little find, too. The staff was friendly, the atmosphere was relaxed, the service was quick (we were in and out in 30 minutes) and the chance to sit at the counter and steal a little view of the mountains is nice.
I note that some foodie websites like dinehere.ca and yelp.ca give Menya some luke-warm reviews, and there is some truth to them, but Menya is still worth a trip if you’re on Broadway jumping from one of its many outdoor stores to another. Now, if I can only figure out how to get the noodles down my camelbak straw…