Hokkaido Ramen Santouka: The Secret is in the Tiny Pickled Plum
1690 Robson Street, Vancouver
I have been hearing endless stories about Hokkaido Ramen Santouka so I had to go check it out for myself. We went early on Saturday so there wasn’t a line up. I was amused by their cute Halloween display behind the plastic ramen noodle bowls in the front window. I loved their little cut-out ghosts and pumpkins smiling happily in a wonderfully cross-cultural window display. Although, what is it with Japanese food establishments and plastic food displays? I’ve heard there’s even a little town in Japan devoted to selling plastic food displays. It’s on my ‘must-see’ travel list.
Upon entering Hokkaido Ramen Santouka, we could already smell the warm and rich broth and the noodle chefs behind the window in the open concept kitchen were already busy cooking away.
I confess that I came here with a Ramen Elitist so he took care of the ordering. I was just happy to eat anything with pork in it and bouncy, chewy noodles. I know most people eat ramen for the incredible broth, but I’m in it for the texture and taste of the noodles.
I was not disappointed by the noodles at Santouka. We both ordered the Toroniku Shio Ramen, which is simmered pork jowl and salt seasoned ramen. The noodles were excellent, almost as firm and chewy as G-Men and definitely more al dente than the noodles at Ramen Jinya. Something about the thick and firm texture of the noodles at Santouka keep them from getting soggy during our entire meal. Even the noodles that I dug out from the bottom of my bowl at the end were still chewy and springy.
I prefer these springy, curly noodles at Santouka over the straighter noodles that Ramen Jinya often serves.
Despite their distinct chewy texture, the ramen noodles still soaked up the salty broth perfectly. The Toroniku Shio broth was one of the cloudiness that I’ve seen, and definitely one of the most flavourful that I’ve ever tasted. It was salty with a subtle and smooth creaminess to it, it was definitely comfort food for a cold Saturday. With the Toroniku Shio Ramen at Santouka, the toppings: pork cheek, bamboo shoots, wood ear, green onions and pickled plum are served separately so you can add as much as you want into your bowl of ramen and broth or just eat the toppings as appetizers. I barely added green onions since I’m not a fan but the pork cheek was delicious in the noodle broth.
The pork cheeks were so tender that I barely needed to chew them. The slices are thinner than at Ramen Jinya but we definitely got more slices at Santouka. The pork meat was very flavourful with a great salty char on the outside and moist, melt-in-your-mouth meat in the middle.
The little red pickled plum was intensely tart, it added such a memorable burst of flavour to contrast the comforting creaminess of the broth that it really took this bowl of ramen to the next level. So when you find that tiny red plum on your side plate of toppings, make sure you dunk it into your noodles and wait till mid-meal before eating it. Then get ready for a surprise explosion of tart sweetness that also awakens your taste buds to the rest of the meal.
I loved their handy broth spoons with a smart ridge for balancing on the edge of the bowl.
For appetizers we had to order a hard boiled egg, cooked to perfection with a gooey, half-runny yolk. I loved the natural sweet yolk flavours mixed in with the mild taste of the boiled egg white.
Our pork gyozas also did not disappoint. The gyoza skin was thin, tender and delicate, making the pork fillings the star of the show. The pork fillings are slightly fattier than at G-Men and Ramen Jinya. I actually prefer fattier, moist dumpling fillings. Oink. There was also a sweetness to the gyozas at Santouka which I loved.
I loved the ramen at Santouka. The service was pleasant and speedy. I will totally return.