The menus of most ramen shops usually run something like this: a selection of shio, shoyu, tonkotsu, and miso bowls, maybe tantanmen, and then one or two brothless options.
But a Japan-based chain that recently entered the Vancouver market is flipping the script by spotlighting noodles without broth.
Kokoro Tokyo Mazesoba had its grand opening on September 28 at 551 Seymour Street.
It's larger than most Vancouver ramen shops, as up to 70 patrons can be seated in the spacious 3,500-square-foot premises.
In an interview with the Georgia Straight at the new location, co-owner Florey He explains that they wanted lots of space for the downtown crowd "because their time is precious at noon" and didn't want lineups to be lengthy. He added that they also liked the location due to its proximity to several schools in the area, such as BCIT.
Kokoro Tokyo Mazesoba (which is unrelated to Kokoro Ramen on Victoria Drive in East Vancouver) launched in Tokyo in 2013 and has since expanded across Japan, as well as to Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, and Spain.
For those unfamiliar with mazesoba, it's different from dipping noodles like tsukemen, in which cold noodles are served separately from a bowl of broth, but is somewhat similar to the brothless abura soba.
Noodles are served in bowls with mix of toppings, such as raw egg yolk, nori (dried seaweed) flakes, bamboo shoots, green onions, garlic, ground saba (mackerel), chashu (slow-braised pork), or minced pork.
He explains that they maintain the quality of Japanese standards and, with a water-softening machine and noodle-making equipment, make their own multigrain soba in-house every day.
All chashu and minced meat (which He calls their "secret weapon") is also made in-house.
The Vancouver menu offers an array of mazesoba ($12.99 to $17.99), with a few tailored to local palates.
For those who just want the basics, there's the Tokyo bowl ($12.99) with spicy minced pork. Their most popular bowl is niku mazesoba, which He says has a localized level of spiciness. For those who dislike spiciness, there's the shio bowl.
The cheese version (with spicy minced pork) incorporates mozzarella cheese, which He says maintains a mild cheese flavour in order to remain palatable to Asian diners.
The mentaiko (fish roe) cream variation with chashu was created specifically for Vancouver, and isn't on the company's menus elsewhere.
For the full meal deal, the hefty zenbu bowl is the chef's special, with all toppings available.
There's also a curry version and, because this is Vancouver, a vegan bowl featuring tomato sauce that He says was developed for locals.
As a bonus, He adds that they also offer free portion of rice to polish off remaining sauce with, which he says some find particularly attractive.
Despite all these offerings, there is still ramen with broth available ($12.84 to $13.85).
There's tonkotsu (pork broth), tomato tonkotsu (available cold-broth version as well, which is an innovation created at this location), spicy tonkotsu, and—again for Vancouver—soybean-based vegan ramen.
Side dishes, ranging from chicken karaage to ebi mayo, are also made in-house.
What's also unique to the Vancouver menu are the beverages and desserts, which He says they developed themselves. Drink options (non-alcoholic) include Blue Hawaii lemonade (made with organic lemon juice), iced Tokyo milk tea, Kokoro yogurt refresher (peach or passionfruit), and iced matcha latte.
For dessert, there's soft-serve ice cream (made with a Nissei machine from Japan) or the Fuji cheese cupcake, meant to symbolize Mount Fuji (with an Oreo layer bottom to represent the bottom of the mountain).
In the future, He says that they hope to add items to the menu, such as tantanmen. But for the moment though, it seems there's already plenty on the menu to check out.