East Vancouver's Kokoro Ramen seeks to connect community with Japanese heart and soul

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      When Yasuhiro Sumino decided to open a ramen restaurant in Vancouver, he chose a spot far away from the ramen zone down radiating out from the Robson and Denman intersection.

      It wasn't strategic—it was close to where he found a place to live, he said in an interview with the Georgia Straight at his eatery at 5695 Victoria Drive (at East 41st Avenue) that opened in November. (He moved here from the U.S. about four years ago but is originally from Tokyo.) 

      Seeking to merge with his surroundings, he was inspired to try and connect with the community by bringing positive energy to the area and contribute to its development.

      He said he wants to provide a social space for hard-working people of the neighbourhood where they can come to relax and connect with one another.

      Consequently, he sought to create the feeling of a natural environment; hence, there's an emphasis on wood in his décor.

      Unlike traditional tight seating in ramen joints in Japan (designed for fast turnover), seats are evenly spaced out in the 1,200 square-foot premises with a seating capacity of 38 people.

      Craig Takeuchi

      As many locals familiar with the local dance troupe Kokoro Dance might know, kokoro means the heart or feeling of things in Japanese.

      The thoughtful attention he's paid toward his décor is also reflected in his menu.

      Kokoro Ramen's bowls

      He explains that he serves ramen in two bowls. White bowls are for healthier choices, with fat removed as well as reduced sodium and oil. Black bowls are for authentic recipes which retain original levels of sodium and oil.

      His ramen (which range in price from $10.50 to $12.50) draws inspiration from Kyushu and Sapporo styles, which are at opposite ends of the island nation.

      The menu covers familiar offerings with their own Kokoro twists, such as tonkotsu shoyu, creamy deluxe chicken, and miso ramen (featuring three types of miso), and spicy tonkotsu shoyu.

      Kokoro Ramen's typhoon ramen

      There's also typhoon ramen (mazemen, or ramen without broth) featuring Tokyo negi (onion), green onion, ito tougarashi (dried chili strands), wafu sauce (sesame dressing), bok choy, kikurage (cloud ear fungus), cha shu, spicy miso, and ground pork.

      For those looking for some heat, there's spicy tan tan men, with ground pork, Tokyo negi, bok choy, and ito tougarashi.

      But there are some special items as well.

      Kokoro Ramen's Very Veggie ramen

      The veggie ramen is made with kombu (seaweed) and shiitake mushroom broth (topped with seasonal vegetables).

      Kokoro Ramen's tonkotsu bubble ramen

      The tonkotsu bubble ramen—with pork broth blended “like a latte”, Sumino said—will be rolled out on Wednesday (March 15).

      In April, he'll introduce salmon ramen with pork broth, bamboo shoots, chashu, green onions, and lettuce.

      This summer, he'll be bringing out his own creation: yuzu shio ramen, with a citrusy chicken and pork broth, chashu, bamboo shoots, green onions, and arugula.

      It's also one of the few local ramen restaurants that has a dessert menu. There's panna cotta with blueberry or brown sugar sauce, matcha crème brûlée, and kabocha, matcha, or yuzu honey ice cream, all of which are light enough to enjoy after a bellyful of broth.

      Craig Takeuchi

      Even though the restaurant opened back in November, Yasu is still waiting to hold a grand opening. After all as they say, all matters of the heart must be handled with care, and this place is no exception.

      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on Facebook