While many people in Asia are accustomed to consuming noodles with broth all year round, those who grew up in Western cultures tend to think of such bowls as winter-time fare.
However they might be regarded, there's one thing that can be commonly agreed upon: how they provide belly-warming satisfaction, particularly when it comes to the universal experience of a growling stomach.
Unfortunately, the economic maelstrom of the pandemic has taken some noodle shop casualties along with it. Among them have been Ramen Takanotsume's location on Bidwell Street off Robson (although its Richmond location remains open at Aberdeen Centre), and the Ramenman, one of the few independent ramen shops in Vancouver.
But only a few blocks away from where the Ramenman once stood near Yaletown is a new noodle bar that is going against the uncertain grain of the times and proving that nothing stops a good bowl of noodles.
Nestled between Yaletown and the West End, Torizo Ramen Bar quietly opened up at 1265 Granville Street, the former location of Alpha Sushi Bar on October 23.
This one’s from the Zakkushi Group, which not only launched the Zakkushi yakitori izakayas in Vancouver and Toronto but also Menya Raizo in the City Hall area in August 2018.
With a clean and pleasingly light decor, the petite space currently has seating for 17 patrons at the moment during the pandemic. (Of course, takeout is available as well.)
While most ramen shops in Vancouver use tonkotsu (pork broth), Torizo uses two types of broth: clear chicken broth, which is lighter and more nuanced than tonkotsu yet still flavourful, and vege-potage, or vegetable broth. Also, all ramen bowls at Torizo feature thin noodles.
Hiroshi Yoshida of the Zakkushi Group told the Georgia Straight that with Torizo, they sought to offer ramen that can be eaten daily yet never grows tiresome, while providing variations that haven’t been seen before.
That’s evident with a quick rundown of the innovative menu.
For those who prefer the classics, there’s always the chicken shoyu ramen (with bamboo shoots, and Japanese leek with Arugula as a garnish).
But the other bowls span a range of intriguing offerings.
Chicken vege-potage ramen comes with some uncommon toppings—broccoli, brussels sprouts, semi-dried tomato, yellow bell pepper—along with tried-and-true favourites—dried seaweed, corn, and red onion. And, for those who want more bite, it’s also available in a spicy sauce version.
There’s also the Torizo tan-men, which also features vege-potage broth and comes with the same items (except for seaweed and corn) plus chashu chicken, Japanese leek, citrus, and—something not seen on most, if any, ramen menus—marinated beets.
Southeast Asian influence shows up in cilantro chicken ramen, accompanied with yellow bell pepper, semi-dried tomato, and red onion.
This variation has been slowly cropping up at a few ramen joints in Vancouver. But unlike other bowls which are saturated with cilantro, this version is more subtle, and accented with lime.
A rare entry that sits apart from other ramen bowls in Vancouver is sous-vide duck ramen, with lime, Arugula, yellow bell pepper, semi-dried tomato, and seven kinds of pepper.
There are also dishes from miso-simmered mackerel or takoyaki (octopus balls) to sous-vide duck breast with housemade balsamic sauce or simmered beef tongue, all of which can be enjoyed as snacks on their own accompanied with alcohol, as is a common practice in Japan.
In addition to beer, whiskey, and sake, the cocktail menu includes housemade kiwi, lemon or apple vinegar highballs; sake ginger highball; yuzu honey radler; ramune sour; and more.
Yoshida said that while opening a ramen shop during a pandemic was a challenge, another challenge was creating ramen that balanced traditional elements but incorporated new influences. But this promising start can help to provide hope not only for the industry during the pandemic but also for the evolution of ramen in this city.