Some of Calgary’s best ramen shops
Just to be clear, when we’re speaking about ramen here, we’re not talking about the instant variety noodles that poor university students make while they ponder what they will do with the rest of their lives. What we’re talking about is an authentic Japanese experience that has been a part of Asian cuisine since the early 20th century according to Tetsu Okada in his novel The birth of ramen.
Ramen is a Japanese noodle soup dish. The noodles are made from wheat and served in a variety of different broths including miso, shoyu (a chicken-based broth), tonkotsu (a pork-based broth) and many more. Ramen is usually served with eclectic toppings as well, including sliced pork (called chashu in Japanese), dried seaweed and green onions. In short, it is hard to define what authentic ramen really is, but you’ll know it when you taste it.
I visited four Japanese owned-and-operated restaurants within the Calgary area that already had established reviews on Yelp or Urbanspoon, and decided to check out what Calgary had to offer in terms of an authentic ramen experience. I was not disappointed.
Menyatai is nestled in a cozy little area between Kensington Road and 12th Street N.W. You will probably miss it on the first go just like I did, but don’t let this deter you from your quest for noodles! The restaurant opened during the summer of this year and is averaging an 81 per cent score on Urbanspoon. The interior of the restaurant is distinctly neo-Japanese, it’s wonderfully lit and comfortable inside, and yes, this is a precursor of things to come.
The curry ramen at Menyatai proved to be an amazing piece. The noodles were perfectly cooked, and the broth wonderful. It was spicy, but nothing that an average person who enjoys spice couldn’t handle. Menyatai provided only one piece of chashu with the ramen, and it also included green onions, corn and a soft-boiled egg.
If I could compare Menyatai’s ramen bowls to a season, it would be spring.
The amount of vegetables you get with the bowl is not overwhelming nor does it mask the taste. Instead it leaves you feeling refreshed instead of bloated after your meal. The chashu from Menyatai was one of the best pieces of pork I’ve ever had in my life. Too bad you only get one! Everything else was extremely flavourful.
Highly recommended, price as shown: $12.95.
Wa’s Japanese Restaurant
Wa’s Japanese Restaurant is one of Calgary’s top picks for authentic and simple Japanese cuisine. Located on bustling Centre Street, Wa’s is a place that I’ve been to many times for sushi. Averaging a solid 87 per cent on Urbanspoon, a quick Google search of Wa’s also shows many solid reviews. I was expecting the same thing for their ramen.
The portion I got from Wa’s Japanese Restaurant was smaller than those from the other restaurants visited for this review, but the small portion didn’t detract from the quality.
Once again, I was impressed with the level of professionalism from the chefs that was showcased in the cooking of the noodles. The spaghetti-sized noodles were a beautiful tan colour, and were not clumpy, nor were they too soft or too hard. The broth was packed with a hearty pork taste, and that is where Wa’s ramen really shone. Topping selection is extremely spare, with no add-on menu for further customization of your beloved noodle bowl. The tonkotsu ramen comes with dried seaweed, corn, ginger and chashu. Here was where Wa’s falters, as the chashu was dry, even by chashu standards, and you are left with a sense of wanting. Wa’s ramen has a lot of potential, but it’s not quite there yet.
Recommended if you’re hankering more for sushi than ramen, otherwise go elsewhere. Price as shown: $9.00.
Shikiji Japanese Noodles and Sushi
Shikiji Japanese Noodles and Sushi is also located on the hectic intersection of 16th Avenue and Centre Street. Shikiji is a household name amongst many foodies in Calgary — I’ve heard nothing but good things about the Japanese food they serve. Shikiji is also sitting comfortably with an 87 per cent rating on Urbanspoon, with many critics swearing that this is the best ramen they have ever had in Calgary. With that in mind, your neighbourhood noodle-head here at the Calgary Journal decided to investigate the place, conveniently located on Centre Street as well.
Shikiji’s authentic Japanese classic is filled to the brim with toppings. The miso ramen comes with chashu, green onions, corn, bean sprouts, cabbage, carrots and ginger.
The chefs handle the noodles admirably. The taste and texture are consistent but they are not up to par with Menyatai or Wa’s noodles. This is because the noodles lack an impact within the entire dish, they’re simply just there. The broth too, is solid and is filled with a hearty miso flavour and aroma. The biggest downfall, however, is the sheer amount of vegetables in the piece as a whole. It’s almost overbearing, whereas Menyatai’s vegetable portions were commendable because there were precisely enough to satisfy your taste buds without overpowering everything else, the flavours working in harmony. Shikiji’s offering, on the other hand feels disjointed. The chashu cut is commendable, as it is much less dry tasting than either Wa’s or Menyatai, but I can’t shake the feeling that for this particular bowl, slimming down the generous portion sizes of everything would create a more harmonized noodle bowl.
Not recommended, I feel that Menyatai truly does the same vegetable-heavy style of ramen better than Shikiji. Price as shown: $13.00.
Muku Japanese Ramen
Muku Japanese Ramen opened its doors in 2011, and despite an early string of criticisms, was able to weather its way up to its own 87 per cent score on Urbanspoon. Muku is located along one of Calgary’s busier roads, 14th Street, and it is rather a pain entering the parking lot if you’re coming from the north as you’ll be forced to take a left turn through a double yellow line in order to get to the parking lot. The benefits far outweigh the parking issues though, as Muku offers one of the best steaming hot bowls of noodle-goodness found in this city. Muku boasts the largest selection of broths available in Calgary, coupled with a great sides menu. Complete with a bar for solo patrons, you’ll find many coming in and out of the restaurant to get their ramen fix.
If a bowl of noodles truly could make you sweat as if you’re talking to your middle-school crush, this is it.
The miso ramen comes with corn, bean sprouts, green onion, carrot shavings and three cuts of chashu. Muku’s miso broth is true to its roots, with flavour that is more subtle than overpowering. The noodles can be hit or miss sometimes, as I have received clumped up portions from time to time, but what really makes Muku shine is the execution of the ramen. While the cuts of chashu are not as good as Menyatai’s, what puts Muku on top is the harmony between every element inside your bowl of noodles. From the corn to the dried seaweed, every piece holds up its weight in its very own imitation of a chain – except this chain is all about delivering an authentic Japanese ramen experience that will keep you coming back for more.
The menu is the only thing that is holding me back from running away and eloping with this restaurant. It can be difficult for newcomers to navigate because of its erratic nature as there are many different areas of the menu that are competing for your attention. This effectively isolates an audience that wants to try authentic ramen for the first time.
Highly recommended, try the miso ramen first, and add to it as you see fit. Price as shown: $12.45. Sides added: egg, seaweed, butter.