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Eat Snap Repeat

Vancouver's tastiest food blog. Defunct since 2010 :(

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ramen

Noodle Express – Fills, no frills

NOTE: This place is now closed, and a new Benkei Ramen is opening up in its place.
Noodle Express on Thurlow has been around for over 15 years, serving Japanese and Chinese food, but most notably from their sign, ramen.

Noodle Express
Only minutes walk from the office, we had to check it out in case it was the best kept secret of the Vancouver ramen scene, and everyone’s being r-e-e-e-ally quiet about it. What we found was that while their ramen won’t please the ladies as much as Kintaro, is still respectable, at a quality level a notch above frozen Nissin ramen (review coming soon), and topped full of extras for a filling taste experience.

Noodle Express

After years worth of research, I have enough data to form the following theorem about Ramen in the 604:
Theorem ramen-604

Noodle Express is somewhere on the rising part of the X-axis (Ezogiku dragged down the stats) and worth a few more lunchtime visits.

Disclaimer: Theories have their holes. Like cheese.

Noodle Express on Urbanspoon

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ESR² – Kintaro – Cheese Ramen for the Ladies!!

ESR² = eat snap repeat repeat = when we blog a place repeatedly.

If you’re a regular esr reader, you’ll know that we’re crazy about ramen – and that my favorite ramen joint in Vancouver is Kintaro. Love it.

Growing up, I ate a lot of instant noodles. Like a few packs a week. It’s what my grandma would cook for me when I came home from school. It’s what my mom would cook for me whenever I complained about being hungry at night. And it’s what I cooked for myself when I first moved out on my own a few years ago.

Kintaro - Cheese Ramen

Older, I’ve now diversified my eating habits (chicken wings have recently overtaken vegetables in my 5 basic food groups) so ramen meals aren’t quite as common as before. Still, whenever I take a step into Kintaro, I’m hit with a sense of nostalgia.

Things are a little different now. The cook is an energetic Japanese man that doesn’t resemble my grandma or mom in the slightest. Parking the bike I rode home from school was a lot easier than parking my car around the busy Denman-Robson area that Kintaro’s located in. And the loud, hungry crowds provide the background noise that after-school cartoons used to. But when I sit down and that large bowl of noodles is placed in front of me, I feel like a kid again.

Of course, Kintaro’s authentic ramen is a lot healthier tastier than the instant stuff I used to devour. That’s another reason why I go there often. However, up until this visit, I’ve never tried their Cheese Ramen.

Kintaro - Cheese Ramen

I’ve always wanted to. The description on their menu is… interesting: “Exquisitely balanced special miso soup and two kinds of cheese. Ladies just lo-o-o-ve it!!

Wait what?

Ladies just love it? What about men? Or children? Why do women lo-o-o-ve it? Not like, not love, but lo-o-o-ve with 2 exclamation points? Did Kintaro use scientifc means to arrive at this conclusion? So many questions.

I decided to jump the gender gap, order myself a bowl, and look for some answers.

Kintaro - Cheese Ramen

The ramen isn’t as cheesy-tasting as I thought it’d be. This is odd because they actually put a ton of cheese in each bowl. Hidden beneath that large slice of cheese is another large pile of grated cheese. I’m not sure what type of cheese Kintaro uses – the menu says they use 2 different kinds – but it’s similar to the type you’ll find in most French onion soups. The cheese isn’t overpowering and plays nicely with the slightly salty, slightly sweet miso soup broth.

Kintaro - Cheese Ramen

I’m not crazy about the texture though. The cheese masks the nice al dente texture of the noodles. The first few bites are really good, but the way the cheese clumps the noodles together makes the meal feel very heavy.  A bowl of Kintaro ramen is filling enough as it is; this pushes it over the top.

With that said, I still think this is worth trying. It’s just too bizarre not to.

I really wanted to lo-o-o-ve this as much as those after-school/late-night bowls of noodles I used to eat. Damn you Y chromosome!

Kintaro Ramen on Urbanspoon

ESR Around the World – London – Ramen Seto

Eat Snap Repeat Around the WorldThis dining experience is from September 2008 while I was in London, England. I spent over a month in London; this was actually my first meal there.

I didn’t feel like blogging it at the time; we don’t blog all of our meals – you probably don’t want to know about the PB&J sandwich I had for breakfast today ;). However, since we’ve been covering a lot of ramen joints around town lately, I thought it might be fun to share a ramen experience I had outside of Vancouver.

Ramen Seto - Carnabie Street

Lucky me. My hotel was a short 5-minute walk away from Carnaby Street. Carnaby Street and nearby Oxford Circus center one of the busiest and densely packed shopping areas in all of Europe (the stores are heavily catered towards tourists though). Amongst the many stores, there are many pubs and restaurants as well.

The stores in London close early (7PM to 8PM). At the same time, the pubs fill up and spill out into the streets early. As I was weaving through the pub patrons on Carnaby Street, each with a pint of beer in hand, I came across a busy and charming ramen joint. I was severly jet-lagged, alone, and overloaded with all the new sights; I needed a comforting and familiar meal… so I gave Ramen Seto a try.

Ramen Seto - exterior

Like many of the pubs in London, Ramen Seto occupies 2 floors. The staircase to the 2nd floor was cramp and the stairs were worn and uneven. The buildings in London are much older than the ones here. They have a lot more charm and history. But how’s the food compare?

Ramen Seto - meal

The miso ramen I ordered (£6.20) was rubbish. The broth was uninteresting, the noodles were overcooked and not very chewy, the meat was clearly warmed up from a frozen state, and the vegetables (some bean sprouts and a couple peas) were bland. I’ve made better instant ramen at home. The salmon sashimi (£5.50) sidedish was actually fresh and delicious. And the bottle of Asahi (£3.20) took away my guilt for not going to a pub on my first night. Despite that, I left Ramen Seto pretty dissapointed.

I thought Ramen Seto was another case of a bad restaurant taking advantage of an area frequented by many tourists (you can find these types of restaurants in any city), but reviews I’ve found online (e.g. here and here) suggests that the locals actually like Ramen Seto. Oh dear.

Unlike our other ESR Around the World posts, I do not suggest you check this place out if you’re in London. Instead, I’m going to suggest all Londoners to book a flight and come to Vancouver to see what ramen outside of Japan should really taste like.

Ezogiku Noodle Cafe – The magic is gone

Ezogiku Ramen on RobsonEzogiku is one of the first ramen joints planted in downtown Vancouver (they’ve planted a few more around the world since) and also where I had my first taste of ramen over a decade ago. I do vaguely recall a few things that made an impression on me during that one faithful lunch time visit though. The line up was long, the seats were cramped, the bowl was large (too large for me to finish), the soup was incredible and tastier than anything I’ve slurped before, but what’s up with all the veggies?

It’s been a few years since I’ve been back. The location is still the same, the seats still cramped, the bowl has shrunk (though still bigger than Benkei), the soup isn’t as good as I remember, but what’s up with all the veggies?

Compared to its neighbors further down the street, Ezogiku’s miso ramen can almost be considered a healthy meal with its marked absence of animal fats, oils, butter, and extra helping of cabbage. The lone piece of charsiu looks like garnish, and the taste doesn’t reveal otherwise. While chewing on the cabbage I was strained to find redeeming qualities that might justify a return visit (its the closest ramen shop to the office). Next time around I’d probably add butter ($0.85 option here) to make the soup more interesting, and take out the cabbage.

Ezogiku Ramen on Robson

Anyone else remember their first bowl of ramen they’d like to share?
Ezogiku Noodle Cafe on Urbanspoon

Benkei Ramen – Competition is good for everyone

Kintaro is the Vancouver standard for ramen. Ruling the egg noodle in rich broth kingdom with one hot cousin by its side. If you had the bonitos to challenge that authority by opening up another ramen shop on the same street block, what might you do to avoid a quick and shameful death?
Make a good bowl of noodle and address the gripes about the current reigning king of course. Atmosphere, seating, cleanliness, wait times, and to some extent, price. Benkei is easy on the eyes from the get go
Benkei Ramen
With a brightly lit facade, dressed up decor, adequate seating (not comfortable, just adequate), and no line of hungry customers spilling onto the sidewalk on a Friday night, its more welcoming than the royal ramen family around the corner. All of that is simply plate garnish however, as what really matters is the food.
Benkei Ramen - MenuThree familiar types of soups are offered, with toppings as optional add-ons. This brings the price of the basic soup + noodle + 2 (mingy) pieces of pork chashu + green onion + bean sprouts down close to $7. We ordered a chashu plate, which resembles a more tender, thicker, fatter, less seasoned versions of the Chinese charsiu. Whether its better or worse than Kintaro’s is a matter of personal preference. I like the flavor of Benkei’s but does it have to be so tiny…
Benkei Ramen - Chashu platter
Their Shio “heavy tonkotsu” ramen is advertised to be popular with the ladies. Though I think it’ll appeal to anyone who’s looking for a rich and very meaty tasting broth that suspends a lot of flavor around slippery noodles.
Benkei Ramen - Tonkotsu Shio
We also had the Miso ramen, which in my opinion is even heavier than the Shio tonkotsu soup with a quarter inch of clear oil floating at the top of the bowl. Combined with the extra salty miso, any depth of flavor (if there were much) were covered up. Also, the portions were a bit smaller than Kintaro’s.

A good hearty meal, but Benkei still doesn’t beat out Kintaro or Motomachi Shokudo for ramen. It does offer some healthy competition that ensures everyone is playing their A game, which I hope someday will spread beyond the Robson & Denman block.

Benkei Ramen on Urbanspoon

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