Authentic Ramen at Hakata Ikkousha Ramen

Hakata Ikkousha RamenLocation: 247 Queen Street West, Toronto
Website: https://www.ikkousha.ca/

I tend not to mention my travels too often on this blog, because:

  1. That would get insufferable fast.
  2. It’s generally not fair to compare a version of a dish in Toronto to its legit counterpoint thousands of miles away.  There are so many reasons why it’s hard to perfectly replicate a dish outside of its home country, from the availability of ingredients to the pool of local chefs.  That’s not to mention the psychological aspect; there’s something about being in a place that makes the food taste better.  Of course the croissant you just had in Toronto isn’t as good as the one from the charming little bakery in Paris.  That would be an uphill battle in so many ways.

Hakata Ikkousha Ramen

However, in this case it can’t be helped; I’ve eaten the ramen at the original location of Hakata Ikkousha Ramen in Fukuoka, so it’s impossible for me not to make a very direct comparison.

Ikkousha serves Hakata ramen, a particularly rich variety of tonkatsu ramen that’s served with ultra-thin noodles.

Hakata Ikkousha Ramen

Shockingly enough, the bowl they’re serving here is basically indistinguishable from the one I had in Fukuoka.  I didn’t love it there and I don’t love it here, but the quality is about the same.

Don’t get me wrong — it’s quite tasty.  But it’s a bit one-note in its porky intensity.  Still, it has a somewhat roasty flavour that keeps things interesting.

Hakata Ikkousha Ramen

The secret to this type of ramen (unless it’s exceptional, and this place isn’t exceptional) are the condiments.  Particularly: pickled ginger and spicy pickled mustard leaf.  Adding a generous amount of both of these condiments gives the bowl a nice zippiness that cuts through the rich broth quite nicely.

Hakata Ikkousha Ramen

The rest of the bowl is (mostly) quite good.  The egg is a $2 add-on, but it’s totally worth it; it’s perfectly cooked and very flavourful.  The noodles, despite being very thin, have a nice bite to them and compliment the creamy soup perfectly.  And the chashu was nice and tender, though it did have a mildly gamy/leftovery flavour.

Good Eats at Hokkaido Ramen Santouka

Hokkaido Ramen SantoukaLocation: 515 Bloor Street West, Toronto
Websitehttps://www.santouka.co.jp/en

After ramen disappointments at Konjiki and Kinton, I was starting to worry that a really good bowl of ramen might be impossible to find in the city.

Well, here’s Santouka, riding in to save the day.  Their ramen certainly wasn’t the best I’ve ever had, but it was a solid bowl of noodles.  I enjoyed it.

Hokkaido Ramen Santouka

They specialize in tonkotsu ramen, in which pork bones have been boiled down for hours until you get a rich and creamy broth.  They have shio (salt), shoyu (soy sauce), miso, or spicy miso.  I went with shio.

Hokkaido Ramen Santouka

It’s a quality bowl of soup.  The broth doesn’t quite have the magical complexity that you’ll find in the best versions of this dish, but it had a rich porky flavour (without the heavy greasiness that can bog down tonkotsu ramen), and a good amount of salt that doesn’t overwhelm.

The noodles were slightly thinner than I’d like, but they have a nice chewy bite.  They’re satisfying.

Hokkaido Ramen Santouka

The egg is an add-on, but it’s worth shelling out the extra cash; it’s nicely seasoned and perfectly-cooked, with a gooey but — and this is the key — not runny yolk.

Ramen Disappointment at Kinton

Kinton RamenLocation: 4026 Confederation Parkway, Mississauga
Websitehttp://www.kintonramen.com/

Over the last several years, Toronto has seen an explosion of restaurants serving ramen ( a ramenaissance, even?  No?  That’s the worst and I should delete this blog immediately?  Fair).

Despite this, Mississauga remains almost entirely sad and ramenless.  There’s Kenzo, and… that’s about it.  Kinton opening a location here is kind of a big deal.

Their grand opening is today, and to celebrate, they’re offering 50% off all of their ramen.  I showed up a few minutes after they opened, and not surprisingly, the line-up outside was intense.

Kinton Ramen

It’s a nice day, so I figured sure, why not?  It’s been a while since I’ve had the ramen at Kinton, but my recollection was that it was some of the best in the city.

About 40 minutes later, I had a steaming bowl of original shio (salt) ramen with pork.

First, the good: the noodles were great.  You can choose between thick and thin; I went with thick, and they were top-notch.  They had just the right amount of heft, with a nicely firm, springy texture.  I saw some people eating the thin noodles, and they looked way too delicate.  Thick is clearly the way to go.

Kinton Ramen

The pieces of pork were also exceptional; they were super tasty and melt-in-your-mouth tender.  And while the egg wasn’t great (it was undercooked and runny), it was also quite tasty.

Alas, great noodles and pork does not a great bowl of ramen make.

The broth — a.k.a. the heart and soul of a bowl of ramen — was lacking.  Kinton serves tonkotsu ramen, in which pork bones are boiled down for hours and hours until you get a thick, creamy broth.  And they had obviously done something right: the rich broth was indeed thick and creamy.

Kinton Ramen

But the flavour just wasn’t there.  It was bland.  It wasn’t bad at first, but the deficit of taste gets more and more blatant as you go, and by the end of the bowl I was sick of eating it.  I actually left some soup in my bowl, which I pretty much never do.  Not because I was full, but because it was getting monotonous.

The thing about a great bowl of ramen (or even just a good one) is that every mouthful seems to unlock something new; it’s like a symphony of flavours.  Meanwhile, the bowl at Kinton was more like one sad tuba.

It’s literally their first day in existence, so it’s possible that they’re just working out the kinks — but since they’re a chain with nine other locations, I have my doubts.