Monday, 10 October 2011

Ramen-ya? Ya!

The storefront of Motomachi Shokudo.
The second Saturday  of my Vancouver trip was my last full day in Vancouver, so my parents and I decided to have the day to ourselves and take on as much of the downtown area as possible.  After spending a good portion of the morning walking along the False Creek waterfront of downtown we managed to time it just right to catch a bus to Denman St. about 15 minutes before the noon opening of a ramen noodle shop, or a ramen-ya in Japanese, called Motomachi Shokudo.  Fortunately we were the first in line at the doorway; which meant that we were guaranteed a table in this small eatery with only about 20 seats or so.

Closed on Wednesdays, Motomachi Shokudo is one of several ramen noodle shops in the Vancouver area, and the smaller of two ramen noodle shops on the same block of Denman St., the other being the proportionally equally busy Kintaro.  Being Canada's gateway to Asia, it is not surprising to see Vancouver being the first Canadian city to establish more specialized Asian cuisine restaurants and to have more of them established for a longer period of time.  Like the Japanese izakaya or the American diner, a ramen-ya doesn't just showcase food; it allows for a peek into a food subculture.  Noodle shops are prolific in Japan, and I heard once many years ago that in especially the big cities of Japan, it's easier to find a noodle shop than it is to find a fast food joint in North American cities.  Because of their cooking simplicity, ramen can be considered a fast food, though the good ones will not skimp on the quality of all aspects of the dishes, including the broths.
My parents and sister enjoyed this little place when they visited Vancouver the previous year, and we managed to be seated at the same small table where they dined last year.  None of us unfortunately had a decent view of the kitchen (all-female staff I noticed as I prepared to leave after lunch), but we all had a good look at the menu at the front entrance and already had an idea of what to try.  First to arrive was our dish to share, Gyoza.  Like ramen, gyoza is of Chinese origin, but the Japanese have morphed them as a dinstinct part of their own cuisine with thinner wrappers, generally more elongated shape and a more prominent garlic flavour.  No restaurant to date has been able to make pan-fried gyoza or jiaozi with the high level of crispiness as my parents' homemade version, but these were still nonetheless a pleasure to eat.
Shio Ramen
Shortly afterwards our individual noodle orders arrived.  My father ordered the Shio BBQ Pork Ramen, which included thin slices of individually grilled pork.  Shio is the type of broth used in this dish, and it is a broth based on plenty of salt and a combination of vegetables, seaweed, chicken or fish.  I managed to try some of the broth, and it was light and delicious.
Motomachi Shokudo special of the day: Pork and Tomato Ramen.
My mother ordered a special of the day, Pork and Tomato Ramen.  Though credit should be given for creativity as tomatoes are not traditionally Japanese vegetables, my mother was not as impressed with this dish compared to the ones my father and I had.
Japanese Cold Ramen
So, what was my order?  Being a fairly warm sunny day and with still plenty of walking ahead, I opted for the only cold noodle dish on the menu to keep myself cool, the Japanese Cold Ramen.  The highlight ingredients of this dish to me were the poached egg (with the yolk still runny and the egg white just barely cooked), the sweet beef slices and the tempura chips.  There was no broth in this dish, just a salty and wasabi-based sauce.  Once all the ingredients were tossed evenly together it made for a heavenly dish.  I definitely made the right call in ordering this one; not only was it cool and refreshing, but it was also quite light, in spite of the presence of the beef, there was just enough wasabi to give that unique form of "heat", and there was a playful mix of colours, flavours and especially textures.

This is a small place, so accommodating larger groups may be challenging.  Also, if you come during peak times rather than before or just after, you may run into a table-waiting game, especially since no reservations are accepted.  However, if you love noodles and you especially have a hankering for ramen, or if you want to have a ramen experience without having to fly to Japan, this is by all means a great place to go.

Name: Motomachi Shokudo
Address: 740 Denman St., Vancouver, BC
Cuisine: Japanese
Price Range: $10-$20
Accessible: Yes

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