Hokkaido Ramen Santouka 山頭火Posted: 01/08/2013
The best thing about food is that it is such a universal topic. Everyone has a favourite restaurant, and I love to be given recommendations that I can add to my list. Sometime after September, I ran into my friend Justin on the bus, and inevitably we talked about food, with Justin suggesting that I try out Santouka, since I’d never been. Well, a few days before Christmas, we ended up going for dinner there, with SB and Dolph in tow, to have a goodbye meal of sorts before Justin left town.
Regarded as one of Vancouver’s best ramen shops, Santouka sits right beside Guu Garlic on the western end of Robson Street. I’d been looking for a new favourite ramen place to replace Kintaro, where I’d noticed a declining quality of ingredients despite the huge portion sizes. Eating a bowl of ramen at Kintaro always left me feeling bloated and uncomfortable. Upon being seated at Santouka, I immediately took a lining to the ambiance, which is much more polished and modern in comparison to Kintaro. The restaurant still feels very crowded and bustling, but I personally enjoyed the atmosphere. Now, onto the food!
Justin ordered one of the more interesting items on the menu, being the Tokusen Toroniku Ramen. This is Santouka’s signature ramen, where the toppings are served separately from the noodles and broth. Justin chose to have his ramen with the Shio broth, which is a mild and creamy broth seasoned with salt. The included toppings were pork, seaweed, a fish cake, bamboo shoots, green onions, and a Japanese pickled plum. Dolph ordered a regular Shio Ramen and received the same bowl of noodles, albeit with the toppings on top.
The difference between the regular ramen and the above is that the above is served with pork cheek rather than regular chashu, which is usually pork belly. Pork cheek is, obviously, a much rarer portion of pork, and considered more tender and juicy than regular chashu. Justin and Dolph both enjoyed their noodles, and they were quite satisfied. The noodles had great bite, and the pork was tender and fatty. The bamboo shoots were fragrant as usual, being more crunchy than soft. This was a solid bowl of noodles, and I could understand why people stand in line for Santouka even in the cold.
SB ordered the Ramen Ikura Combo (~$18), which is simply a bowl of your choice of broth (he chose Miso) and a small ikura don. First, his ramen. The broth was very fatty, and had an intense, concentrated miso flavour, which I quite liked. Like the broth, the chashu was quite fatty. SB’s bowl included the same toppings as above, but without the pickled plum. The noodles weren’t extraordinary, but definitely didn’t pale in comparison to other similar ramen joints.
But for SB, the real highlight of his meal was the ikura don. It sounds simple: a bowl of white rice, some egg, alfalfa sprouts, with salmon roe sitting on top. But sometimes, simple is the most satisfying. The ikura itself was fresh, tangy and quite fishy, with the egg slices adding a refreshing element to the bowl. SB also found the rice the perfect consistency–having been steamed well, it was neither too chewy nor too soggy. He liked the addition of the alfalfa sprouts as they were quite fresh. Overall, it was great to see that they excelled in something other than just ramen, even if it was just a small dish.
As for me, I opted for the Shoyu Ramen ($9.95). The broth was primarily salty, but that’s to be expected from shoyu, which is a mixture of pork broth and soy sauce. As a result, the broth tasted both deep and rich, and my chashu was a good balance of fatty and non-fatty portions. The noodles also had good bite, as did the bamboo shoots. Only the shoyu ramen is served with dried seaweed, which Santouka claims brings out the flavours in the broth. Where the dried seaweed really adds to that, I’m not sure, but it was tasty.
Overall, we were all quite impressed by our experience at Santouka. Kintaro and Santouka are often described as the top two places for ramen in Vancouver, but in my mind, Santouka is the clear winner. While the portions at Santouka are noticeably smaller, each bowl of ramen we had was simply perfect. The waitresses were friendly and efficient, and the ambiance was clearly superior to that of Kintaro as well. Although seating was crowded (as with most ramen shops), it was overall a cozy and inviting place. I’m so glad Justin recommended Santouka, as it ended up being my to-go place for ramen.
Hokkaido Ramen Santouka 山頭火
1690 Robson Street