Can Goldilocks find
A Ramen that is just right
At Ramen Danbo?
Quality ramen seems to be slowly seeping out of the downtown peninsula and setting up shop in the other Vancouver neighbourhoods, and even the burbs.
For example, Ramen Danbo sells Hakata style ramen on the corner of 4thand Burrard in Kits. Thin, stick straight, noodles bathed in a creamy milky pork based broth characterizes this type of ramen – the first true competitor for Santouka in Vancouver.
This quaint noodle shop offers customers options on the firmness of noodles, richness of soup, amount of fat added and spiciness level. The choices can allow individuals to tailor the ramen to suit their palate but I feel this is a double-edged sword.
If the wrong selections are made and the ramen doesn’t taste great, would a customer comeback to give the place a 2nd chance and fiddle around some more with the options to get a perfect bowl?
The customization definitely tripped me up on my first visit. I went with firm noodles, heavy richness, heavy fat and standard spiciness on my Classic Tonkotsu order.
To complete my ramen I added a ramen egg and it was one of the better ajitsuke tamago I’ve come across in a while. It was perfectly marinated on the outside with a perfect semi-liquid gooey yolk. It doesn’t beat Marutama’s amazing ramen egg, but Danbo’s version was texturally and flavour wonderful.
Unfortunately I couldn’t say the same about the charsui used. I found the slices a little too deli counter thin and as a result the pork was coarse.
The noodles were firm as requested but due to the hot soup, they quickly become soft. It’s best to eat your ramen quickly. As for that hot soup, due to my specific instructions, I ended up creating a hot salty mess.
The level of saltiness was overwhelming and had a tongue stinging effect. Eventually my taste buds adjusted (or gave up), and slowly I was able to detect other flavours in the soup. The soup has depth, is rich, creamy, and has a strong umami sweetness.
It helped that I also ordered a mentaiko rice bowl. By spooning the soup into the rice bowl for a D.I.Y. ochazuke, the bland rice helped neutralize the salt, which enable me to taste the other flavour components of the soup. The small dollop of chili paste, which was not at all spicy, did help cut down the saltiness as well.
Mentaiko comes from the Hakata ward in Japan, so I was not surprised to see it on the menu. Normally, the rice in the side dishes at ramen-yas is not very good. However Ramen Danbo’s rice in the Mentaiko Rice was soft and fluffy, without being mushy.
The marinated roe was seasoned well and provided a punch of savouriness to the dish. I was happy with this side dish but if you add some broth from your ramen it’s even better.
As I left Ramen Danbo, the saltiness of the soup bothered me. I couldn’t help but wonder, “How much damage did I do to create that salty mess?” To answer the question, I asked Dennis The Foodie to come with me for a second visit. You can look at his pretty pictures, and read his thoughts here and here.
Second time around I ordered the Negi-Goma Tonkotsu Ramen with firm noodles, light broth, no fat, no spiciness and the great ramen egg.
I essentially went the complete opposite of what I did my first visit to see how much of an impact the customization would create.
My answer is the options one chooses makes a huge difference in the experience at Ramen Danbo. By going to the light options, I actually found my soup bland. It still had a sweet savouriness and it was creamy, but I thought a little more salt could better enhance the flavours.
The Negi-Goma ramen featured a lot of toasted sesame and green onions. As expected, the ramen had a nutty taste that was not in the Classic Tonkotsu Ramen I had previous.
Other than the sesame flavour and the blander soup, my second experience was similar to the first. The egg and noodles were well executed, and the charsui was still too skimpy.
To round out my meal, I ordered a plate of gyoza. The dumpling skins were intact, the filling was moist, and each gyoza was easy to separate from on another; nothing spectacular but cooked well.
The one thing I will note is I found the service both times above average in comparison to other ramen-yas. Whether it is the small space that enables this or a general focus on ensuring a positive dining experience, I found the wait staff to be attentive and helpful.
For example, when I was busy making my DIY ochazuke, the waitress noticed, and got me a proper tablespoon to make eating my concoction easier. This gesture was appreciated.
Based on my two experiences, I think my perfect “Goldilocks” bowl of noodle at Ramen Danbo is standard broth, heavy fat and standard spiciness.
For an optimal experience at Ramen Danbo, I feel if you are salt adverse go with the lighter options and if your palate prefers a saltier profile then go with the heavier options.
Despite the imperfect visits, albeit at my own doing somewhat, I do think there is a high level of quality at Ramen Danbo. It’s NOT a top 5 ramen, but I would consider it a TOP 10 ramen-ya in the city.
The broth and ramen egg are tasty enough to lure me back to for a third attempt at get a bowl that’s just right.
1833 West 4th Avenue
Bonus Content: My Updated Top Ten Specific Ramen Bowls in the GVRD
1. Toroniku Ramen from Santouka
2. Tamago Ramen from Marutama Ramen
3. Tonkotsu Black Ramen from Jinya (On Robson Street)
4. Tsuke-men with Pork Belly Cha shu from Taishoken Ramen
5. Shoyu Ramen (Hard, Normal, Normal) from Yah Yah Ya Ramen
6. Kaisen Tomato Ramen from Gyoza Bar
7. Pork Shoulder Ramen from Harvest Union
8. Miso Ramen from Kintaro
9. Charcoal Ramen from Motomachi Shokudo
10.Classic Tonkotsu (Standard Version from my POV) from Ramen Danbo
If you have seen my, “Vancouver’s Top 10 Try Before you Die Ramen” list on Eater.com, Ramen Danbo knocks out the White Sesame Ramen from Takayama Ramen based on the soup quality, adjusted for one’s palate, and the great ramen egg.
Disagree? You can tell me I’m wrong or share your top 10 list in the comment section below.