This is Vancouver. Get your
Bland bowl outta here.
When I visited Toronto a few years ago, I was not impressed with the ramen I tried (although I did like Momofuku but they are from New York). Vancouver has a deeper Japanese food scene simply because we have a larger Japanese community due to our proximity to the Land of the Rising Sun. I thought the noodles from the “Centre of the Universe” was comparable to Vancouver’s second tier ramen-yas.
My anti-Leafs Bias is Showing: (Life Long Canucks fan – Boo the Leafs and the sports media’s in depth coverage of them even though they have sucked for a long time & continue to do so!)
Since my visit, the number of ramen shops in Hog Town has grown, even developing its own local chains. One of these, Touhenboku, decided to swagger to Vancouver and set up in the heart of this city’s ramen obsession, the West End. Typical Toronto with its self assured attitude that surely their stuff was top notch in the country. Unfortunately, going up against the best from the west coast has only confirmed to me that Toronto’s ramen still is not as good as Vancouver’s.
In all fairness, my sister, who now lives in Toronto, did warn me about Touhenboku being lacklustre but I had to see for myself. Joining me for my one and only time at Toubenboku, were local Instagram all-stars Dennis and Sean. Since I write my posts as fast as the Sedins can skate, both have already published their reviews of this place, which you can read here and here (Sean’s is based on a previous visit and not this dinner, if you want more perspective).
The Sorry Starters:
We kicked off our dinner with korokke and karaage. The Japanese styled croquettes, served with tonkatsu sauce, looked liked McDonald’s hash browns. These crispy potato and corn patties were not fluffy or creamy on the inside. Instead they were a bit gummy and disappointing.
The karaage looked too blonde to me and there were some non crunchy parts. Although well seasoned, I though the meat was neither dry or moist. My gold standard for juicy karaage, from the Mogu food truck, has clear umami laden meat juice slightly oozing out with each bite. I find that the chicken I’ve been trying lately, has not been able to meet my high expectations.
Problems with their Core Player:
I opted for the Black Garlic Ramen with the plain chicken broth. Unsurprisingly the garlic sauce was the strongest flavour component of the noodle bowl. The black slick smelt strongly of garlic but it had a bitter taste to it.
Unfortunately the crucial component of any great ramen, the broth, was very weak. It had a thicker tonkotsu consistency but didn’t have any distinct tasting notes. It was missing that punch of umami that all of Vancouver’s top noodle shops have. In addition, being a chicken based soup, it was also missing that sharp sweet savoury flavour that Marutama and The Ramenman have in over abundance.
The rest of the bowl was acceptable. The thin noodles were sufficiently firm, the cha sui was good, and the ajitsuke tamago had the social media worthy gooeyness. Unfortunately the bland broth just doesn’t cut it.
A somewhat Sweet Finish:
I will give Touhenboku credit for offering a more varied dessert menu. The best thing I had that night was the Mille Crepes. It was not the best version of the dish I’ve tried but it was refreshing, had a light citrusy flavour, and not too sweet. In short it got the job done; in the same way a McCain frozen chocolate cake satisfies a sweet tooth craving at 11pm, and there are no other options, or you are too lazy to leave the house to get something better.
Final Thoughts – Just not Worth the price of Admission:
Our little group of ramen experts, ponder if some of the mediocrity we experienced was due to the fact that the West End Touhenboku may be having items shipped in from Toronto? On that day they were out of gyoza at 6pm on a Friday night, which for me, doesn’t make sense at all if you are getting them made locally or in-house.
I have found the recent new entrants to Vancouver’s ramen game, like Touhenboku, really uninspiring. It’s like they didn’t bother researching the market and thought it was okay to bring a knife to a gun fight. If you are in the West End stick to the Big 3 – Santouka, Marutama or The Ramenman.
854 Denman Street
Vancouver, BC V6G 2L8