Meh, Bleh, Blah: Ramen Koika on Davie St.

Ramen Koika is the latest entrant in the Vancouver ramen sweepstakes. They had their soft-opening in late June featuring all ramen bowls for $6 but now they’re on their regularly-priced menu. Not much web presence except for a Facebook page. Apparently people behind Ramen Koika are the same people behind the Korean-owned 3-location mini-chain Sushi Bella.

Evidence so far in the local ramen scene is that Korean-owned/operated ramen restaurants aren’t as good as Japanese-run places (eg. Ramen Santouka, Muratama Ramen, etc). But I believe that anyone can make great ramen (just look at Ivan Ramen in Tokyo and NYC) but it requires serious passion, dedication and attention to detail. My dream is to eat a bowl of truly great ramen in Vancouver that screams out “TERROIR”, regardless of the ethnicity of the person that made it (Burdock & Co. and Harvest Community Foods come close). By “terroir”, I’m talking about a bowl of ramen that stays true to the spirit of ramen but uses ingredients, inspiration, style and flavours that are indigenous to the Lower Mainland. If you read the Ivan Ramen book (amazon.ca, Burnaby Public Library, Vancouver Public Libary, VPL ebook), you’ll see that there’s isn’t one true ramen. There are myriad styles and local variations. I’m not too hung up on the notion of “authenticity” with ramen. The only requisite (for me) is that it taste delicious. So does Ramen Koika taste delicious?

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Ramen Koika located on Davie St. between Bute and Jervis. Sort of across the street from Hamburger Mary’s. Also, in the middle of PRIDE ZONE! 🙂

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The arrow is facing the right direction!

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The hours.

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This way to ramen!

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“A whole orchestra in each bowl…” Hmmm… Their chefs trained in Chiba, Tokyo and Osaka.

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I was pleased to finally see Champon style ramen in Vancouver. I had a good bowl of champon for the first time in Calgary (of all places) this summer.

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I was in the mood for a rich garlic hit, so I ordered the Black Garlic Ramen which uses a “pork tonkotsu hard boil” broth.

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In addition to tonkotsu broth, they also have ramen featuring chicken broth.

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Like other Vancouver ramen places, you can specify the fattiness of your pork and the hardness of your noodle. I chose fatty pork belly and hard noodles for my Black Garlic Ramen.

You can see their full menu on their Facebook page or just click here.

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Shakers of garlic powder (90% sure it was garlic powder) and ground black pepper. I’ve never seen garlic powder in a ramen place before, but Marutama Ramen has really intense roasty garlic chips at every table, so Maruatama wins on this point.

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They also provide you shichimi togarashi if you ask. But to my tastebuds, this blend seems to contain a large quantity of Korean-style chili powder and not enough that citrus quality with other togarashis. The container has a huge tube that dispenses at least a tablespoon with every shake. Ugh.

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Black Garlic Ramen. Comes with chashu, bamboo shoots, nori, soft(?)-boiled egg, wood ear fungus, black garlic oil and…uhh…where are my garlic chips? I didn’t realize it at the time but they forgot to put them on top, like in Sean’s post.

The broth was disappointing from the first sip. Bland, no depth, no oomph, no richness. According to this Whelp comment from the owner, they use authentic Japanese recipes but they changed the broth to suit Canadian tastes. While I do find that ramen broths tend to be on the salty side in Vancouver and I appreciate Koika’s attempt to reduce the saltiness, it shouldn’t be done at expense of flavour, which I believe has happened here. One of us got the chicken-based King’s Ramen and the broth was similarly weak in flavour and lacked depth.

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Very tender and flavourful slices of chashu, which they torch before serving. Unfortunately, I think it gives the pork a burnt, gassy, lighter fluid quality which I found a bit off-putting. They use a similar technique at Chef Hung Taiwanese Beef Noodle, to much better effect. The black garlic oil looks nice but the garlic flavour and aroma wasn’t strong enough. The omission of garlic chips hurt things further.

Now for the “soft-boiled egg”: way beyond soft-boiled stage and a bit of a disappointment. The gorgeously gooey eggs at Marutama are still tops. Goes to show that you can go to ramen school but it doesn’t necessarily teach you how to boil an egg.

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Damn that shaker released a TON of black pepper on my ramen!

The noodles need serious work. Most of us ordered “hard” noodles but they all came out tasting like “soft”. What’s the deal?! Soft and textureless. The noodles are similar thinness to Ramen Santouka but are missing the texture and bite that Santouka’s noodles have. Maybe they should increase the kansui component? Watch the timing on the cooking? I applaud that they’re trying to make ramen noodles in-house, but these reminded some people in my group of Chinese lai mein instead of ramen. Personally, the texture reminded me of overcooked buckwheat soba noodles served in a hot broth. If you like soft noodles, knock yourself out. For me I crave that chewy, springy noodle experience and didn’t find it here.

Over-the-top (and probably unnecessary aside): If this was supposed to be an orchestra in a bowl, well…the kids in the orchestra pit mean well but they’re falling over themselves, impaling themselves on their instruments, and the one or two talented kids are being drowned out by the atonal shreek of the rest of the orchestra. This bowl just did not come together in harmony.

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Shoyu Ramen in tonkotsu broth. Basically the same as the Black Garlic Ramen except omit the garlic stuff.

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King’s Ramen.

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Comes with shredded pork instead of chashu slices. This was a chicken broth-based ramen and was similarly lacking in flavour and depth. Egg also beyond soft-boiled stage.

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Handmade pork & vegetable Gyoza. They certainly look handmade.

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I’ve had pretty good, enjoyable gyozas at Santouka. These weren’t quite to their level.

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Ugly Truth Rice Ball. Funny name. Ironic, considering the content of this review.

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These were good, but rice balls are rice balls. It’s not gonna set your world on fire.


A word about the service: the young people are very friendly and smiley. That’s awesome. What’s not so awesome is the floor manager (you’ll know when you see him) who is really stern. His accent and inability to enunciate and talk louder makes things worse when he’s taking your order. If you ask for him to repeat something or clarify, he looks like he’s gonna go all ramen nazi on you.

I came to Ramen Koika with big expectations but they just didn’t deliver. I’m curious to see if they improve in a few months, if they’re still around. I can see the effort and good intentions behind this place but it’s just not delivering the goods right now.

Ramen Koika on Urbanspoon

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