After a somewhat disappointing ramen experience at Ramen Koika, I was in the mood for some better ramen to restore my faith in the Vancouver ramen scene. Taishoken (sparse Twitter account here) opened in late May this year and I finally got to try their ramen — tsukemen, to be exact. I loved it.
Tsukemen (dipping ramen) is a style of ramen which Taishoken claims to have invented in 1954. The noodles are served cold and on the side, with a bowl of concentrated hot broth in which you dip your noodles into as you eat. Sort of like zaru soba. Ramen Santouka on Robson St. does a very good version (I usually get the spicy one) but I was looking forward to trying the “original” version.
Note: The Taishoken in Tokyo is featured in this episode of “Mind of A Chef” with David Chang and Peter Meehan. Watch, drool & enjoy!
Taishoken is located just down the block from T&T Supermarket in Chinatown. Late lunch on a Friday (around 1:30pm) was still busy. I had to wait a bit but the staff were very friendly and accomodating, so it made the wait almost enjoyable. The place is small, and only fits about 24 people, so bring your patience 🙂
Accoutrements: chili oil, vinegar (just like they do at G-Men in Richmond), soy sauce, and shakers of chili pepper and white pepper. The girl there said you have to twist the base of the shakers but I couldn’t seem to get them working :/ The shakers are from Ikea.
The interior (sorry, I don’t have a photo) is tastefully decorated with dark wood and off-white stucco walls. There’s a single set of BOSE speakers providing some good modern R&B tunes.
What the fresh hell is this?!? They let the customer use this broth freely to customize the flavour of their soup?? No more ordering “less salt” like at Santouka, here you can just order the ramen and when it arrives, taste it then adjust further to your own personal taste! Much better system. Saves having to indicate the preference on the order to the kitchen. This jug ‘o broth really comes in handy if you want to finish the whole bowl of tsukemen broth…you can blend it until it becomes drinkable on its own.
Special Tsukemen. The “special” comes with an egg and extra pork (“regular” only comes with pork and no egg). You can order egg and extra chashu separately, but you save 95 cents if you order the special 😉 They also have regular and large sizes, which I believe just means that you get extra noodles.
I love those thicker curly noodles that you get for tsukemen. I’m not sure if they use the same noodles for the regular ramen (eg. miso ramen, spicy ramen, shoyu ramen, shio ramen, tomato ramen). I’ll have to find out next time!
The concentrated tsukemen broth. They’re keeping it simple and traditional with bamboo shoots, negi, narutomaki (swirly fish cake), pork belly and soft-boiled egg. The bamboo shoots here are crunchier than I remember from other places. The extra texture is really enjoyable.
Dayyyyyyyyyyyyum, this shit’s hot, son! Rich, deep, flavourful without being salty. Thick, collagen(?)-filled soup. Big notes of soy, sweetness and meaty umami richness. The thick noodles are awesome. They have body, chewiness and springiness. I’m not sure how you could improve on these noodles! The soup clings and flavours the noodles well. If you’re a fan of thick, curly, chewy ramen noodles, you have to check these guys out.
The only downside is the egg. It’s cooked beyond soft-boiled stage, so it’s on par with Ramen Koika’s disappointing egg. The pictures on the Taishoken menu clearly show an unctuous, gooey egg yolk, so I think they still need practice to really hit it with the eggs. BUT everything else is so good, it didn’t make me less happy with the ramen as a whole.
The pork belly is great too, with layers of fat and meat. The edges of the meat have a bit of extra browning or something on them. Now, I enjoy melt-in-your-mouth pork belly as much as the next belly fiend, but the belly here has a softness to the fat yet a firmness to the meat that’s just a great eating experience in the mouth. Not tough or hard to chew at all. YUM!
This is what the unseasoned broth looks like. It’s a solid base of gentle chicken and pork flavours. Very clear. This ain’t tonkotsu style cloudy pork broth! But it’s the tare that they put into it that makes it come alive. Taishoken do a great job and I can’t wait to go back to try more.
So after I finished all my noodles and ate all my toppings, I added some of the unseasoned broth to water it down a bit. Drink up!