Taishoken Revisited: New Owners…Same Ramen?

There’s been rumours of a change in ownership of Taishoken, the tsukemen place near Tinseltown that just opened in June this year (so only 6 months ago as of this writing). I’ve read and heard both good and bad about the place in recent weeks, so I thought I’d personally check it out to see if they still have the best tsukemen I’ve ever had so far. (See previous posts about Taishoken here and here.)

I have it from a good source that the new owners of Taishoken are Korean and are the same people that own (among other places) Chosun Korean BBQ on Kingsway. I haven’t been to a Korean-run ramen place that has the same taste and quality as Japanese-run ones, but this is an interesting case because Taishoken is a Japanese chain that opened a new location in Vancouver that got taken over by Koreans. As Anthony Bourdain says in Kitchen Confidential, most of the food being cooked in French restaurants in New York is actually being cooked by Dominicans and Puerto Ricans, even though the face of the operation may be French. And you don’t have to be Italian to make great pizza (Apizza Scholls in Portland). Do you have to be Japanese to make good ramen? Let me put it this way: what matters is a dedication and adherence to the principles that make good ramen. If you cut corners, if you resort to flashy sh*t without mastering the basics, you’ve lost the soul of ramen. So how does the new Taishoken fare?

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Taishoken’s new menu. This was bit of a surprise if you compare this to their previous menu. I noticed that they now have a chicken broth ramen (which wasn’t available the day I was there), a fish (broth?) ramen, tomato cheese ramen, a kimchi ramen, and they’ve added a spicy tsukemen. Also, no more photo menu. And the Taishoken logo is written differently on the back of the menu, so I’m kinda thrown by the inconsistency:

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Other side of the new Taishoken menu. Korean influence is seen in the new “Bibim Don” option. It really made me wonder if this could be considered a true Taishoken location because they’ve changed their menu so much. Gone are the regular/large serving options, and they never got around to serving gyozas. Was this new “Taishoken” menu approved by the head office?? 😛

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I ordered my favourite Tsukemen, but the new spicy version. Waaaaiiiit a minute. You can get your tsukemen with HOT noodles??? I have never heard to tsukemen with HOT noodles before. WTF? They’re going seriously off-script here… Hmmm…

Of course I ordered COLD noodles — the only way!

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Just chili oil and soy sauce now (at least where I was sitting). Vinegar missing.

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They still have the jugs o’ broth. I tasted some straight and it still tastes as good as I remember it.

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Spicy Tsukemen. On the old menu, the basic tsukemen didn’t come with egg and the special tsukemen came with egg and more meat. On the new menu, the tsukemen only comes in one size and always comes with egg (but only half an egg).

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Broth still tastes similar, this time perhaps a bit more intense and concentrated than before, with the addition of a medium-spicy kick. Still thick and clings to the noodles, almost flavouring the noodles too much.

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On my previous visits, the eggs were beyond the gooey yolk stage, but looks like they hit it this time. I doubt their consistency on this point though, cuz I’ve read a few recent reviews on Taishoken after the change of ownership that still say their eggs are overcooked. So YMMV. I wonder how they cut their eggs… They really should use the Ivan Ramen technique of cutting the soft-boiled eggs using fishing wire or thread (if they aren’t already), as demonstrated here:

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Same as before, you get the choice of pork belly or pork loin with your ramen. I always choose pork belly. You get two slices. Mine were quite fatty, but I love fat! You also get one naruto (fish cake) and a few menma (bamboo shoots).

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It still tastes good! Noodles are still thick, firm and chewy. Still a great eating experience to dip these cold noodles into warm broth and slurp ‘n chew.

Inevitably, the dipping broth gets cold as you eat. Japanese friends have told me that in Japan, people like their tsukemen with really hot soup and really cold noodles, to get that stark contrast in temperatures. It’s common to ask for your broth to be reheated (even in a microwave) part way through your meal. So I took a chance and asked for my soup to be reheated. I had no idea how they would do this, or if this violated any sort of health code, but I wanted to see how they would handle this request.

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In my partially obscured view of the kitchen, I could see the cook whip out a small pot and reheat my soup in it on the stove. It came back frothy-hot, as you can see above. I don’t know if that pot he used was clean, or if he cleaned it afterwards before using it for something else. I would’ve much prefered my soup to be microwaved, that way I know it’s just my bowl of soup and it hasn’t come in contact with anything else, and also won’t “infect” anything else in the kitchen, cuz I already ate from it.

I probably wouldn’t ask for this to be done again. Although eating the rest of my noodles with hot hot hot soup was fun and delicious.

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This gives a partial hint as to how they give the spiciness to the tsukemen.

Well, I don’t necessarily agree with some of the changes to the menu. I’m a purist and if Taishoken became a success because of their core menu, then all Taishoken locations should follow the same menu. That said, what I care about most (the tsukemen) is still tasty and that’s all that matters to me right now. Still recommended for tsukemen.

Taishoken Ramen 大勝軒 on Urbanspoon

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