Hapa Ramen (stillborn twin of longstanding Hapa Izakaya) just opened up on January 8, 2016. I had no particular expectations, aside from being curious to see what they could bring to the increasingly crowded ramen game in Vancouver. Evidently, not much.
NOTE: Hapa Ramen has nothing to do with the short-lived Hapa Ramen in San Francisco, started by Richie Nakano. Read this Munchies article for some interesting background on that whole deal. Anyways, seeing that Hapa Izakaya took a name that already existed, it might cause some problems social media-wise because Richie is still doing events and people are still using the #haparamen hashtag in reference to them.
Welcome to the plainest Helvetica lowercase logo you’ll ever see. Almost a non-logo, or an anti-logo. The similarly-styled Hapa Izakaya is just on the right.
Amusingly, they don’t even serve Red Truck Beer at Hapa Ramen.
We ate there on an early Tuesday night. The room is spacious for a ramen restaurant, but it also felt dead and cavernous the whole time we were there. I somehow doubt that they’ve actually run out of noodles… Yes, it does say “fresh noodles”. I’ll get back to that later.
Quaint ramen paintings. I’m such an asshole.
Hapa Ramen specializes in tori paitan, which is a chicken-based ramen. Marutama and The Ramenman also do chicken-based ramen. This is refreshing to see in a scene dominated by tonkotsu pork-based ramen, but it’s not unique.
Three kinds of ramen: Shio, Shoyu, and Kimchi. Important to note: Shio doesn’t come with an egg, Shoyu comes with a soy-marinated egg, and the Kimchi comes with a sous-vide egg.
The typical add-ons, aside from the Ontama (63°) sous-vide egg.
Sides. At the bottom it says, “Our noodles are fresh and locally made”. I don’t know who makes their noodles, but I have my suspicions…
Aside from Asahi Black, a pretty boring beer list.
They can think of this entire blog post as an extended “comment card”. In fact, all of my blog posts and Instagram posts are really comment cards that I speak out loud to an empty room.
You can also think of my reviews as an extended answer to the typical question that servers ask, “So how is everything?” Whenever that happens, in my mind I cough and say, “how long do you have?”, but in reality I say, “GREAT!”
Ramune, screaming pineapple flavour.
Pickle Jar (Daily Pickles) – $3. Gently pickled radish, not particularly crunchy. The jar is brought to the table and opened by the server. I wish they would just plate it because as you’re eating, you’re inevitably dipping your saliva-laden chopsticks into the pickle juice. I like my friends, but I’m not ready to share chopstick saliva with them… We could’ve used another pair of chopsticks as serving chopsticks, but…that’s kind of a pain and a waste, ya know? That reminds me, I need to dig out my Guu-edition chopstick set. I thought ramen places were moving away from the wasteful disposable chopsticks, but I guess not. One day I’ll do an art piece with disposable chopsticks sticking out of the ground and it’ll evoke themes of deforestation and punji stick booby traps from the Vietnam War (American War).
The only tableside condiment is white pepper.
Charity ordered the Shio Ramen ($8.25).
She also got an ontama (63° sous-vide egg).
Wicca got the Shoyu Ramen ($9.25). That ajitama (soy-braised soft boiled egg) looks ok, aside from the weak colour on the outside.
Side of menma (soy-braised bamboo shoots) and corn.
My Kimchi Ramen ($9.25). The broth uses the same tare as the shio ramen, plus “fermented chili paste” (which might be gochujang) and “other aromatics”. Ok, let’s break this ramen down:
The broth tasted mainly of kimchi, Korean red pepper flakes, gochujang (probably), and salt. I could detect no chicken flavour. It had a thick, creamy, glossy, lip-coating quality but was ultimately one-dimensional. There was an initial hit of salt and spicy Korean flavours, but nothing behind it…and the finish fades into nothingness.
The menu states that their noodles are “fresh and locally made”. They’re of the thinner variety, and taste ok when the bowl hits the table, but after a few minutes this gummy quality of the noodles starts to become apparent. As you chew, the noodles become a gummy mass which just seems wrong. Off the top of my head, the ramen places in town that actually make their own noodles would be Marutama and Ramen Koika. Judging by the quality of the noodles and the eating experience, I’d say Koika are producing Hapa Ramen’s noodles. But this is just a guess. Hapa Ramen’s noodles are thinner than the ones we had at Ramen Koika, but since Koika has the machine, I’d think it would be trivial to adjust the guage of the noodles to a client’s specs. Noodles made by Sun Noodle are still consistently the best. I suspect that most ramen places here got their noodles from Sun Noodle, although verification might be hard to get.
* Gyoza Bar also makes their own noodles. Curiously, they’ve dropped the “+ Ramen” part of their name.
After having sous-vide eggs in ramen a few times, I think I prefer the regular soy-marinated soft boiled egg. There’s a too-fleeting joy in eating the sous-vide egg before it just dissolves into the soup, so I prefer to take my time with the ajitama instead.
The Hapa cha-shu is ok. You get two fair-sized slabs. Moderately tender but not particularly flavourful.
Even a decent cha-shu can’t save a ramen if the broth and noodles are weak.
I drank a lot of Wicca’s Shoyu Ramen broth, and while I could detect more chicken flavour than in the Kimchi one, it was still predominantly salt with nothing much behind it, paired with an incongruously thick and creamy mouthfeel. Does not come together at all.
Is Hapa Ramen beyond redemption? I don’t think any restaurant is beyond redemption (well, maybe casual fine dining chains), but Hapa Ramen have a long, tough road ahead of them.
Bonus gossipy shit: midway through our meal, a group were seated a few tables away from us, and the server was exclaiming very loudly about how she recognized one of the guys from somewhere. Something to the effect of, “I recognize you, did you work at Hapa Izakaya? Or one of the ramen shops?” The guy admitted that he worked at *** Ramen *******. A few minutes later, the same server was grilling the guy about what he does, if he’s in charge of the soup, stuff about noodles, etc etc etc. Later, someone who appeared to be the chef walked to their table and the guy seemed to have some pointed criticism of the meal, which I don’t often see from Japanese people. They’re usually couching their criticism with lots of inhaling sounds. I have no conclusions from overhearing that exchange other than amusement.