I like ramen. I mean I really like ramen. There are few things quite as comforting as a piping hot bowl of soup noodles on a chilly day. One of the great debates is whether I derive more comfort from ramen or from pho. Put another way, if I could only eat one for the rest of my life, what would I choose? Please don’t make me pick.
But you see, the spectrum of pho quality is decidedly narrower than that of ramen. Even bad pho isn’t that terrible and great pho isn’t exceptionally better than good pho. Ramen is different. Bad ramen is pretty bad, but great ramen is positively sublime. And that’s what people kept telling me about Marutama Ramen. It’s supposed to be among the best (if not the best) in town.
After surviving the alien invasion at the Stanley Park Ghost Train, Addie decided that she wanted noodles for dinner. Who are we to deny our daughter? We’re not down by the “Ramen District” very often, so we figured this was as good an opportunity as any.
When we drove past the original (to Vancouver) Marutama Ramen location on Bidwell Street, though, we saw a considerable lineup piling out the door. We were hungry and didn’t want to wait, so I suggested we try the second location, closer to the Central Branch public library, on Robson Street. Marutama took over this spot after it was vacated by Jinya Ramen, which moved a few blocks over. Same thing, right?
Tamago Ramen ($11.25): Our signature bowl, with soft-boiled egg
A small curiosity about the menu here is that you can start with just the regular bowl for $9.75. If you choose to upgrade to the Tamago Ramen, as I did here, that’s $1.50 more… which is exactly the same as how much you’d pay to add the soft-boiled egg (Ajitsuke Tamago or ajitama for short) to any other bowl.
Similarly, if you go with the Cha-Shu Ramen for $13.25, it is exactly $4.50 more than the original bowl, which is also exactly how much you’d pay if you wanted an extra side of cha-shu pork. And this probably isn’t going to surprise anyone that the Cha-Shu Tamago Ramen for $14.75 is $1.50 more than that, because you’re adding the egg again.
You’d think they might offer a token discount of maybe 50 cents when you upgrade like this. It’s not a big deal; just a small observation. Most of the ramen here can be ordered in your choice of mild or spicy.
That being said, both the egg and the cha-shu arrived slightly below room temperature. I tried to warm them up in the broth, but there wasn’t very much broth in the bowl either. While the noodle portion is decent enough, the lack of broth makes this feel like a smaller bowl than it really is.
Speaking of the noodles, they are of the thinner variety and have more of an al dente “bite” to them. I generally prefer the thicker noodles with more of a “chew” to them. Even so, because I was pretty hungry, I indulged in the Kae-dama ($1.50, not pictured) noodle refill. The server brought me some potent “salt sauce” to dress the warmed extra noodles.
Aka Ramen ($13.75): Rich flavour with grounded nuts & chili
Susanne decided to try something a little different. The noodles and pork slices are exactly the same; the difference comes in the broth. This one is slightly richer with more of a spice to it. While I didn’t try any myself, she tells me that the heat here is noticeable but hardly overwhelming. If you’re looking for more spice, add some of the chili oil provided at your table.
Gyoza ($5.50): Pan-fried pork dumpling
There really isn’t anything particularly special about these dumplings. It comes with two dipping sauces: one spicy and one not.
Perhaps I went in with unrealistically high expectations for this place. Maybe, like Hokkaido Ramen Santouka, the original location is of a much higher grade than newer locations. I suspect that’s part of it and I still plan on visiting the Bidwell spot at some point, hopefully soon. There’s also word of a third location opening on Main Street.
And all this isn’t to say that Marutama Ramen on Robson is bad. It’s just to say that it’s not of such a higher level as to warrant or justify the trip downtown for me. It’s far more convenient for me to hop over to Hakkaku Ramen or Kamamarui Ramen and Don, and I’ll be just as satisfied… with more broth too.
The total bill, including taxes and gratuity, came to just under $40.