It seems like the ramen craze has penetrated every major city in the world. From Sydney to Amsterdam to San Francisco, every city has a few ramen joints clamoring to be the best outside of Japan. Vancouver is no exception; when I asked around for must-visit food recommendations, the majority of responses alluded to different ramen joints. I ended up eating at Marutama twice in one week, fully aware that I was forgoing precious stomach space to try other ramen shops in a city full of fierce competition.
Marutama has a few key differentiators that piqued my interest in trying it, and revisiting it a second time. Most ramen shops I’ve tried in the US utilize a pork-based broth, which lends a rich, dense flavor to the ramen because of its high fat content. Marutama specializes in creating Toripaitan ramen, using chicken broth rather than pork. They’re also known for their aosa seaweed; while other ramen shops use dried nori, or seaweed knots, aosa has the texture of algae. Finally, the thinner variety of noodles are made in-house every day, and fresh noodles are both uncommon and tasty.
For me, the broth in ramen is the most crucial primitive. It creates the foundation of flavor that goes onto define the dish; if the broth isn’t executed well, the noodles, toppings, cha-shu, and egg won’t be able to save the bowl, no matter how delicious they stand on their own. When eating ramen, I care about the following four components, in order of descending importance:
- The broth
- The noodles
- The egg
- The toppings
BROTH: The broth at Marutama was standout. I don’t think I’ve ever tasted anything like it–at least, not in ramen. It was creamy without tasting too decadent, and flavorful without overpowering the rest of the elements. In fact, both times I ate at Marutama, I drank all of the remaining broth after eating my noodles, which was a first for me. Usually, ramen broths are far too rich for me to even entertain the idea of enjoying them on their own. At Marutama, spoonfuls of toripaitan tasted like a creamier variation of chicken bone broth, and the classic food coma that typically follows overindulgent meals didn’t ensue.
NOODLES: The thinner noodles absorbed the flavors of the toripaitan broth incredibly well. My concern with using thinner noodles in a heavy broth is that they’ll soak up so much of the broth that they end up stuck together, and don’t retain any structure independently. I’ve experienced this happening more frequently with store-bought or packaged noodles as opposed to fresh noodles, because more flours or preservatives are used to extend the shelf life of the noodles. The flour and chemicals thicken the broth when the noodles are added, and the consistency of both the noodles and the broth change as a result. Because the noodles are Marutama are made fresh in-house, and were cooked to an al dente doneness before being added to the broth, the noodles were allowed to cook in the broth, soaking up flavor and softening a tad more to the perfect texture.
EGG / TOPPINGS: Some other elements that I really enjoyed about Marutama were the aosa seaweed, which is also a type of nori that I hadn’t encountered in ramen before. Its soft, buttery texture added just enough depth to the nuanced, light bowl of ramen, and was accentuated by thinly sliced green scallions camouflaged inside the liquid moss. I loved the fried garlic and sesame seeds, both of which rounded out the dish with their textures and nutty accents. The char-siu fell apart as soon as I moved to pick it up with my chopsticks, and the soft-boiled tamago was perfect–cooked just enough on the outside, with a slightly runny orange yolk on the inside, absent of any opaque, chalky yellow indicative of a well-done yolk.
All of this is to say that I don’t think I’ve had ramen quite like the kind I tried at Marutama, and I feel hard-pressed to identify a shop that could deliver a comparable experience. As Marutama has already seen a lot of success both in Japan, where they first opened, and at its international locations, this ramen aficionado can only hope that their openings eventually land them in the Bay Area for me to enjoy on a more regular basis.