Today I visited the newest member of the west end ramen district: Marutama Ra-men. It is the second new ramen place with the kanji character ‘maru’ in its name to open in the west end the the past few months – with the other being Maruko. Unlike Maruko, Marutama comes to us with more of a ramen lineage. It is a the first North American branch of a modest chain of ramen restaurants that originated from Japan. Although the ramen-ya only has four branches in its native Japan, it has more than double that number of locations (10 including its Vancouver outpost) internationally.
The restaurant is located on a side street (Bidwell). Its location is not obvious to pedestrians and drivers who are moving along Robson. If not for the restaurant’s online buzz, I would be totally oblivious to its existence. Judging by the people waiting outside the restaurant and the fully occupied tables inside, I was not the only one that was brought to the restaurant by the buzz.
The restaurant is well-equiped to take on the onslaught of diners. Its interior consists of communal tables, counters, and two-tops that can easily accommodate parties of all sizes without any reconfiguration.
The kitchen was also quite efficient. It took only a few minutes for my wife, son, and I to receive our food after we placed our orders with our server. My wife and I both ordered the tamago ramen – which is their signature Marutama ramen with an added soft-boiled (slow boiled) egg. My wife ordered her ramen with the spicy soup and I opted for the mild soup.
The spicy soup didn’t look all that different visually from the mild soup. My wife actually lowered her flavour expectations of the spiciness of the broth immediately after she laid eyes on it. She thought that the soup would be yet another spicy-in-name-only ramen broth, but she was mistaken in her assumptions. The soup presented her with an immediate spiciness that was bold and totally unexpected. The spiciness was felt on my wife’s first sip, and on every subsequent sip. My wife thought that the spiciness was the icing on the cake to the tremendously flavourful broth.
The broth was not only tremendous, it was amazing, fantastic, yummy, delicious, tasty, unctuous, not-too-oily, hot, creamy, smooth, deep, complex, and a lot of other things. It was very enjoyable. It was enjoyable on its own, with the pile of brilliantly included seaweed, with the tender, flavorful, and not-too-fatty meat, with the perfectly boiled egg, or with the equally perfected boiled noodles. The latter two elements were so good that they deserve a bit of further elaboration.
The egg. What an egg it was. Was it the best local ramen-accompanying egg I’ve had? Yes, it was. It had a beige colored skin that manifested itself flavourwise with a balanced sweet soy taste. The sweet soy flavour reminded me of kakuni, which just so happens to be one of the few standalone side dishes offered on the restaurant’s menu. The egg white was perfectly snappy. Biting into the whites revealed the most amazing component of the egg: the yolk. The yolk was slow boiled to an absolutely perfect consistency. It was solidly gelatinous when I first bit into it, and parts of it started to slowing flow down onto the whites after half a minute. The yolk was thick and rich, like manna from wherever manna comes from. The yolk was perfectly enjoyable by itself, along with the flavourful and snappy whites, or mixed into the already rich and creamy soup. The egg was a great.
The noodles. I loved them. They were of the straight and white variety- which I adored. They had bite. They were thin, but they had a firm bite-y bite that out al dente’d the most perfectly al dente pasta. They never lost their bite-y-ness no matter how long they were soaked in the soup. But I did not let them soak in there for too long. I made quick work of them. My teeth did. My wife and son both mentioned that the noodles had a very distinct eggy flavour absent from all other local ramen noodles. I didn’t notice. I was busy enjoying their texture. The texture of noodles made in-house — in this little section at the front of the restaurant:
The noodles were so good that my son, who never eats noodles, actually wanted a bowl for himself after he had a mouthful of mine. He preferred them over his cha shu gohan (BBQ pork rice).
The cha shu goan was actually brilliant on its own. The rice was teeth-bouncing and not too dry. The pickled spicy daikon juliennes on top were a fresh, bright, and crunchy contrast to both the rice and the pork. The chopped up BBQ pork was moist. It was also flavourful. It had the exact same sweet soy flavour of the egg, but amped up a few orders of magnitude. The bowl of rice was all flavour and all texture. It was delicious. It was also larger in size than other cha shu gohan side dishes (bowls) sold at other local ramen places.
There is actually one slight complaint I have about the ramen from Marutama. For the $10.25 the restaurant charged for the bowl of tamago ramen, the portion size was miniscule. I finished noodles, soup, seaweed, egg, scallions, and pork slice in less than five minutes — and I was taking my sweet time enjoying it. I still felt hungry after the bowl. I actually ordered a second bowl and that also did not fill me up (frame of reference – me: 5’11” 140 lbs ). Of course, part of my wanting more of the ramen was due to its extreme tastiness. But the portion size of the ramen was definitely on the small side (which is in contrast to the larger-than-usual-portioned cha shu gohan). I think I’ll try ordering the $18 bowl of ramen the next time that I visit the place. Hopefully, it will have a portion size large enough to satisfy my appetite.