Cho Ichi Ramen
Neighbourhood: Fort Garry
Address: 1151 Pembina Hwy
In Japan, alongside fish and rice, the noodle that rules is ramen. An explosively flavourful bowl of messy calorie laden noodles is the signature staple of the masses. Ramen rules, and for the last 100 years or so it’s been eaten on the daily. Styles vary by region; fatty and salty, chicken and pork, miso, shio, shoyu, distinguishing flavours of every broth.
In the heart of Canada, ramen is just beginning to see the light of day. Until this summer, it appeared on precious few menus, winning favour with early adopting foodsters and citizens of Japanese descent. In June that changed. As the season’s temperatures soared, Cho Venevongsa added Cho Ichi Ramen to his Wasabi Group of restaurants, betting heavily on hot steamy bowls of ramen. Mere months later, its 80 seats fill up regularly, already revealing an opportunity realized. Chef John Garcia from Wasabi heads up the kitchen, bringing singular focus to selling every customer one product, one that takes 6-12 hours to prepare.
Daily pots of chicken and pork stock are always on the go, each providing rich depth for signature flavours to be added. Pork is the bigger seller satisfying cravings with its fatty full bodied liquid. The top pick either way is prominently listed on the single sheet menu as “The Original”. This signature bowl delivers the pure flavour of its long simmered broth. It is the fully loaded option complete with an egg, tender sous vide cooked chicken and pork, bamboo shoots, spinach, green onion and nori. It is perfection.
Miso, shoyu, shio offer flavour variations infusing every bowl with its own characteristics. Add-ons vary slightly from one to another, a list of toppings encourages customization. Order miso, and a satisfying mixture delivering umami goodness awaits. Sweet corn punctuates each bite. An alluring red spicy garlic option rewards the heat seekers, and challenges the wannabes. It hurts, but the delicious pain that comes with every spoonful only slows the eating slightly, revealing amateurs in the room from the pros.
Although most of the world’s ramen is made from manufactured dry noodles bought from mass suppliers, this eatery makes its own on site. The process plays out in plain view, entertaining those who look up between slurps. These freshly made artisanal noodles, exquisitely add a delicate wheat flavour to the mixtures.
Starters at Cho Ichi Ramen are impressive too, offering unexpected flavour mash ups. Sweet kewpie mayo, fishy bonito, nori and a sprinkle of green onions add an explosion of tastes to Okonomiyaki fries and takoyaki. Bao buns are moist, the sweet soft dough wraps around crunchy fried chicken or impossibly tender pork accented with sweet mayo and a crunch of lettuce. Calamari is fried nutty brown, dipped in spicy garlic mayo setting it apart from anything we’ve known.
Cho Ichi Ramen is fun and lively and habit forming. One thing is clear; the success of this new hotspot is evident by the families, couples and friend groups leaving with bragging rights to having crushed their bowl.