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Menya ITTO, King of Tsukemen

Four days before their doors open on Wednesday, March 16th, 2022 (today); I was invited down to Menya Itto for a first hand look at the highly anticipated launch of Japan’s No. 1 rated ramen shop. This is their first North American location, and as a Vancouverite I am excited that they have recognized our city as a foodie/ramen hub, and decided to plant Canadian roots before American ones; and West side before East.

Menya Itto is also known as “The King of Tsukemen”, due to the quality of their Tsukemen, as prepared by founder Yukihiko Sakamoto. Mr Sakamoto is one of Japan ‘s top 5 master chefs. He, himself was busy in the kitchen during our visit. He is in Vancouver, dedicating the time needed to train the staff personally; ensuring the quality of his brand and product are passed on through them. The latter is best described as “popular dipping ramen (that is) light, smooth, and rich (with a) umami-filled chicken and seafood broth that is slowly simmered for more than 12 hours.” (as taken from the press release).

“I am excited to finally open our first North American location this month and Vancouver is the perfect place for our debut, a city filled with people who love to eat ramen,” says Yukihiko Sakamoto, founder, master, and owner of Menya Itto, who trained under “Son of Ramen God” Koji Tashiro, a disciple of the legendary “Ramen God” and tsukemen inventor Kazuo Yamagishi. “Menya Itto means ‘house of ramen – one lantern’, and it is my mission to illuminate a path for others to shine and enjoy ramen all around the world.” (As taken from the press release)

During their initial launch, the menu will feature select ramen, with the ability to customize each with extra toppings. All their noodles are made in house made, using a specific blend of 7 different types of flour. This careful mix is what gives the ramen noodles their unique velvety chew. One that I admittedly was able to discern from the first bite to the last. The noodles are definitely different from all others, and this worth trying for that reason alone. It is just a bonus that the broth that they all sit in is just as good.

The launch menu items are as follows, with plans to expand into seasonal specials. This includes the upcoming spring debut of a lobster ramen. This, we would get a extra special advance sneak peek look at, but more on that towards the end of the post.

On the onset your options are basically limited to one of three dishes, and their variations on meat and how much of it. Please note, the egg pictured in my photo is extra and will need to be added on, so should you choose and accept the fee.

Their Deluxe Yuzu Ramen is a clear chicken and seafood citrus soup. It is available in your choice of shio (salt) or shoyu (soy sauce) for seasoning. Served with their thin, house made noodles; and 2 pieces of pork belly, pork shoulder, and sous vide chicken. There was no mistaking the fragrant citrus in this. This definitely isn’t your classic ramen or what you would even think, of when you think ramen. Light in how it drinks, yet heavy handed in flavour, but rich and fatty enough that it leaves a film of oil on your lips. As for the meats, they were all and equally tender. They did well to compliment the already enjoyable softness of the noodles that they accompanied.

I preferred the Chashu Noko Gyokai Ramen, as this is what I think of and crave the taste of when I ask for ramen. A completely soul warming serving that satisfies. This is a thick and creamy chicken and seafood broth that doesn’t taste like either proteins. However, it is as rich and as heavy as a solely pork based broth. Prepared with scallop oil and featuring their housemade thin noodles; topped with pork belly, pork shoulder, and sous vide chicken chashu. Surprisingly, the noodles did not get too starchy from absorbing any of the broth. I found that they stayed true to their original width from start to finish.

However, for the purists who want to ensure the quality of their perfectly prepared el dente noodles, Tsukemen is the way to go. Served separately as cold noodles and hot broth, you dip as you eat. They are also a great option for ramen in the summer, when you want the flavour, but not the broth to warm you inside and out.

The Menya Itto Classic Tsukemen features their signature broth with Ajisuke tamago, shiso-infused crunchy textured chicken balls, and plenty of thick ramen noodles for dipping. The Menya Itto Signature Chashu Tsukemen too features their signature broth with the same shiso-infused crunchy textured chicken balls. Although to it adds three types of chashu (pork belly, pork shoulder, and sous vide chicken), and includes thick ramen noodles for dipping.

The thicker noodles definitely allow you to soak up more sauce and enjoy your chew. Whereas the thinner noodle strands are ideal for their elongated wait in broth. And if your dipping broth is too rich, you can water it down with some fish broth, which the staff will provide to your table for self regulating. Although I didn’t find that it needed any diluting. Out of all the three I tried, the Tsukemen is the one I would recommend, if you could only have one.

And as I mentioned earlier, they will be looking to expand their menu, once the kitchen and service team have worked out all the launch day jitters and are ready to expand. In the meanwhile, here is one that you can look forward to: Lobster Tsukemen. The broth builds on their complex blend and chicken and seafood, and to it adds the naturally sweet and smoky flavour of lobster, but actual lobster meat. To eat: it is more dipping cold noodles into hot broth. This version definitely has a lot more flavour, and you might need to water it down with the fish broth above. It gave me a bold sour-ish tomato tang, that i wanted to go back for more of.

As is, I cannot decide which Tsukemen I like more. However, am leaning heavily towards the lobster ramen, which comes with a part two. After all your noodles are done and you still have broth left, the service staff help to transform leftovers into a completely new dish, table side.

With the addition of rice, cracked black pepper, and grated Parmesan; your remaining lobster broth gets mixed up and churned out as a salty and fishy risotto. Torched table side for that extra flare. I immediately like what I had, but at this point was far too full to finish.

In conclusion, with all it credentials, foodie fans this is one ramen restaurant you need to try. Lots of work has been put into ensuring that each ramen is well prepared and translates with the skill that Chef Sakamoto originally put into each, when first conceiving it. Where else can you get ramen from one of the Top 5 chefs in Japan?

Menya ITTO
1479 Robson St, Vancouver, BC V6G 1C1
(604) 428-6117

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