2016 is the year where a booming number of ramen shops opened in Montreal. Ramen is more than just a bowl of noodle soup; chefs spend years refining their recipes to concoct the perfect bowl. You won’t find two restaurants with ramen that tastes and looks exactly the same. Montreal offers many styles of ramen that you won’t find solely at one shop. This guide will help you familiarize with the types of ramen available in this city.
Ramen consists of four basic elements: broth, noodles, toppings, and tare.
Broth requires very few ingredients. It is made from one or a combination of pork, chicken, seafood, or vegetables. Its consistency depends on each person’s preference. Rich broth is thick, creamy, and opaque. It is bold in flavours and packed with emulsified fats and proteins. This comes from boiling animal bones and fats for very long time (over 8 hours). Light broth is translucent and thin. Bones are typically boiled for a short time and generally flavoured with vegetables, sea kelp, shellfishes, and/or dried seafood.
Ramen noodles are made from flour, salt, normal water, and alkaline mineral water. The alkaline water is what gives the noodles its unique firmness, elasticity, and springiness. They resist to limping when immersed in hot broth, and allow enough flavours to adhere to the noodles. As a rule of thumb, thin straight noodles are for subtle flavoured ramen (usually for shio, shoyu, and tonkotsu); thick wavy noodles are for bold flavoured ramen (usually for miso, abura, and tsukemen).
Toppings are limitless. Popular ones are soy-marinated boiled egg (ajitama), braised pork belly (cha siu), kelp (wakame), wood ear mushrooms (kikurage), seaweed (nori), marinated bamboo shoots (menma), shiitake mushrooms, corn, pickled ginger, and scallions.
Tare is the umami essence that is added to heighten the flavours of the base broth. There are many variations:
Shio, meaning ‘salt’, is the lightest of all types of ramen. The broth is seasoned with sea salt, dried anchovies, bonito flakes, or any salty ingredients.
Shoyu, meaning ‘soy sauce’, is widely used in many ramen shops. Each chef has their special soy sauce with added ingredients.
Miso is fermented bean paste. It comes in many colours (red, white, yellow, and brown) and sources (soybean, rice, and barley). Some chefs combine 2-3 types of miso for more complexity to the broth.
Tonkotsu is a special type of ramen where no tare is added, only the flavours of pork bones shine. Often pork bones are boiled with pig’s trotter and pork fat for very long hours, and even days. Long boiling is necessary to break down fat, marrow, calcium, and minerals into an opaque milky white liquid. The making of this type of broth requires patience and frequent skimming. For added varieties, often you will see on the menu tonkotsu miso or tonkotsu shoyu.
Vegan ramen is a rarity in Japan due to the ubiquity of fish. You can find it at two shops in Montreal.
Abura, meaning ‘oil noodles’, is a brothless ramen. It consists of cooked thick noodles mixed with flavoured oil and a soy based sauce. It is usually topped with a raw egg yolk to be mixed like a carbonara.
Tsukemen is a ‘dipping noodle’ ramen. When it’s warm outside, this is a great alternative to hot ramen. The noodles are separated from the broth. You dip the noodles into the broth as you eat.
Recommendation: Kinton Ramen (summer only)
Want to read more about ramen? Have a look at Victor Yu’s blog for his top 11 bowls of ramen in Montreal.