It’s hard to say when Toronto’s ramen wars began, but they’re clearly now raging in earnest. Opening on the heels of David Chang’s frenetically anticipated Momofuku Noodle Bar and the more unassuming Sansotei, Santouka Ramen is the latest emporium to offer ever more authentic versions of the cult Japanese noodle soup. This 36-seat location, on Dundas just a couple of blocks east of Yonge-Dundas Square, is the second Canadian outpost for the Hokkaido, Japan-based chain (the first opened in time for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver). Hiroshi Asada, who oversees both Canadian operations, tells us that consistency is key to the brand’s success: “What sets us apart is that we’re a chain, and we stick to the same recipe that got us here.” It’s clearly working: the place opened quietly over the weekend and is already facing surging lineups at both lunch and dinnertime.
Santouka’s ramen is built from a tonkotsu-style broth that’s made by simmering pork bones for two days. The base is paired with medium-sized noodles that come from a factory in California (we’re told that shipping Japanese noodles over for the North American locations wasn’t feasible). Although the broth is supposed to taste identical to the stuff being ladled out in Japan, the head office has apparently determined that the flavour of the Canadian version actually trumps the Japanese one (Asada attributes it to the quality of the water). Santouka’s mainstay is its shio—or salt-flavoured—ramen, which features roast pork, fermented bamboo shoots, jelly ear mushrooms, cured surimi and a single Japanese pickled plum ($10.95). (For the cognoscenti, that’s chashu, menma, kikurage, kamaboko and ko-umeboshi.) Other options include shoyu (soy), miso and kara-miso (spicy miso) ramen ($10.95–$11.45). The restaurant is currently serving a condensed menu until its official grand opening on November 23, at which point it’ll start serving its famous toroniku ramen, which features a dish of pork cheek on the side.
Santouka Ramen, 91 Dundas St. E., 647-748-1717, santouka.co.jp