Wednesday, June 1, 2011


Times are tough for many Vancouver restaurants. But outside Kintaro Ramen at Denman and Robson, be prepared to line up for your noodles in soup!

10 years ago I felt sophisticated being able to tell my spagetti from my linguine and a Marinara sauce from a Putanesca. Times change. I can file all of that precious knowledge next to my Rolling Stones records in the box with my Sony Walkman. It's being guarded by a Tyrannosaurus Rex. I'll always adore Italian, but it don't look much like them there ramen....

Nowadays if I want to appear at all noodly-worldly, I have to know my ramen from my udon and my soba from my somen. Ramen are a Japanese take on Chinese style noodles served in a rich, fatty broth (often pork based) and garnished with sliced meats, boiled eggs, fish cake etc. Popular ramen shops in Japan attract big crowds as elsewhere. Another ramen restaurant (this one in Tokyo)...another line up...

Vietnamese "Pho" is another super-hot noodle dish out there. I have learned to pronounce it like "feu" and not like "dough" to avoid being laughed out of my favourite Richmond Food Courts. )

Yaohan Mall on #3 Road has many stalls offering Vietnamese pho, as well as Chinese, Korean and Japanese noodles dishes. With tea and a side dish you can easily eat fresh, fast noodle food for less than $10(photo c/o

Masato tried a spicy chicken and coconut version of pho at "Pho Tan" restaurant on Main Street in Vancouver (see below). Rumour has it that the Vietnamese borrowed cooking techniques from the French (think "pot-au-feu") during Colonial times. The preparation methods and pronounciation for "pho" stuck. Rice noodles are served in soup usually made from bones, charred onion and spices, and topped with thinly sliced meats.

As with other Vietnamese dishes, a plate of fresh lime, chili, cilantro and other herbs are available for the diners to add as they like. We also tried "banh xeo", a rice flour crepe coloured with tumeric. Ours was stuffed with veggies and seafood. It was bright yellow in colour, but lightly seasoned. Our server told us to put pieces of the crepe into the lettuce leaves provided and garnish it how we liked. I added a few sprigs of Thai basil, cilantro, a chili pepper and then gave it a quick dunk in a sweet&spicy dipping broth. Yum!

A "dry noodle" dish pictured below skipped the soup, but had some spice and lots of tender seafood...

Contrary to popular belief, rice noodles are not commonly used in Japan. Flour noodles are much more popular. Udon are a thick white noodle, and somen are thin white noodles (usually served chilled). Udon in soup with tempura is cold weather comfort food and a customer favourite at Sanbiki. "Shichimi" is a Japanese chili powder served on the side. It's acually a mix of seven (7="shichi") different spices.

Warm weather brings refreshing chilled noodle dishes. Soba (buckwheat) noodles are served with small cups of dipping sauce. The noodles are dunked in the sauce and slurpped up. Green onion, wasabi and ginger are available on the side to kick up the flavour.

Udon can also be enjoyed cold. At Sanbiki, our kitchen team has a new recipe served with a miso-mayo sauce. We garnish it with cucumber, shredded crab stick and tamago ( a sweetened omelette). At only $7, it's gaining popularity with our lunch guests. even looks summery!

The presentation and flavours of noodle dishes differ between East and West. So too, does "noodle etiquette". On our too rare trips back to Japan, I've learned silent noodle sipping is too be avoided. Stop talking; moan softly, and slurp up the slippery threads in the molten broth. Try not to choke on anything solid that is too big (or tasty) to swallow whole. Ignore the searing pain as your tastebuds are vapourized, they'll grow back. If you're female, blink back the tears, and hope that "waterproof"mascara you're wearing really is.

"The Slurp" is said to improve their taste, and also signals the Chef that the noodles are properly seasoned and you are enjoying your meal. It also cools hot noodles. Being served very hot is believed to bring out their full flavour. My Grandma still would have slapped me silly had I dared make so much noise dining at her table!

Got a noodle dish you'd like to see at Sanbiki? Let us know. Now we are rethinking our menu and planning to expand our Grab and Go take out offerings next door at Mori Mori. Look for even more reasonably priced sushi packs, rice bowls, gyoza, spring rolls and much more! Hope to see you soon!