Last time I was in Vancouver I wimped out on Kintaro Ramen–saw the line out the door and went for bibimbap instead. I made up for it this time by eating at Kintaro twice.
There is little to say about Kintaro that you can’t already find with a quick Google search. Most people point out that the ramen is top-notch and the restaurant is dingy. There is really no decor at all. It looks like this. The banner out front is torn and stained. Some complain about bad service; I had great service, but I’m sure mileage varies.
What makes Kintaro great is the ritual.
The first time I went, it was about 9:45pm. Laurie and Iris and I went to English Bay beach in the afternoon and had cupcakes for snack, then a hot dog from a beachside cart for dinner. Perfect. But later I got hungry, so I walked down to Kintaro. There was no line. It was a little cool outside, but at the counter it was hot, because steam from the cauldrons of stock blew on my face. There is always one employee assigned to continuously skim the stock.
There are three choices of stock at Kintaro: light, medium, or rich. The designation refers, at least in part, to the concentration of pork fat. There is no vegetarian food at Kintaro. The broth may be augmented with miso or soy sauce. I ordered the miso ramen with medium stock and fatty pork. There is also lean pork. Whatever. The fatty pork is absolutely beautiful. They roll and tie a section of pork belly and braise it in the bubbling stock, then chill and slice it. The miso ramen also includes bean sprouts, corn kernels, scallions, onions, and bamboo shoots.
The ritual of Kintaro is this: You study the menu while waiting and order swiftly. The restaurant has no wall hangings to distract you, so you watch the staff assemble your ramen. When it comes, you eat it. You can’t read a book, because it would be destroyed by flying noodle spray. You will get broth on your shirt. When you finish the ramen, you pay up and leave, because someone else needs your seat. Calling it a Zen experience would probably be taking it too far, but you get the idea.
I took my dad to Kintaro for lunch, and we waited in line about 40 minutes. This is also key. When we arrived, we weren’t very hungry, because we were full of French toast. By the time we got in, we were ravenous. Kintaro doesn’t get between you and your ramen, except when necessary.
788 Denman St (at Robson), Vancouver BC