Rockin’ ramen house has Calgary slurping

0
Posted April 29, 2014 by Adrian Brijbassi in Alberta
The Goma Mazemen ramen dish is delicious with locally sourced pork mixed in a savoury peanut sesame sauce. (Julia Pelish/Vacay.ca)

The Goma Mazemen ramen dish from Shiki Menya is delicious with locally sourced pork mixed in a savoury peanut sesame sauce. (Julia Pelish/Vacay.ca)

Story by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Columnist

CALGARY, ALBERTA — Rob Klewchuk is standing at the back of the line to enter one of the hottest new restaurants in Calgary. He’ll be here on 1st Avenue for a half an hour before he makes it through the door and to a seat. It’s not a steakhouse or a French bistro or even a tapas-inspired casual eatery. Klewchuk is among the hundreds who have been drawn to Shiki Menya, a ramen noodle house.

The Noodle lover line up of Calgary forms outside of Shiki Menya, which serves limited quantities of fresh ramen noodles daily. (Julia Pelish/Vacay.ca)

Noodle lovers line up for more than an hour in Calgary to get a taste of Shiki Menya, which serves limited quantities of housemade ramen noodles. (Julia Pelish/Vacay.ca)

Ramen noodles are best known as the processed cup of soup sold in styrofoam containers and sprinkled with dried peas and bits of corn and shallot. They’ve sustained many university students and culinary-challenged bachelors for a couple of decades. But ramen is in and there may be no hipper place in Canada to savour this Japanese food staple than Shiki Menya.

“I’ve heard great things about the restaurant,” says Klewchuk, who lives in the Bridgeland area of Calgary, an emerging neighbourhood across the Bow River from the city’s downtown, and was keen to support a local business. “You can’t find much Japanese in the city, so I’m glad it’s here.”

Koki Aihara is the young owner of family restaurant Shiki Menya, a ramen noodle house in the Bridgeland neighbourhood of Calgary. (Julia Pelish/Vacay.ca)

Koki Aihara is the young owner of family restaurant Shiki Menya, a ramen noodle house in the Bridgeland neighbourhood of Calgary. (Julia Pelish/Vacay.ca)

The restaurant opened at the beginning of April and has sold out of its noodle bowls every day, owner Koki Aihara says. The waits have exceeded two hours, including on one snowy day.

“Ramen has blown up in Vancouver and Toronto, and across North America people have become interested in ramen, so we thought Calgary needed a spot devoted to it,” Aihara says.

The tasty ramen recipes at Shiki Menya are from Tsukasa Aihara (shown here), the owner's father who is from Japan and is also a French-trained chef. (Julia Pelish/Vacay.ca)

The tasty ramen recipes at Shiki Menya are from Tsukasa Aihara. (Julia Pelish/Vacay.ca)

The ramen recipes come from Tsukasa Aihara, Koki’s father and a French-trained chef from Japan. The family owned a restaurant in Banff and then started Shikiji in Bridgeland in 2001. That restaurant has been a favourite in the city for sushi and other Japanese fare, but the Aiharas saw an opportunity for a ramen-only restaurant. Their instincts proved correct, given the huge amount of enthusiasm diners have shown for Shiki Menya, whose Japanese name could be translated to mean “Four Seasons Ramen House.”

Educating Calgary on Ramen’s True Taste 

Koki Aihara says the restaurant sells 150 bowls of ramen during weekdays. “We open at 11 am and stay open until we sell out,” he says. The bowls go fast, often in less than four hours.

The food’s popularity isn’t only because it’s rare to find ramen in this part of the country. The dishes are outstanding, too. The noodles are made in house and they’re dropped into a pork broth that takes 16 hours to prepare. Rather than a normal onion, the Aiharas use Tokyo negi to add an authentic flavour. The eggs are organic, the pork is locally raised from Broek Acres farms.

“I think a lot of people still think of the ramen you get at a restaurant as over-glorified Ichiban noodles, but that’s like saying all wine is just fermented grape juice. There’s a deep, deep culture in ramen and people have started to understand that,” Koki Aihara says.

You might think a ramen restaurant would be outfitted with long communal tables and plastic menus with photographs of the dishes. At Shiki Menya, the decor is urban sophisticated, with a warm, open-concept environment. You may hear beats from James Brown as the bustling wait staff swerve from table to table with bowls of what Aihara calls New School Ramen Bowls. The Goma Mazemen is luscious with the broth and pork mixed with a sesame peanut sauce. The Tonkotsu Black bowl features black garlic oil and squid ink garlic. Both bowls cost $14. Classic Ramen Bowls run $12-$14 at the restaurant.

“Part of what we’re doing is educating people about ramen,” Aihara says, “but the best way to do that is to give them something that you know tastes good and that can open their eyes and they’ll want to know more about it.”

Shiki Menya sells 150 bowls of ramen during weekdays and closes when they sell out.

Shiki Menya sells about 150 bowls of ramen per day. (Julia Pelish/Vacay.ca)

MORE ABOUT SHIKI MENYA

Location: 825 1st Avenue NE, Calgary, Alberta (see map below)
Hours: 11 am-close, re: til the ramen bowls sell out, which usually occurs before 4 pm.
Menu Price Range: Noodle bowls range from $12-$14. Small dishes like gyoza ($4 for four pieces) range from $3-$8.
You Must Order: The Goma Mazemen ($14) is rich with flavour thanks to the peanut sauce and the thick noodles.
Website: www.shikimenya.ca


About the Author

Adrian Brijbassi
avatar

Adrian is the editor of Vacay.ca and his articles are frequently syndicated by the Huffington Post and appear in the Globe & Mail. He makes regular appearances on CTV News, TSN Radio and CJSF Radio, talking about travel, sports, creative writing and journalism. A former editor at the Toronto Star and New York Newsday, Adrian has won numerous awards for his travel writing and fiction, and has visited more than 30 countries. He is also a judge for the World’s 50 Best Restaurants and spearheaded the Vacay.ca Top 50 Restaurants in Canada list that debuted in April 2012.

 
Top 50 Restaurants in Canada
 
  • patrick-kriss-alo-toronto
  • nick-kennedy-civil-liberties-toronto-bartender
  • jason-bangerter-langdon-hall-sturgeon-skin-2016-small
  • Chef Roy Oh-Anju-Calgary
  • gooseneck-barnacles-geoduck-wolf-in-the-fog-tofino-bc
 


10 unique places to stay in BC
¤